. . . 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.