Gawker and Shepard Smith

In a recent article, NYT media and culture columnist David Carr asks: “What if Gawker tried to out an anchor at Fox News and no one cared?”

gawkerA Gawker article claimed that Fox News anchor Shepard Smith supposedly yelled at a waitress at a bar in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea back in March.

Oh, and his date was a man:

Aha. Cue the innuendo, the salacious follow-ups and the specter of mainstream media outlets picking up the item with a pair of tweezers. Except after the post was published, there was nothing but crickets, other than a piece in Slate wondering aloud why Gawker had bothered. Otherwise, there was no significant pickup, and no broad expression of outrage.

We know why: The culture has moved on. People see other people who happen to be gay at their workplaces, in their schools and on their televisions. Somewhere along the way, what was once a scarlet letter became just another consonant in the personal résumé. And now that gay marriage is a fact of life, a person’s sexual orientation is not only not news, it’s not very interesting.

The majority of the country supports same-sex marriage, and among people 18 to 29 years old, a demographic that makes up the bulk of Gawker’s audience, polls show that 70 percent believe that gay marriage should be legal.

The frisson of the Gawker tidbit was supposed to derive from the contextual equation — Fox News + gay = hypocrisy — but the channel has hardly been of one voice on the issue and there is no indication that it has any special obsession with sexual orientation, like, say, Gawker.

Carr then circles in on Nick Denton:

Gawker, which is run by Nick Denton, who is openly gay, seems to have a bit of a thing for homosexuality. Until Anderson Cooper of CNN decided to publicly announce that he is gay, the site pounded on him over and over, more or less demanding that he acknowledge it.

Eventually Mr. Cooper wrote an open letter saying he is gay, and there was a short burst of coverage, but nothing changed in terms of how he was seen, which suggests most people have moved on …

By doing a takedown on Mr. Smith, Gawker, which trades on its bracingly modern approach to news, comes off as moralistic and invasive, while Fox News seems oddly open-minded and pragmatic in comparison.

Of course, by writing about the Gawker coverage, I’m implicated even as I cluck my tongue, obsessing over someone obsessing over someone else’s sexuality; it feels icky and very meta at the same time. I made quite a few phone calls mulling it over and talking with people, trying to understand if I was pointing at a problem or just becoming part of it.

Michelangelo Signorile chimed in at HuffPost Gay Voices:

And this is where Carr’s statement that “being gay carries no higher burden” is so infuriating: He just doesn’t see that, in fact, by not reporting that a male public figure is out in public with a “boyfriend” when an incident occurred, when you would normally report that he was with a “girlfriend” if he were straight, you’re actually giving gays special treatment rather than treating gays equally. You’re also enforcing the closet and keeping gays invisible.

I’m sure Carr considers himself gay-supportive, but his view is paternalistic and, to borrow a phrase he hurls at Gawker, “old school.” He doesn’t seem to get the idea that we’re not going to get any further on LGBT visibility and equality if we keep coddling people of privilege and treating the reporting of public figures’ sexual orientation as if it were a revelation of terrible information that could psychologically damage them forever. And he doesn’t see that that’s not a consideration when reporting relevant details about other issues that public figures would rather not see reported.

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