Outing the NYT Ed Koch Obit

Ed Koch
Ed Koch

Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, has died. He was 88. The only time I ever met him was at a press conference in the late 1980s. I was an undergrad at New York University studying journalism. He was there to answer questions from the student press.

I never got to ask a question, but I did hear a question that I had never before heard asked of a politician and certainly never heard answered: “Are you gay?” was the question. The answer: “No, next question.”

Although Koch said those words with a smirk on his face, his tone was noncombative. He looked at no one in particular as he answered, pointing randomly to the crowd to get a quick question that would change the subject.

What strikes me the most about that moment is that his answer in public never changed. Despite his support for LGBT rights, activists have pointed to his closeted life as one of the reasons he didn’t do enough for AIDS. Perhaps Koch was a ninja expert at keeping his heterosexuality in the closet, but I would argue the testimony of countless credible sources that he was gay is overwhelming.

While this is all old news to me, I was struck today by a straight colleague who said casually that he had never even heard of the Koch-is-gay stuff until now. Just goes to show how some issues are more relevant to some of us than others. And there’s nothing unusual about that.

That phenomenon explains why many folks, even former adversaries of Koch, praised his accomplishments in the wake of his death while others were disturbed by a seemingly deliberate omission of discussion about his inaction in the early days of the AIDS pandemic.

It’s not my style to dance on graves. I don’t want my loved ones to be hurt by any dancing on my grave, so on this matter I remain a Golden Rule adherent. That said, I do not consider discussing Koch’s inaction on AIDS in and of itself as dancing on his grave.

He was a public figure. As such, scrutiny of his public record isn’t personal, it’s a matter of public concern. And journalists especially shouldn’t shy away from telling the facts of the lives of public people, especially in their obituaries.

The New York Times obituary of Koch originally did just that. The Huffington Post reports that the word “AIDS” was mentioned only once in the first version of the NYT obit, which was 5,500 words long, in a reference to “the scandals and the scourges of crack cocaine, homelessness and AIDS.”

A few hours later three paragraphs about his handling of AIDS were added, but the NYT wrote that “hundreds of New Yorkers were desperately ill or dying” in the 1980s when in fact it was tens of thousands. Even in its attempts at correcting the record, the NYT fell short. As of this writing, that incorrect fact has not been updated.

Some activists go as far as to accuse Koch of murder because of his inaction on AIDS, but that is too far for me. Discussing his inaction on AIDS, however, shouldn’t be too far for anyone.

LGBT Journalists Win Big in the Election

By Sarah Blazucki

The election was a long time coming, particularly for LGBT journalists who cover politics and who have a personal stake in the shape of marriage rights and/or direct representation at the local, state and national level. For much of the country, it was also a huge sigh of relief and cause for celebration.

For the LGBT community in general, the election results demonstrated marked progress on social issues in myriad ways: gay-friendly leadership in the White House, the first voter approval of marriage equality in three states at once, the first out U.S. senator, a record five out U.S. representatives (one more still undecided race could push that to six, which would also bring the first out bisexual to Congress) and the first out lawmakers in seven state legislatures (including Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, West Virginia and Florida, which elected two).

In media, some of the biggest winners in the LGBT community may have been the out broadcast journalists who covered election night, including Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon and John Yang. Perhaps the biggest winner of the night in this field was Nate Silver, statistician and author of The New York Times blog fivethirtyeight.com, who is openly gay. Silver predicted President Barack Obama would win a second term on his well-regarded and widely read blog-and was vindicated when the election outcome matched his analysis.

Silver’s mathematical meta-analysis of data is far more scientific than speculative, bringing weight to his predictions. Moreover, his statistical analyses of polls are accessible for those who aren’t data wonks, but want solid information. Despite this, Silver has been criticized for being “effeminate” and conservative pundits had derided his pre-election forecasts, mostly because they didn’t agree with them: Silver consistently predicted Obama would win a second term, with his chances improving as the election got closer. Post-election, as some put it, Silver took a “victory lap” and “scored one for the geeks.” On MSNBC, fellow data/policy wonk Maddow said, “You know who won the election tonight? Nate Silver.”

Silver isn’t alone in facing homophobia, though what he’s endured may be more public than most. For LGBT journalists, the hardest place to be out is in front of the camera. On-air journalists continue to face prejudice in the highly competitive broadcast realm, where image plays a greater role in performance. So it’s heartening to see out accomplished journalists on-air on election night-arguably the most important news night of the year. And it’s one more indication that media management, as well as audiences, are becoming more accepting and appreciative of out LGBT journalists.

Another indicator of growing acceptance was how news media covered same-sex marriage referendums in four states. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, which all approved their marriage-equality measures, election night coverage weighted it equally with other referendums on the ballots, neither ignoring nor fixating on the issue. Likewise in Minnesota, which rejected a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman, media gave the measure fair coverage.

As many have noted, this election will likely be viewed as a tipping point for LGBT rights. In an era when the president supports same-sex marriage (now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia) and the military no longer bans gays and lesbians, Obama will have greater freedom on social issues in his second term. Considering LGBT Americans still face inequalities in employment, immigration and marriage, journalists across the industry will have increasing opportunities to cover this minority community.

Sarah Blazucki is NLGJA vice president of print and digital media. She currently is a writer-editor for the Peace Corps and is the former editor of the Philadelphia Gay News.

Boston LGBT newspaper Bay Windows prints letter from Republican US Senator Scott Brown

More than a year ago I took to task US Senator Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts) for refusing to speak to his state’s main LGBT newspaper.

Bay Windows had been dogging the relatively moderate GOPer for his refusal to speak to it or any other LGBT media outlet since his election in 2010.

Well, in last week’s April 4 edition, Brown finally spoke to his LGBT constituents, sort of. He penned a 636-word column that ran on the Bay Window’s  front page.

In it he explains why he was one of a handful of GOP senators to vote for repeal of the anti-gay military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And while he spends most of the piece talking about fixing the economy and creating jobs, no where does Brown come out in support for passing a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect LGBT workers from being fired based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nor does he call for repeal of the anti-gay federal Defense of Marriage Act, which not only disallows the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples in his state but also costs countless LGBT families in numerous ways. And that takes money out of their wallets that could be spent on local businesses in their communities, giving a boost to the economy Brown says he is so worried about.

In fact, he refuses to pledge to support any specific LGBT rights bills:

“I don’t come before you with a checklist of items promising that I will be an advocate for you on each and every one of them. My opponent has already started down that road, promising to support everyone’s pet project. That’s not the way I have ever operated,” wrote Brown, a former Cosmo nude cover model who faces a tough re-election fight against consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren. “But I will go to work for you on the most important issue facing us—getting this bad economy working again and creating jobs.”

Due to the op-ed from Brown, the New England weekly LGBT paper discontinued running a box on its front page that had been counting down Brown’s days of silence for refusing to talk to Bay Windows. The column also came after the paper had done a Q&A with Warren.

In yesterday’s edition Bay Windows Publisher Sue O’Connell explained how the letter from Brown came about:

“On Feb. 12, 2012, I visited a stop on the Senator’s campaign schedule and we had a pleasant conversation. He connected me with a staffer. Bay Windows removed the countdown box from the front page. Senator Brown submitted his guest opinion,” wrote O’Connell.

While Brown gets kudos for at least submitting his letter, it is still a far cry from granting an interview with a Bay Windows reporter and answering questions about his position on numerous LGBT issues. And it doesn’t seem to merit being published on the front page, since it reads more like a letter to the editor.

Based on the comments posted to the paper’s website and letters it received from readers after it published Brown’s piece, many readers agree it is not equivalent to being interviewed.

JIM JACOBS [ Apr 05 ] – This — offering an opinion piece — is all very well and good, but its content (simply a vote-for-me request for votes) and its timing (well, certainly not offered as a means of connecting with a constituency; rather it’s just that it is election season and Mr. Brown is in a race for office against a credible contender, Ms. Warren) … well, thanks Mr. Brown but I am unimpressed.  Very unimpressed.

Janice Josephine Carney, president New England LGBT Veterans Inc., not only took the paper to task for its decision on how to play the letter but also Brown for its lack of content.

On principle, I was disappointed to see the smiling picture of Sen. Brown on the front page of the April 5th issue of Bay Windows.  I would have been happy to read an actual interview with editors from Bay Windows; but, after his ignoring our community since his election, to print his reelection letter is not right,” wrote Carney.

Later she added, “The fact that in his letter he did not commit on the ENDA or DOMA is an insult to the readers of Bay Windows. Comparing taking a stand on how a senator will vote on a bill to “promising to support everyone’s pet project” is more political doubletalk. I sincerely hope that the next time I see a picture of Sen. Brown on the front page of the Bay Windows that it is part of a thoughtful interview forcing Sen. Brown to take a stand on how he will vote on bills that affect the LGBT community.”

He did get some praise from Bay Windows readers. One conflicted commentator wrote:

BOSGUY   [ Apr 04 ] – Senator Brown, Thank you for finally addressing the LGBT community. Whether I agree with your views or not, your resounding silence since taking office had been disconcerting; especially in light of your predecessor who maintained such open dialog with the LGBT community.

I would like to think that there can be more dialog with you now that you are in full campaign mode. I hope that the sole extent of your interaction with the LGBT community in MA does not begin and end with a guest opinion; that would seem a bit hollow.

I still stand by my sentiments from over a year ago that anyone seeking public office, especially one as important as a US Senate seat, should have the courage to address questions from their local LGBT press, no matter if what they have to say may not be what that news outlet’s readers want to hear.

When to Say Chris Hughes Is Gay

The recent coverage of Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, taking a majority stake of The New Republic has had varying degrees of gayness.

LGBT media, not surprisingly, was rather direct about mentioning Hughes is gay. “Gay Facebook Founder Chris Hughes Buys ‘The New Republic'” was the hed at Towleroad. “Chris Hughes, Out Gay Facebook Co-Founder and Former Obama Staffer, Buys The New Republic” was the hed at MetroWeekly.

Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post mentioned that Hughes was gay. Both The Huffington Post and The New Yorker did mention Hughes was gay. The difference was varying degrees of context.

From the Times:

Mr. Hughes, who was a roommate of Mark Zuckerberg’s at Harvard and who ran publicity for Facebook at its outset, quit the company in 2007 and joined Mr. Obama’s campaign, where he ran a social network for the candidate’s supporters. He later founded Jumo, an online hub for charities, which merged less than a year later with GOOD, a publishing company that promotes social action.

Mr. Hughes said he would continue to advise GOOD, but The New Republic would be his priority. He will continue to reside in the Hudson River Valley of New York but will visit the magazine’s office in Washington often.

From the Post:

A 2006 graduate of Harvard University, Hughes was among the group of college classmates who started Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, Hughes’s roommate, in 2003. Forbes has estimated Hughes’s net worth at $700 million, but that was before Facebook filed this year to offer its first shares to the public.

Hughes left Facebook in 2007 to serve as social-media director for Obama’s campaign, organizing an effort that raised record amounts of money.

From HuffPo:

Hughes is worth hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to his days at Facebook. He was also a key player in President Obama’s online organizing efforts in 2008. More recently, Hughes, who is openly gay, has become involved in the fight for same-sex marriage along with his partner Sean Eldridge, political director for the group Freedom To Marry.

From The New Yorker:

Hughes appears to be a certified liberal, much to the relief of most of the magazine’s staff, alumni, and readers. Though he has been involved in some forms of activism—he ran the social media operation for the 2008 Obama campaign, and his significant other, Sean Eldridge, is the former political director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom To Marry—his comments on the direction of the magazine have been non-ideological, heavier on tech-world jargon than political talking points.

These excerpts are the extent of his personal life included in these articles. Notice that HuffPo and The New Yorker brought up his connection to same-sex marriage advocacy, which opened the door to mentioning Hughes is gay.

I’m totally down with how each of these mainstream media outlets handled the “When to say?” gay disclosure thing. Sexual orientation isn’t relevant until it is. HuffPo makes it over the line by including his same-sex marriage connection, but The New Yorker does the better job (although their use of “significant other” irks me a bit) by providing more context.

It’s time for Obama to talk to the gay press again

Fours years into President Barack Obama’s first term, and the LGBT community’s “fierce advocate” has been incredibly shy when it comes to talking to the nation’s gay press.

This week the Advocate, the country’s national LGBT newsmagazine, disclosed that of the main presidential candidates this year, only Obama answered its questionnaire. While that is commendable, it is not of the same caliber as doing a one-on-one interview with a journalist and being pressed on one’s answers.

Since taking office in 2009 Obama has granted a single interview to an LGBT print publication. In December of 2010 he sat down with Kerry Eleveld, then the D.C.-based reporter for the Advocate.

That interview came two months after Joe Sudbay, who covers gay politics for AMERICAblog, was one of a handful of progressive bloggers who were given access to the president and allowed to ask questions about any topic.

Starting with his first presidential campaign, Obama has had a mixed record on granting access to the LGBT press. During his primary battle in 2008 against Hillary Clinton, the Philadelphia Gay News famously ran a blank space on its front page after being denied an interview with Obama ahead of the Pennsylvania Primary that year.

While the paper endorsed Clinton, who did grant the publication an interview, the stunt drew national headlines and highlighted Obama’s refusal during the campaign to talk with local gay publications across the country. Obama did talk to PGN prior to the November election, and the interview ran in a number of LGBT publications, including the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco.

After taking office, the Obama administration granted access to its White House press briefings to several journalists from gay publications based in D.C., such as the Washington Blade and the Advocate. That access had been denied under the Bush administration.

And a host of cabinet secretaries, high-level officials and senior staffers in the administration have talked to numerous gay news outlets in the last three years. His press spokesman for LGBT outlets took part in NLGJA’s convention last summer in Philadelphia for example, as did Daniel B. Baer, the openly gay deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. State Department.

Certainly there has been a lot to cover, as Obama has pushed through more pro-gay regulations and laws than any president in modern times. And there is plenty more work to do, such as repealing the federal ban against same-sex marriage and adopting federal protections for LGBTs in the workplace.

All the more reason why Obama should be talking to the LGBT community through its gay news media. As he courts LGBT voters and donors, Obama should be engaging with the LGBT press.

“It’s important for the president to speak to media that reflect and reach communities that mirror the full diversity of this country,” stated David A. Steinberg, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s national president. “In a time when so many major publications and broadcasters are cutting back, the gay press provides information that’s important to the LGBT community — information that often can’t be found anywhere else.”

Whether the president will grant another LGBT press interview amid the cacophony of the 2012 presidential campaign remains unclear. In response to a query for this blog post, an Obama spokesman would not say if he has another gay press interview lined up.

Lisa Keen, the owner of a news service for LGBT media outlets, said in an email today (March, 9) that she has repeatedly tried to secure an interview with Obama since 2008.

“Yes, I have put in several requests, but to no avail. I think I’ve gotten only one official ‘no.’ I’ve been reading in the trades that Obama grants very few interviews (I believe media serving African American readers have felt snubbed) but he has granted group interviews to media (Hispanics last fall) that can serve his interests (appeasing constituencies, appearing accessible, etc.),” wrote Keen.

She also was critical of the time constraints placed on both Eleveld and Sudbay, noting that neither were given enough time to cover the myriad LGBT issues that need to be asked of Obama.

“This limiting interviews to 10-15 minutes has become common practice for presidential candidates (though he was more than a candidate at the time) — limit interviews to 15 minutes so you can rattle on and on about one point and never really have to answer many questions,” wrote Keen. “With the Eleveld interview, she had to ask about [repealing the anti-gay military policy 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] and that gave him a chance to take a long victory lap, leaving little time for anything else. He’s also fond of pulling out a few stock responses like, ‘I’m not ready to make news on that today’ to avoid answering questions he doesn’t want to.”

Mark Segal, the publisher of the Philly LGBT paper, said his publication is once again trying to land an interview with Obama this year ahead of the November election. And he added that he would have no problem running another blank front page to protest Obama’s refusal to do so.

“I certainly expect the president to be interviewed by LGBT media during his campaign. Having a press aide who deals with LGBT media on a regular basis has been very helpful, but during a campaign we expect to hear from the president himself.  It is an issue of respect, and I believe the president understands that,” Segal wrote in an emailed response.

Keen said she is unaware of the main GOP contenders – Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, or Mitt Romney – having granted an interview with the gay media. She plans to try to nab an interview with the party’s nominee following the Republican National Convention this summer.

So Obama’s got a one-up on them in that respect. I have not asked for an interview with Romney, Santorum, etc. I think that will be appropriate in the general, but there’s not really been a divide among GOP gays as to who they’re for in the primaries, so it seems pointless until we get into the general and I can’t imagine a GOP candidate would even consider an interview until the general, if then,” wrote Keen.

PGN plans to seek interviews with Santorum, the state’s former U.S. senator and House member, ahead of the Pennsylvania primary this year, said Segal.

“When Ricky and the R circus gets to PA, as PGN always does we will reach out and make a request.  And I do expect the Republican circus will go to the April 25th Pennsylvania primary,” wrote Segal.

The Washington Blade, D.C.’s oldest LGBT newspaper, has had its interview requests rejected by both Obama’s campaign and White House staff since 2008. Similar to this year’s Advocate questionnaire, Obama did a written Q&A with the Blade during the 2008 campaign.

Kevin Naff, the paper’s editor, said he plans to request interviews with both parties’ nominee this year.