Ambinder gets it right on "outing" closeted, anti-gay public figures

Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

When it comes to reporting on the hypocrisy of public figures it seems everything is fair game except hypocrisy dealing with sexual orientation.

Sure, no reporter would have a problem disclosing that a politician who has railed against corruption is taking bribes but what about anti-gay politicians living closeted gay double lives? Good luck finding a mainstream reporter willing to break that news unless the figure is involved in some sort of sexual scandal.

I've written about the media double standard on outing in the past, including a post about a documentary in which I noted:

In early May, National Public Radio, a supposed bastion of liberal media bias, found itself in the crosshairs of the lesbian and gay community over an online review of Outrage, a documentary chronicling the hypocrisy of prominent, purportedly closeted politicians with staunchly anti-gay voting records.

What sparked the controversy was not the documentary itself, but the fact that NPR's review failed to name names. In fact, while Nathan Lee, the review's initial author, had included the identities of those fingered in the film, NPR editors took it upon themselves to censor the review prior to publication.

That is why it was refreshing to see these comments from Marc Ambinder in Howard Kurtz's Washington Post column:

Marc Ambinder, the political junkie who writes for the Atlantic, says he suspected, like lots of insiders, that Ken Mehlman was gay.

In fact, years before the former Republican Party chairman acknowledged his sexuality to Ambinder in an interview published Wednesday, the reporter tried to find out. And, says Ambinder, he would have outed Mehlman if he had evidence.

"I would have reported it because he was in power at a time when the Republican Party was whipping up anti-gay sentiment to get votes," Ambinder says in an interview. "I'm very squeamish about outing anyone. That squeamishness certainly would have gone into the equation. But there would have been a clear and compelling reason. Even though outing would have encroached on his personal dignity, which would have made me uncomfortable, it would have been the right thing to do to hold someone in power accountable."

Ambinder is precisely right -- the fact that Mehlman helmed the Republican Party during an era when it "was whipping up anti-gay sentiment" made questions about his sexual orientation fair game.

Of course, if the issue of Mehlman's sexuality had been the chatter of "lots of insiders" as Kurtz writes, I'm curious to know if anyone other than Ambinder bothered to attempt reporting out the story.

If reporters are "squeamish" about "outing," they need to push through those feelings and do their job, just like Ambinder indicates he did before finally getting Mehlman on the record. Failure to move beyond those feelings only prolongs the current media climate where LGBT issues are seen as controversial and sexual orientation is something to be embarrassed about.

The notion that "lots of insiders" heard chatter about Mehlman being gay during his tenure at the Republican National Committee and apparently failed to practice their craft makes me squeamish.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBTQ
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