When and Where Should A Line Be Drawn?

Did Media Cross Line In Larry Craig Case?

Did the media go too far with exposing Larry Craig? Some say yes, a man’s private life should remain private. Others disagree – an anti-gay politician deserves to be exposed.

Two of the most vocal journalists in this debate, Michelangelo Signorile and Chris Crain, faced off yesterday to discuss the ins-and-outs of Lewd Larry’s newly dissected life…

A well-known proponent of outing – a word he loathes – Signorile says Michael Rogers and The Idaho Statesman had every right to pry into Craig’s closet:

If people are going to make other people’s lives into campaign issues by promoting “family values,” then it is right to look into issues relevant to their own lives.

Many people frame this debate in terms of hypocrisy. Signorile says, however, that he’s more interested in “normalizing” media coverage of gays. “[I’m] about normalizing sexual orientation in journalism and not keeping homosexuality as the dirty little secret while heterosexuality is glamorized. Signorile’s certainly got a point. As most of us know first hand, heterosexuality’s the national sexual default. It’s discussed as if it’s as natural as breathing. Signorile would like to see queers discussed in just the same way. And so would Chris Crain, but not at such a high cost.

Crain views the issue in terms of privacy rights: rights gays have fought for, particularly with regard to sodomy-laws. “Activist” journalists not only violate people’s privacy, they harm gay communities.

These activists have no boundaries when it comes to the private sex lives of public figures, and they would drag the media into the bedrooms, toilets and phone-sex chat lines with them. It’s not legitimate journalism, it invades the privacy of public figures, and (whether they realize it or not) it smears gay people generally by reinforcing the idea that we’re all out there furtively looking for anonymous sex.

Crain goes on to explain that we only hear about sex-driven scandals, not happily settled queer couples. And he’s right. The media lives on sensationalism. This sensationalism can perpetuate negative stereotypes of gay men.

Both Crain and Signorile concur, however, that these depictions aren’t entirely the media’s responsibility. Signorile:

As far as the idea that revealing that kind of thing reinforces gay stereotypes, well, it’s not my job nor Chris’s to dress up the gay community and make it look all shiny and pretty. Leave that to the PR people at Human Rights Campaign and other groups. It’s our jobs as journalists to report the truth when relevant. AIDS didn’t make gays look good either, but we needed to get the facts out. This is not about homosexuality anyway–it’s about homophobia and the closet, and that’s why it’s important that the message get out.

Like so many “gay” debates, this can be boiled down to the closet. In that reduction, however, Craig and others’ sexualities become one homogeneous blob. As we’ve seen, Craig’s isn’t an essentially gay issue. Perhaps the issue isn’t “homosexuality,” but sexuality in general.

Regardless of the sexual semantics, Signorile and Crain converge on the closet. The more homosexuality’s discussed, they say, the easier it will be for people to come out. The debate’s not soley about rights to privacy or political tricks. It’s about how our country deals with so-called sexual deviance. We’ve already had one sexual revolution. Perhaps it’s time for another?

No matter how many times we revisit sexuality, however, Crain – gulp – makes an excellent point in his closing remark:

I’m betting there will never come a day when some of those who pontificate on sexual morality live lives inconsistent with their rhetoric. Hypocrisy is human, and sexual hypocrisy is probably among the most common variety.

And it makes a great headline.