In an intriguing Bloggingheads video interview, Marc Ambinder spent a few minutes talking about the incestuous relationship of Washington powerbrokers and the role the “gay mafia” plays in helping gay journalists like Ambinder. I’m going to refer to “gay” because I’m actually very curious how male the “gay mafia” is and whether it helps lesbians.
Here’s what Ambinder has to say about the role the DC “gay mafia” plays in helping out gay journalists in the city and on the campaign trail.
“There is — and I say this term with affection — a bit of a gay mafia in the city,” he said. “Simply the fact that people who are gay knew that I was gay would often be an expediter to information. That doesn’t mean I’m sleeping with them. It just means they know that I’m gay, we shared some sort of a brotherhood and therefore they’re much more likely to talk to me and tell me things that perhaps they wouldn’t necessarily tell me.”
“If I were in the business of burning or revealing sources I could give a number of different examples where simply the fact alone that I happen to be gay and the person on the other end of the telephone happened to be gay and we both knew it, helped me move along or break a pretty big story.”
“It can be a net positive if you find the right people to talk to…. It’s a brotherhood, an established tribal group you’re a member of, so the membership benefits are conferred on you.”
Ambinder isn’t the first to suggest that gay journalists are helped out by gay folks who work in the DC political world. I would imagine the same thing happens in all sorts of situations, not just inside-the-Beltway or on the campaign trail. Political campaigns are relatively notorious for being staffed by gay reporters and producers. Even on the television show “Scandal,” we learn that the chief of staff–and former campaign manager–is in a same-sex relationship with a journalist who covered the campaign.
The larger question is whether profiting from the “outsider/insider” status of being gay is a bad thing. It seems that building a rapport with a source is one of the things a journalist does. If part of that rapport building is based on your sexual orientation (or race or religion or alma mater), there’s no real harm there.
But the perception that there is a “gay mafia,” especially in Washington, can also be damaging. When Rep. Mark Foley was finally forced from office for sending inappropriate messages to pages, there was a widespread perception that Foley had been protected by the Republican “gay mafia” and the gay reporters who wouldn’t report on what they saw in private. Gay entertainment journalists are routinely criticized for keeping the secrets of the “gay mafia” in Hollywood. This is the second-cousin to the suggestion that LGBT journalists can’t be objective on covering gay issues.
So what do you think. Has your journalism been helped because of the “gay mafia”? Is there a parallel “lesbian mafia” or does the help of other gay people extend to lesbian journalists?