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.