Ken Mehlman Comes Out: The Story Behind the Story

By now, everyone has likely seen the Marc Ambinder piece on former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman coming out. As interesting as that story is, there are some other interesting media angles worth keeping on-top of:

– Mehlman’s interview with Kerry Eleveld at The Advocate.

There’s a lot of gays and lesbians and other people who are still angry about the 2004 election and the fact that that those 11 amendments were on the ballot. Is there anything that you would like to say about that in particular?
Look, I have a lot of friends who ask questions and who are angry about it. I understand that folks are angry, I don’t know that you can change the past. As I’ve said, one thing I regret a lot is the fact that I wasn’t in the position I am today where I was comfortable with this part of my life, where I was able to be an advocate against that [strategy] and able to be someone who argued against it. I can’t change that – it is something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the future.

But I understand the anger and I talk to friends about it – it’s something that I hear from a number of friends.

As the strategy developed, did it ever make you uncomfortable?
Yes.

There were a lot of people, including people that supported the [Federal Marriage Amendment], for example, that worried about this being divisive.

I obviously found it particularly challenging to deal with and, because I wasn’t in the place I am today where I’m comfortable with this part of my life, it was really hard and it was particularly hard because there was really nobody who knew this about me and so there was no one I could even talk to about it. So it was a period that I’m very glad is over.

– Michael Calderone at The Upshot on why the press didn’t out Mehlman earlier.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz is one of several journalists to quickly follow up on Mehlman’s announcement Wednesday by saying it’s been an “open secret” in Washington for years. “This is no longer really a media climate that tolerates open secrets,” wrote Politico’s Ben Smith shortly after the news broke.

But just because everyone “knows” something doesn’t mean they actually know it.

Jake Tapper, who covers the White House for ABC News, told The Upshot that “there’s a significant difference between an open secret and a widely held suspicion.”

The suspicion, rather than direct knowledge that Mehlman is gay, has been alive in elite media and political circles for more than a half decade.In 2005, Tapper penned a GQ profile of Mike Rogers, a gay activist willing to out political figures who support policies infringing upon gay rights. Rogers has long targeted Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National Committee who also ran President Bush’s  re-election campaign. (More on Mehlman’s record of opposing gay rights here).

– Howard Kurtz’s interview with Marc Ambinder

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.”

The scoop was essentially handed to Ambinder. Mehlman, displaying the political acumen of the man who ran George W. Bush’s reelection campaign, assembled a team of friends and advisers to manage his coming out. One member of the team approached Ambinder several weeks ago to gauge his interest in the story. Mehlman told Ambinder that it “has taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life” and that he wants to become an advocate for same-sex marriage.

– My story for Mediaite on how the story was orchestrated.

Although the story reads as if Ambinder had been cultivating Mehlman for years, it’s also evident that Mehlman timed his coming-out story to coincide with his sponsorship of a $5,000 a person fundraiser for American Foundation for Equal Rights, the folks behind the challenge to the anti-gay marriage law in California.

Mehlman, a master at controlling the story and staying on message, didn’t just blurt out his story to Ambinder in an un-planned fashion.  It now appears that a number of people knew about the story even before Mike Rogers went public with the rumor of the coming-out expose that Ambinder was planning. Like all “coming out” stories involving well-known people, it was well-orchestrated by people surrounding Mehlman although there is no evidence he was shopping the coming-out story around to anyone besides Ambinder.

Politico, The Advocate and Huffington Post soon had interviews with Mehlman and admit they knew about the story for at least a couple of days.

– Mike Rogers on his theory about why Ambinder went with the story early.

Ambinder needed a little push on a Wednesday… As we know, he planned to run the story Friday afternoon, to most likely diminish the media frenzy and to allow apologists like Dustin Lance Black and Chad Griffin time to support Ken publicly. Pathetic Hollywood people who care abut nothing more than money and access to it. And why will it take millions? Because Olson didn’t make enough off of Bush v. Gore? If they are all so concerned about our rights, let Mehlman take the condo and use THAT to fund the battle. (I am disgusted that Griffin was involved in Outrage as one of the people who raised funds for the project.)

2 Responses

  1. Frankly, I don’t see how there can be anything positive about outing someone. You take away something that should be done personally so you can get attention for yourself and justify it with the smug sense of self-satisfaction that you’re doing the right thing by possibly destroying somebody’s life. Meanwhile, the many folks who oppose gay marriage but support civil unions may be less inclined to support those who invade personal lives and throw people under the bus in such a self-serving way.

    And then, of course, comes the ensuing fallout commentary, as we’re seeing now, that displays what the gay left’s tolerance™ is really all about. I can’t see how that endears gays with a lot of folks. Not everybody is selfish, angry people and those who aren’t are usually turned off and repulsed by those who are.

    How can you desire to be left alone when you’re perfectly willing to invade other people’s privacy and/or dictate how people should live their lives as the gay left does?

  2. Uh, of course anti-gay politicians should be outed. The real scandal here is how the news media covered up for this hypocrite for years. Now, when the climate is better and when he knows he has no future in the Republican party, this hack comes out and wants to be greeted as a hero. The man is responsible for all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors, and people are worrying about his “dignity”? Obviously, he cared nothing about the dignity and rights of gay people. Typical Republican apologists who suddenly believe in the right of privacy. Tell that to the routine invasions of privacy under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and other initiative favored by conservatives.

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