Andrew Callaghan captures man-on-the-street interviews across America as part of ‘Channel 5’ news on YouTube. (Screenshot by NPR/YouTube)
Andrew Callaghan, a documentarian behind YouTube’s Channel 5 and HBO’s This Place Rules, is known for chronicling spectacles from Phish shows to white nationalist rallies.
But this month, the 25-year-old was himself the story after thousands of social media users saw a pattern of misconduct in first- and second-hand accounts of women’s experiences that were shared across platforms in public comments and videos.
Callaghan addressed the allegations in an Instagram post on Sunday, apologizing to the women and pledging to examine his behavior in therapy.
But for many who follow Callaghan’s work, the incident raises questions about Gen Z’s tolerance for sexually questionable behavior.
Here's an account of what has happened as of Friday.
Who is Andrew Callaghan?
Callaghan is a self-styled journalist for the digital age whose irreverent YouTube videos have earned him fame across several platforms. His brand, Channel 5 news, has 600,000 followers on Instagram and another 2.25 million on YouTube.
Callaghan got his start while a student at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he launched a YouTube series called Quarter Confessions. Wearing pale suits and carrying a corded microphone, Callaghan interviewed intoxicated Bourbon Street party-goers, editing together their wildest statements with quick cuts and intentionally outdated effects.
In 2019, he took that style of filmmaking across the country in a beat-up RV, stopping for interviews at sites like a flat-earthers’ conference and the Talladega Speedway. The show, All Gas No Brakes, fell apart in 2021 after a contract dispute with its production company, Doing Things Media.
Callaghan then started the Patreon-funded Channel 5. The series has amassed over 106 million YouTube views since April 2021.
His following has only broadened since the Dec. 30 release of his first HBO documentary, This Place Rules, which examines the cultural divisions underlying the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In interviews with legacy journalists about his unfiltered reporting, Callaghan has defended his popularity among younger millennials and elder Gen Z’ers as a bit of media mockery in the service of media literacy.
He says giving airtime to fringe voices is an actual form of reporting in an age of overwhelming journalistic punditry.
“When there is a massive divide in America, you’re going to find interviews on the fringe,” he said in a recent interview with NPR. “What we try to do is physically speak to people, actually show up and be there and ask people simple questions like, ‘What's on your mind? How are you feeling?’”
He added that he lets the subjects “guide the conversation” in contrast to cable news reporters who use talking-head panels to “get the viewer as pissed off as possible.”
Here’s when the allegations began to spread
The claims against Callaghan began to go viral on Jan. 5, when a TikTok user who goes by the name Caroline Elise (@cornbreadasserole) posted a 2-minute video saying Callaghan pressured her into performing sexual acts with him.
She said Callaghan, whom she’d been messaging on Instagram, asked to stay over at her house because he’d had a falling out with a crew member.
“I was very clear about the fact that we are not hooking up,” she said. “He gets in my bed and wears me down to the point where I eventually do agree to do things I wasn't proud of.”
On Jan. 7, she posted again, sharing screenshots of messages she exchanged with Callaghan in 2021 and a photo of them together. She also shared screenshots of at least 10 messages from people saying they’d had a similar experience with Callaghan or knew of someone who had.
Caroline Elise has since deleted the videos from her TikTok feed, saying the response had diminished her mental health. But other users have saved and continue to share the videos across other platforms.
Caroline Elise said she didn't want to talk directly to NPR also for mental health reasons. She instead put us in touch with a long-time friend, whose name we’ve agreed to withhold over her fears of online harassment.
The friend said that Callaghan knew how Caroline Elise felt about the incident months before she’d ever posted it to TikTok. The friend shared screenshots of Instagram posts from August 2021, in which the friend warned other women in her city that Callaghan had “knowingly assaulted my friend and got away with it.”
The friend also shared screenshots of a text message conversation that took place between Callaghan and Caroline Elise in December 2021, after Caroline Elise had confronted Callaghan about his behavior.
In one long message, Callaghan said he recognized that the social power dynamics at play “can dramatically warp consent” and had tried to unpack his behavior in therapy.
He also said that “prior partners” from New Orleans and Nashville had reached out to him in response to the Instagram posts and had “started dialogues with him that have benefitted all our lives for the better.”
“I want to do whatever I possibly can to be accountable and support you in whatever way you’d like,” the message continues. “It would mean the world to me to be able to have an open conversation with you.”
A second accuser claims Callaghan sexually assaulted her in 2019
Caroline Elise’s video prompted another woman, a TikTok user who goes by the name Dana (@moldyfreckle), to come forward.
In a series of videos, Dana said Callaghan assaulted her on a drive home from dinner, first kissing her neck, then putting his hand down her pants and putting her hands on his crotch as she was telling him to stop. Callaghan left the car after she’d asked multiple times, Dana said.
Dana later posted a video showing screenshots of her messages with Callahan in January 2019. She hasn’t responded to multiple requests from NPR.
In addressing the responses to her videos, Dana dismissed ideas that she was seeking clout, money or trying to sabotage Callaghan’s success.
“I'm not going to let someone else go through this alone,” she said in her TikTok post, referencing Caroline’s video. “I’m just saying the truth right now and I don’t care what you believe, but I want other women who he’s affected to feel comfortable talking about it.”
While the stories from Dana and Caroline Elise have remained the most widely shared and commented upon, several other people have since posted in comments or videos claiming similarly pushy sexual behavior. They say their experiences with Callaghan formed a pattern.
How did Callaghan respond?
In a video posted to Instagram on Sunday, Callaghan thanked the people who’d spoken out about “different ways in which my behavior has made them feel uncomfortable or pressured during a sexual situation” and apologized to them, as well as his collaborators. He did not single out any particular accusations, or confirm or deny any specific accusations circulating.
He did, however, say that he thought many of the accusations were missing important contextual information.
“I want to make a few things clear: I’ve always taken no for an answer,” he said. “As far as consent, I’ve never overstepped that line.”
“Up until this point, I didn’t really realize that I had this pattern that affected multiple people,” he said, later adding that he thought going home from a bar alone “made you a loser” and that “persistence was a form of flattery.”
“I’m fed up, and I know other people are getting fed up,” she said. “It’s called karma. It’s not blackmail. It’s not revenge, it’s just how it goes.”
Caroline Elise had not publicly addressed Callaghan’s statements at the time of publication.
What about the blackmail claims?
Three days before Callaghan's Instagram video, news outlets like TMZ and Varietypublished portions of a statement, shared by a “legal representative” for Callaghan, which acknowledged Callaghan’s need to re-evaluate his behavior but also pointed to “multiple sides to a story.”
“While every dynamic is open to interpretation and proper communication is critical from all those involved, repeated requests for money should not be part of these conversations,” reads the statement, according to both outlets.
Neither Callaghan’s agent or publicist responded to NPR’s request for confirmation of the statement. Callaghan hasn't responded to multiple NPR attempts to reach him through his social media.
Caroline Elise’s friend shared a screenshot of one message Caroline Elise sent to Callaghan six days before posting the allegations on TikTok.
The message includes the handle of Caroline Elise’s Venmo account. She wrote Callaghan could use it if “HBO cuts you a fat check, and you in any way feel like helping contribute to the massive amounts of therapy bills I have accrued.”
Caroline Elise’s friend told NPR that’s the only time Caroline Elise had brought up the prospect of him reimbursing her in their conversations together. Callaghan never responded to the text, Caroline Elise’s friend said.
Caroline Elise confirmed through her friend that she shared the allegation to raise awareness of Callaghan’s behavior. She has no plans to file a police report or a lawsuit, her friend told NPR.
How did Callaghan’s fans react to the allegations?
The claims, statements and reaction quickly spread on several social media platforms, where users, many of them anonymous, dissected Callaghan’s behavior in ways reminiscent of 2016’s #MeToo eruption, but with new cancel culture considerations.
The Reddit forum r/Channel5ive, which is in the top 5% of Reddit communities by size, was once dedicated to Callaghan fan adoration. Now it contains over 100 posts dedicated to investigating the allegations and debating which of the alleged behaviors crossed the line.
“Drinking with someone, inviting someone into your home, even inviting someone into your bed does not equal consent,” wrote one user in a post that received 1,100 up votes and 382 comments.
“I'm not saying let’s just ‘cancel’ the whole thing, but I really don’t like people saying we can just separate his journalism from his misconduct,” posted another.
Responding to requests by users, moderators eventually removed a Patreon link supporting Callaghan’s work and replaced it with a link to the National Women’s Law Center, which helps victims of sexual assault.
YouTube and Twitch streamers whose audiences overlap with Callaghan’s also parsed through the allegations and apology, trying to glean universal lessons.
“People are not going to read this with any kind of charitability,” because Callaghan hasn’t done anything yet to demonstrate how he’s changed, Piker predicted.
What does this mean for ‘Channel 5’ and Callaghan’s work?
In his video apology, Callaghan said he wasn’t sure what comes next, but he wanted to take a step back from public life while he processed his behavior.
“I’m only 25 years old and I have my whole life ahead of me,” he said, adding that reporting was still his first love.
Tim Heidecker, a comedian who helped produce This Place Rules, addressed the allegations on his Office Hours podcast last Thursday by saying he had no plans to collaborate with Callaghan again in the future.
“We have no professional relationship with Andrew at this time and have no plans to have any relationship with him,” Heidecker said, speaking on behalf of his comedy and production partner, Eric Wareheim.
A publicist for Heidecker and Wareheim told NPR the pair had no updated comments on Callaghan’s apology. The press offices for A24 and HBO did not respond to NPR’s requests for comment.
The YouTube page for Channel 5, which had been sharing clips from This Place Rules for the last three weeks, hasn’t posted a new video since the week the allegations surfaced.