Gawker’s Tussle With Robin Roberts, Matt Drudge

The moment it was announced, there was immediate talk of  the irony that ABC’s Good Morning, America’s Robin Roberts got the big Obama interview on same-sex marriage because she was allegedly a lesbian.  I knew there was gossip about Roberts, but there was little actual evidence about Robert’s sexual orientation.  I assumed that it was the kind of gossip that circulates in LGBT circles, where there is always chattering about who is gay/lesbian and who isn’t, but not really much more than that.

Gawker raised the bar on the gossip by suggesting that Roberts was concerned the interview would out her as a lesbian. Their source was someone “close to ABC executives” and it was backed up by other anonymous sources. There was no actual evidence that she is a lesbian, only that it is an “open secret.”  The story was bylined by Gawker editor-in-chief A.J. Daulerio.

When the story was linked by the Drudge Report, Gawker then pointed out that Matt Drudge is also “commonly understood” to be gay.

Now, these stories are nothing new. Michael Musto in his classic Out magazine article on the “glass closet” talks about famous people–including journalists–are gay or lesbian but living haven’t come out publicly.  Beginning with that article, Out has consistently included CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Fox’s Shepard Smith, and Matt Drudge on its “power” list along with openly gay and lesbian media folks like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the New Republic‘s Chris Hughes, Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner, Andrew Sullivan, Time Inc. Martha Nelson, Gawker’s Nick Denton, New York Times‘ Richard Berke, Dan Savage, and CNN’s Don Lemon.

So what does this mean for LGBT journalists?  Obviously, NLGJA was founded to make it easier for LGBT journalists to be out in the newsroom and to allow us to have a place at the table when it comes to reporting the news and reporting on the LGBT community.  It’s fair to say that the “power” list would have a lot fewer media people were it not for the efforts of NLGJA to encourage LGBT journalists to be out in the newsroom and in their careers.

While there may be ideological disagreement on the question of “outing,” there is also a consensus that LGBT journalists should be able to decide for themselves whether they are going to be publicly out a journalist. The rub, of course, is when the journalist is also a “celebrity” and has a high-profile.  Some would argue that an anchor of a top morning show and the editor of one of the most powerful websites are “fair game” when it comes to reporting on their alleged sexual orientation and there’s no reason not to report what is widely-known as “true.”

This has been a constant ethical challenge for journalists: when (and if) to report rumors someone is lesbian or gay. And how much evidence is necessary before being able to report it as news.  The Drudge story is old news, dating back to David Brock’s book “Blinded by the Right” where he discussed an ill-fated date with Drudge and Drudge’s infatuation with Brock. There’s apparently a lot less evidence about Roberts.

So what do you think?  Was it fair for Gawker to pass on these anonymous rumors about Roberts?  Are high-profile journalists “fair game” when it comes to these kinds of stories?  And what should we do about the “glass closet”?  As long as these questions persist, NLGJA will undoubtedly be necessary.

LGBT Media on Death of Elizabeth Taylor

A recent article in Press Pass Q (“a newsletter and trade publication for the LGBT media professional”) raised an interesting question:

When a straight celebrity ally of the LGBT community dies, is that “gay news”? In the case of Elizabeth Taylor, editors and publisher of LGBT publications voiced a resounding yes.

And yet, coverage of Elizabeth Taylor’s March 23 death from congestive heart failure at the age of 79 varied in LGBT outlets. Some publications considered it a national front-page story. Other outlets paid tribute on the arts pages. Some contributors offered a personal take, with news editors looking for a distinctly local angle.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt she had an impact in the LGBT world,” said Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times. “Even before the AIDS epidemic Taylor was iconic in the community for her life and tragedies. So in the old-school way of thinking of divas, she would be important for us to cover. But separate from that, her work on AIDS definitely put her death at the level of doing a large tribute to her.”

Besides a news story, Windy City Times, for its “AIDS @ 30″ series, ran an interview with Taylor, originally published in the November 1997 edition of POZ, a national magazine on HIV/AIDS issues.

The article includes comments from editors at the Bay Area Reporter, Frontiers and the Washington Blade, as well as details on how several other LGBT media outlets handled the coverage.

The article also sheds light on how Taylor and the LGBT media helped each other:

Inadvertently, Elizabeth Taylor may also have helped to raise the credibility and visibility of gay media.

Veteran journalist Lisa Keen, editor of the Blade during the 1980s, recalls Taylor’s invitation then to be a guest speaker at the National Press Club. Although Keen was a club member, “No one from the Blade had ever been offered the privilege of attending a pre-speech reception for a speaker,” she said.

The Press Club, however, invited Keen as Blade editor not only to attend the reception, but also to sit at the head table during Taylor’s appearance.

“I am sure that she had nothing to do with it,” said Keen, “but it was another example of how her just being there, speaking out on AIDS, prompted the Press Club to take a step forward, toward recognizing the gay press as one of its own.”

To read POZ Pays Tribute: Elizabeth Taylor, click here.

Critics Can Be Critical of Gays, Even Gay Ones

It’s hard to know what to make of the contretemps over Newsweek‘s diss of Sean Hayes’ Tony-nominated performance in Promises, Promises.  Ramin Setoodeh, whose controversial writing has drawn criticism in the past, set off fireworks when he suggested Hayes and Glee’s Jonathan Goff appear too gay to be convincing as straight love-interests.

Setoodeh, who is gay, has responded to the criticism, saying he’d been inundated with nasty, personal attacks including phone calls and letters to his home. He also said the criticism–set off by a pointed rebuttal by Hayes’ co-star Kristin Chenoweth–was unfair since they misunderstood his larger point about why it is hard to accept a gay actor in a heterosexual role.

I was sharing my honest impression about a play that I saw. If you don’t agree with me, I’m more than happy to hear opposing viewpoints. But I was hoping to start a dialogue that would be thoughtful—not to become a target for people who twisted my words. I’m not a conservative writer with an antigay agenda. I don’t hate gay people or myself.

Setoodeh has previously caused controversy at Newsweek when he asked whether “queeny” gay characters on television harmed gay tolerance and a piece a couple of years ago questioning whether junior highs were prepared to deal with openly gay students.

Journalists–especially arts critics–should ask these kinds of questions, even if they are uncomfortable for the LGBT community to hear.  Whether Sean Hayes or Jonathan Goff can be convincing as a straight character once people know they are gay is an interesting question that is not necessarily a reflection on their talents, which appears to be the point of the story.  Setoodeh isn’t the first gay man to ask whether effeminate gay television characters on television are “good for the gays.”

So why the reaction, including the apparently uncivil response directed at Setoodeh? Aren’t critics supposed to be, well, critical?  Why is it wrong for a critic–gay or straight–to question whether audiences are prepared to accept a gay actor in a straight role?  Why is it difficult for the LGBT community to listen to criticism and quickly rush to label it “anti-gay” or homophobic?

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Rachel Maddow and DADT

A good analysis by the Washington Post’s media writer (and CNN host) Howard Kurtz on whether Rachel Maddow’s sexual orientation influences her interest in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Kurtz says that Maddow has long had an interest in DADT and that her interest isn’t based in a desire to be an LGBT activist. Here’s Maddow’s final quote:

Maddow accepts the fact that some critics believe she must be biased on the subject. But she offers a simple response:

“I can’t do the show as a non-gay person. I don’t have that option.”

Kurtz points out that Maddow is “one of the few openly gay television anchors” (is she really an anchor? Is two a “few”) but that she’s always had an interest in DADT and military readiness. He quotes Maddow pointing out that her coverage of DADT has less to do with her being a lesbian than her concern about the issue of gay and lesbian people being kicked out of the military. It was on Maddow’s show that DADT poster-boy Lt. Daniel Choi first came out and became an instant DADT activist.

Rather than speaking out as a lesbian, Maddow frames the battle by stressing that 12,500 gay service members have been kicked out of the military under the 1993 compromise that allows them to serve if they keep their sexuality hidden.

“We don’t really treat gay issues differently than other issues,” Maddow says. The controversy, she says, is just “a great story.”

It would have been intertesting for Kurtz to point out that LGBT activists have a love/hate relationship with Maddow, who appears to have an awkward relationship with the LGBT community.

Both Michelangelo Signorile and Pam Spaulding have criticized Maddow for not being forceful enough on LGBT issues and Maddow acknowledges she’s not all that interested in being seen as a voice for LGBT activism.

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Adam Lambert versus Out

I will admit that I wouldn’t recognize an Adam Lambert song if he was singing in my living room, but he’s hard to ignore on the Internet since everyone seems to be talking about him.  The current attention is focused on his spat with Out magazine editor Aaron Hicklin that I wrote about at Mediaite.

In a nutshell, Hicklin said Lambert’s people insisted that Lambert not come off as “too gay” in an Out interview and cover for the Out 100 issue. His story is backed up by Shana Naomi Krochmal who says that Lambert’s people tried to micromanage the interview in a way that Krochmal says she’s never experienced.

Lambert agrees that he didn’t want to come off as “too gay” and takes the blame of his handlers, but shot back at Hicklin saying he had an agenda and that Lambert wasn’t interested in talking politics.

I didn’t want to jump onto a gay magazine as my first thing, because I feel like that’s putting myself in a box and limiting myself. It was my desire to stay away from talking about certain political and civil rights issues because I’m not a politician. I’m an entertainer.

The interesting question is what exactly did Lambert think he was going to be asked about in an interview with Out? While the magazine focuses on culture, by its very name, it has a political purpose. So why would Lambert agree to be on the cover and be interviewed if he didn’t want to be seen as a gay symbol?

In his defense, when you read the Entertainment Weekly interview, it becomes clear that Lambert isn’t all that remarkable when it comes to how he deals with his sexual orientation. He’s unsure about how political he wants to be, he’s not really sure what it means to be a gay role model and celebrity, and ultimately just wants to sing and perform. So he’s like a lot of 27-year old gay guys who is comfortable with being out, but not sure how much that is going to define him.