Apparently, the outing of a Congressman is more than even the New York Times can resist. So, the Times has produced a story about Itay Hod, whose Facebook posting effectively outed GOP Rep. Aaron Schock, to discuss the debate about outing. And how would you handle a political story if you were the paper of recod?
Put it in the Fashion & Style section. Oh, and don’t mention Schock by name.
But link to the Facebook item that caused the furor.
In a classic case of having its cake and eating it too, the Times juggled two competing impulses: covering a juicy story and adhering to its self-selected standards. It’s hard to imagine what the point is of not mentioning Schock by name, since the paper makes it available just a click away. Instead, the paper wants to use the episode for more journalistic navel-gazing about the merits of outing.
And here’s the point journalists seem to keep missing about Hod’s original post. Hod is saying that an open secret remains secret only with the complicity of the media. Everyone knows but no one is willing to say anything.
The mainstream media’s response is, show us the proof. In the absence of a direct statement, the only acceptable evidence under this logic is evidence if a sexual relationship.
Let’s stop and think about that for a second.
Do we need evidence of a sexual relationship to identify someone as straight? Obviously not. But when it comes to someone who is lesbian or gay, if there isn’t DNA involved, the evidence isn’t good enough.
Moreover, why the prosecutor’s standard of evidence for calling someone gay? The underlying (and unspoken) premise is that being gay is still something worthy of being a secret. That’s a hangover from the days when being out was likely to be harmful because of the bigotry you would face. Journalists want to get the story right, for good reason, but is it really still libel to call someone gay? You can understand why a newspaper wouldn’t want to spend the money to test that theory, but let’s stop pretending that calling someone gay is a slur.
The tension that Hod surfaced is what constitutes being out. If everyone knows, as was the case with Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, but no one says anything, it still sends a signal that being gay is something to hide because it’s private. You can’t imagine anyone take the same approach to, say, someone’s religion. Everyone knows he’s a Presbyterian, but we never actually saw him coming out of the church.
At the same time, people should have the right to control their own coming out narrative. But they shouldn’t count on the media as co-conspirators of the closet. Especially not when, as in one case that comes to mind, you’ve made a career at the expense of your own community. Who might that be? You can probably supply his name yourself.