ORLANDO, Fla. – As a public figure, News 6 anchor Matt Austin is used to being in the limelight and potentially exposing himself to criticism, ranging from commentary on his delivery of the news to viewers encouraging him to change his haircut.
However, Austin was away from the studio lights and cameras of a live broadcast when he found himself confronted by a line of finger-wagging he did not expect — dozens of comments questioning his parenting and the decency of his daughters’ attire.
“I thought it was innocent,” he said. “I posted just a picture of me with two of my daughters. It is the first time they’re both going to homecoming — because one’s a freshman, one’s a senior. I always post a picture, whether it’s homecoming or prom, and did not think twice about it.”
The post ended up receiving hundreds of comments on Facebook, some of which got very ugly.
“I look in and I see the people who say, ‘I would never let my daughter go out in that,’ ‘My father would not let me,’ ‘I would never be in that kind of outfit around my father’ — insinuating that I’m a bad father,” Austin said.
The negative reactions to Austin’s children left him incensed, both at what was said and that he had been the one to expose his daughters to such vitriol.
“I tried to not post anything that would put them in a light where people would take shots at them and unfortunately... I felt a little responsible at first and guilty and then I was like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with this,’” he said.
To vent his frustrations, Austin turned to social media again. This time, he had a message for the people who had attacked his family.
“So, I put up what I thought was a pretty innocuous post about my daughters looking beautiful for homecoming, but you would be shocked about some of the comments,” Austin’s TikTok post begins.
The video then transitions to several of the negative comments left on his Facebook post.
“One thing that has always pissed me off as a father of girls is when people say things like, ‘Oh, these girls need to dress so they don’t distract the boys,’ or even worse, ‘They’re dressing in a way in which they’re asking for it,’” the video continues. “Let’s get something crystal clear now, it’s not my daughter’s job to make sure your son is focused in school. It’s also not her job for her to dress hideous enough to where your son doesn’t assault her.”
Austin wraps the video by turning the criticism back on the trolls who had gone after his family.
“You know what would really disappoint me? If my girls grew up to be the kind of adult who goes on social media and demeans a teen’s appearance on her father’s Facebook page. Now that’s what I call trashy,” he said.
Before posting the video, Austin got the blessing of his daughters.
“I said, ‘What do you think of this? I don’t know what will happen with this, but I don’t want to embarrass you,’” he said. “The response I got was, ‘This might be a little embarrassing, but you’re right, go ahead and do it.’”
Austin’s original post was seen by hundreds of his followers, but his response on TikTok has been viewed more than 5 million times and received more than 35,000 comments, largely in support of him and his daughters.
“It’s really impossible to keep up with,” Austin said. “Every few seconds there’s another five comments. It’s been weird. I’m used to people commenting on my things, but usually, my focus on social media is somebody else’s story. So having the focus on me and my family has been a little disjointed.”
Disjointed, but not disappointing.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the positivity,” he said.
Austin added that as the father of daughters, he has not always been willing to let his children express themselves through their clothing. There was a point where he would make them dress more modestly, but there was a moment when he realized that would lead to bigger problems.
“It was my daughter’s first homecoming,” he said. “I still see her as this little baby in my arms and she’s like, ‘OK, I’m gonna try on this dress,’ and she picked out her favorite dress to walk out and show me.”
The reveal was more than he was prepared for as a father.
“She’s all excited. She’s in her little heels, got a big smile on her face and she walks out and all I see is this woman,” Austin said. “It was so jarring to me that I go ‘Nope, turn it back around. You’re not going out in that go try on the next one.’”
He watched as his oldest daughter instantly deflated and she slunk away to change.
“My wife was like, ‘You feel good about that?’” Austin said. “I didn’t, it sucked. It taught me a lesson. You know, like who do I want to be? What are my priorities in this dad thing.”
As a father to daughters, Austin said it upsets him to see the double standard to which they are held in school and in society.
“I think our society for far too long has put the onus of sexual assault on the women,” he said. “For the girls, there’s just this extra expectation and we’ve been doing this in society for a long time where it’s their fault if something happens and as a father of daughters, it drives me crazy.”
Despite the attention, both positive and negative, Austin believes this has ultimately been a good experience for him and his daughters.
“My biggest worry is always what my daughters think in a situation like this,” he said. As the views have piled up and the comments have piled up, I think the thing they realize is their dad will always have their back, no matter what. No matter the internet trolls, no matter what human being or creature ever comes against them, their father will always have their back.”
For his part, Austin said that he appreciates having the support of the team at News 6, especially his bosses.
“My bosses have been very supportive,” he said. “In a public role like I have, I do worry. The things you say on social media can affect your job if you don’t have the right bosses and my bosses have been super supportive.”
Austin added his role as a father is paramount in his life and it is that job he ultimately cares the most about.
“When I die, if people think I’m a good news anchor or a bad news anchor, whatever,” he said. “I don’t identify myself as that. I’m a dad. That’s the most important thing to me.”