Hilary Rosen Talks Politics, Press and Sexism

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Hilary Rosen may very well be Wonder Woman.

The New Jersey-born activist acted as the Recording Industry Association of America’s chairman for five years, acted lesbian social networking site Ourchart’s president, served as Human Rights Campaign’s interim executive director back in 2004 and currently serves as Huffington Post’s political director, a gig she accepted earlier this year.

With all that experience under her belt, you can be sure Rosen, who previously endorsed Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, has scads to say about the current electoral climate, including the increasingly “blurred” lines between press and politics, her feelings on Clinton’s departure, sexism in the press and how the lived experience shapes one’s political views. And, thankfully, Rosen shared her thoughts – and many more – with our trusty editor.

Before getting into all of that, however, the duo start things off at the “beginning” of Rosen’s queer career: her coming out. Read all about it, after the jump…

Andrew Belonsky: How old were you when you came out, Hilary?

Hilary Rosen: I came out in college. I went to George Washington and my freshman year I fell in love with my roommate.

AB: And how did she take it?

HR: We fell in love with each other, I should say, so I guess she took it quite well!

AB: How convenient! Were your parents as enthusiastic?

HR: [Pauses.] My parents were actually great about it. My mother was resistant because she wanted me to be happy, but they were so liberal and their politics were so progressive, I think they were trying to live their values. I was testing their values.

AB: I imagine your parents’ progressive politics influenced your activism.

HR: Yeah. My mom was the first woman elected to our town council, our city council. She was a politician and she took a very traditional route for women politicians in those days: she started out involved in the PTA and then was president in the PTA and then got involved on the school board and then ran for city council.

AB: Do you think that sort of trajectory for a woman – being involved in education – works or is it outdated?

HR: I think it does work with women today. It happens all over the place. People get politicized when something in their life connects with something that they perceive as actionable outside of it, in the government. The more involved you are, the meatier you are -whether that means being an advocate for your kid in the public schools or being gay and lesbian and not wanting to face discrimination or whether that’s a truck driver unhappy about gas prices – you get engaged.

AB: Of course that’s one of the keys to any – I’m using the term loosely, ideology – your lived experience influences your plot to change your reality. So, in addition to your parents’ influence on you, do you remember a key moment in your politicization? Is there anything that sticks out?

HR: You know, I was kind of always political, as it were. I was a student rep on the school board, I was involved with President Carter, I volunteered at the local Democratic headquarters, and so I’ve always done that. I was always political, so to be a political gay person seemed like a pretty natural step for me.

AB: Looking at your beginnings in the gay rights movement and where we are now, what are your thoughts on the progress? And what hasn’t changed, in your opinion, or are there tactics with which you disagree?

HR: It’s never satisfying enough to hear how much progress there has been if we don’t have full equality. It’s like, “Yes, but it’s not enough.” If you start out with that caveat it’s – I mean, my first days lobbying on gay and lesbian issues were met with surprise and reticence and people really didn’t want to talk about it, but now there are real policy discussions. That in and of itself has politically changed, but it’s not enough.

AB: Now, let’s talk about a semi-related topic: the intersection of politics and press. This has come up a number of times during interviews I’ve done, like with Nico Pitney and Rachel Maddow. First the idea that now, more than ever before, journalists are becoming the news, which, I think could be a distressing development. When we have endless stories about Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann’s tax records – does that threaten the “sanctity” of journalism?

HR: Clearly the lines are way blurred and since Rachel Maddow kept me out drinking last night, they’re really blurred, but the – you know, Keith Olbermann’s not a journalist –

AB: He’s a commentator.

HR: Right. And Chris used to be a journalist, but not really. Before he was on Hardball he was a columnist and before that he was an advocate in Congress. The public has no clue who’s a journalist anymore and who isn’t. They see names on TV of people associated with news organizations and they make assumptions across the board. It’s interesting, because in Washington, we’re all so cognizant of who’s a journalist and who’s a pundit. Some people around the country don’t know [the difference] and get confused and resent it. They’ll hear things like Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann having an opinion when in essence that’s who they are – and people will think, well they’re news people, they’re not supposed to have these opinions.

AB: That brings up something that Maddow said to me when I interviewed her earlier this year: that political analysis is inherently emotional; people need an emotion to relate to fully understand a lot of what’s going on behind the scenes and in the news. Do you agree with that statement?

HR: I do agree with that and I think it’s increasingly personal, as well, which explains the increased popularity for places like Huffington Post, the cable shows and things like that: places where you get people who have passion and are talking about the issues with passion. And, yes, there are news nuggets among them for discussion, but it’s often about advocacy and passion. I think politics have in a way become much more organic and have in essence have surpassed news.

AB: Can you elaborate on that, please?

HR: When you think about news, you say, “Tell us the facts? Report the story to us.” And I think in many ways with politics that only works so far – people want the facts of politics, but it’s a subject they also want passion about. In that way, it’s more like how culture has been to the news over the years, where the critique of the work is as relevant to the news consumer as the fact that it exists.