Michael Rogers is Angry

. . . and who can blame him. The longtime activist skilled in digging up evidence that conservative politicians are secretly–or not secretly–gay has “outed” another Republican politician as gay, South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer.  But almost no one in the mainstream media appears to be paying attention.

The story did get picked up by the NBC affilliate in Columbia, S.C., which spent most of its time disputing the reports and suggesting bloggers really can’t be trusted.  But the only bad publicity is nopublicity, and so coverage by the a mainstream news outlet in the state’s capitol is significant.

So why don’t mainstream outlets run with outing stories until they get really big? Kelly McBride at the Poynter Institute suggests that the desire to cover the outing story–or not cover it–often comes down to finding a journalistic reason to justify it as a new story.

If you’re going to cover the Senator Larry Craig story, find a journalistic purpose for the space and time and energy it consumes.

McBride says the main reasons reporters and activists give for covering an “outing” is linked to hypocrisy, criminality, and impact on the voters. She finds the final reason the most suspect.

This is a cop-out, a great way to back into a salacious story without taking responsibility for the information at the heart of the story.

In an interesting 2007 “debate” between Chris Crain and Michelangelo Signorile in Newsweek, the outspoken journalists differed on whether an “outing” is an actual news story.

Crain: I think our disagreement about “outing” boils down to whether we respect the privacy of a public figure’s sex life. I disagree that online hookup sites and chat rooms and phone-sex lines are “public,” and I’m confident that 99.9 percent of the people (male and female, gay and straight) who use them would disagree with you, as well. It strikes me that you are really rationalizing a justification for invading those spaces because, as you say, they’re the only places you can go to get the goods on a closet case. But the end doesn’t justify the means. The gay rights movement is, in part, about protecting the right to privacy in the choice of consensual sex and romantic partners. It would be quite a queer path to equality if we must violate that very right of our opponents to prove them wrong.

Signorile: As I explained, there is no such thing as “outing”—it is reporting. What I am doing and have done over the years is no different from what other journalists do in reporting on heterosexuals and their relationships when relevant to a larger news event. We don’t call that “outing”—we call it reporting.

As homosexuality becomes more acceptable in society, discussing public figures as gay becomes more acceptable. The two are inextricably tied together. What you call outing will only become bigger, especially as anyone can set up a blog and do their thing. Meanwhile, people who aspire to live in the public eye will realize they have to live honestly and openly, and that is happening in Hollywood (Neil Patrick Harris, T. R. Knight, etc.) as well as Washington these days.

We’ve dealt with ethics of outing before on this blog and there’s no consensus among NLGJA members–whether in the mainstream media or the LGBT media–on the ethics of outing and reporting on outing.

Different media are going to have different standards. Different journalists are going to have different standards. Activists are going to view it differently from journalists, but there may be areas of agreement.

One of the challenges is that outing by activists has a political motivation. Activists don’t “out” politicians who are friendly to LGBT causes. So journalists are caught in a bind, reporting on a political act that has political and personal consequences. It’s not just “reporting” on evidence of the sexual orientation of a politician. It’s also about recognizing that “outing” is ideologically and politically motivated and that journalists–even if you agree with those motivations–have to do more than just report innuendo.

5 Responses

  1. It backfired on Michael, again? Gee, what a shame….

    I suppose the reason would be Andre is not a major player in the world of anti-gay poltics – yet…maybe… and no one can figure how just how someone being an anti-gay closet case affects one outside the state of South Carolina.

    When one does figure it out…

  2. You know, another possibility for the silence is that it’s just not that unusual anymore to discover that a politician who has lived outwardly straight has a secret gay life.

    It’s gone from being scandalous to merely sad, kind of like someone being a secret alcoholic. If there’s no hypocrisy, no graft or corruption to accompany the story, and if the guy (why are they all guys?) isn’t widely known in national circles (equivalent of a governor or higher), then most people in the audience outside of the immediate geographic area just don’t care.

  3. The only evidence Rogers produces is (several) anonymous sources, making it impossible to re-report or in any way confirm the assertions. That means that the story hangs 100% on Rogers’ credibility, which is problematic because, by his own account, he is an activist and not a journalist.

  4. @tim I am surprised to see you treat my work in such a flippant way. I co-broke the story on Sirius/XM OutQ Radio on Michelangelo Signorile’s show. Reporters throughout time have depended on anonymous sources to tell stories and, as you know, I have never been proven wrong.

    I’m insulted by the assertion that I am “not a journalist.” My work as a journalist on both PageOneQ and BlogActive is well known and while I may do a different form of journalism than some others, the anonymous sources seemed to work for Woodward and Bernstein, are you calling them activists and not journalists?

    What is most troubling is that as citizen journalists like myself try to help bring NLGJA into the internet age, once again our work is treated without respect. If someone needs a reason why new media professionals are not finding NLGJA relevant, here’s another example.

  5. @nelson
    Backfired? my work ended up on two TV stations in the So Carolina capital covering the story and I generated enough buzz to result in a State Senator… that story was picked up by CNN and the Politico.

    If you consider a successful outing “backfire” then I guess it is.

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