All it took was one angry Facebook post from journalist Itay Hod, but his thinly veiled outing of GOP Rep. Aaron Schock stoked a debate that grows by the day. It doesn’t matter Hod hasn’t expanded on his original comments and that Schock has been silent. The conversation has taken off on social media without the protagonists, although how long Schock can ignore it without ruining his political career remains to be seen.
So far, the only reaction from the body-building Congressman has been to lock down his Instagram account, so that you can no longer see that he follows diver Tom Daley. Although everybody already knows he does.
Completely ignoring the point of Hod’s post–that the media can know the truth and still refuse to report it–many journalists have decided they are more comfortable questioning the ethics of outing than reporting on Schock and his antigay record. The bad news for Schock is that they still cover his purported double life as the basis for the stories on the ethics of outing. That includes the right-wing press, which is content to spread the news as a way of attacking “homosexual websites” for spreading the story in the first place.
Buzzfeed ran a long colloquy between two reporters discussing the issue, which simultaneously condemned Hod for not presenting sufficient evidence about his hypothetical Illinois Congressman while acknowledging reporters are overly cautious about reporting on sexual orientation. At The Week, gay journalist Marc Ambinder cited the episode as a case of How Not To Out A Congressman. (CBS also put some distance between it and Hod, saying that Hod hasn’t worked for the network for two years.)
Of course, the mainstream media is looking for a smoking gun (so to speak), something akin to a dress with DNA evidence on it to verify beyond all doubt the orientation of the politician in question. Circumstantial evidence won’t suffice under that standard.
But Itay has clearly struck a chord among people fed up with the media’s complicity with hypocrisy. His Facebook news feed now has more than 6,500 followers, and scores of you-go-girl comments, including one from Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin, who wrote, “You’re my hero today, Itay. Probably for a very long time. xoxo.”
Meanwhile, Schock’s Facebook page is becoming a handy place for angry people to post complaints about the closet and Schock’s dismal voting record on LGBT issues.
And that’s what makes Schock’s problem different. Other politicians who faced outing did so in the era before social media became its own force. Before Facebook, before Twitter, and certainly before Instagram, it was easier to contain the conversation and to count on the complicity of the mainstream media in not addressing it due to insufficient evidence or just plain squeamishness about the kind of reporting it would take to expose someone’s true sexual life and explain how it contradicts the public and political one.
That’s no longer the case, and Hod’s post heralds the change. Coy as Hod was, he started an entirely new type of conversation. It’s going to take a lot more than locking down an Instagram account to respond to it.