By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What will the former gatekeepers do?

Let’s see how the mainstream media handle this. The Internet – and not just blogspace – is filled with stories today suggesting that U.S. Rep. David Dreier of California may have lost out on a chance to succeed indicted House Republican leader Tom DeLay because Dreier is gay. The job went instead to Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Check out this search of Google News.

Last September, the Dreier-is-gay story made it well up the food chain, to the LA Weekly, although the Weekly offered no independent confirmation. Instead, the Weekly relied mainly on a report in the Raw Story, a Cambridge-based Web site that is not notably shy about outing people.

Yesterday, WRKO Radio (AM 680) talk-show host Howie Carr, a conservative and a vicious homophobe, snickered about Dreier’s alleged homosexuality (nothing new for Carr). Blogger Josh Marshall, a liberal, offered a not-very-subtle James Dobson joke. Gay conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan stuck in a one-liner. And the story has been all over the gay press. Just one example: this story from

In other words, this has already entered the common discourse, which isn’t surprising in an era when there are no longer any gatekeepers. (If it hadn’t entered the common discourse, you can be sure that I wouldn’t be writing about it. Outing a gay person who’s closeted is not something to be undertaken lightly.)

So now what? Will this be a subject for Rush Limbaugh this afternoon, and for the Fox News yakkers tonight? Will either the New York Times or the Washington Post publish a piece tomorrow reporting that Dreier’s sexuality had something to do with his being denied the majority leader’s slot? Do stay tuned.

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  1. Robert David Sullivan

    Well, one reason the mainstream media is reluctant to “out” people is that there are closeted journalists who don’t want to be outed themselves.You write that, “Outing a gay person who’s closeted is not something to be undertaken lightly.” But is there anything in this “don’t tell” category other than sexual orientation?If it’s wrong for me to publicize the fact that I see a congressman (or news anchor, or actor) in a local gay bar every week, is it also wrong to disclose that I see a public figure at Catholic Mass, or a Scientology meeting, every week? If it’s wrong to mention that a candidate for office has partner of the same sex, is it also wrong to note that a candidate has a partner of a different race — even approvingly, as in a magazine story about the growing acceptance of interracial marriages?As an openly gay man, I can’t help but feel offended by the idea that describing someone as gay is a smear. I don’t care whether Howie Carr snickers and makes the word sound dirty, it’s still what I am. And I can’t go along with the charade that there’s something principled about gay people posing for magazine and newspaper cover photos while trying to keep their sexual orientation a secret. If it’s important for someone to remain closeted, there are plenty of ways to make a living other than running for office.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Robert -Welcome. My philosophy about outing is pretty simple. If a gay man or lesbian is living a closeted life, then he or she must feel some sense of shame or embarrassment about it, even if you (and I) wish it were otherwise.It would take an awful lot – like, say, gross hypocrisy – for me to report on someone’s private life against his or her wishes. And to be closeted is obviously to define your sexuality as a private matter.You mention the word “smear” – the question isn’t whether the person doing the outing considers it a smear; rather, it’s a matter of whether the subject of the outing considers it a smear. I think we have to respect that, even if we find it ridiculous and/or sad.

  3. Robert David Sullivan

    Dan, we’re not that far apart. I would never out someone who was struggling with his or her sexual orientation because of, say, religious beliefs, and genuinely felt some sense of shame about it.But in the case of many closeted public figures, and many closeted people in the professional classes, they are not dealing with shame. All of us in the gay community know of closeted people who get certain advantages out of being in the gay community. They meet other gay people at parties, fundraisers and benefits, social and professional groups, Provincetown and Fire Island, etc. Then they get job recommendations, contributions for political campaigns, and the like from these acquaintances. I’m not suggesting anything sinister here; everybody networks within their own affinity groups, whether based on religion, ethnicity, or where they attended school. But if a public figure doesn’t mind coming out to hundreds or thousands of other gay people, I lean toward the explanation that they’re closeted out of expediency, not shame.It’s unclear whether Dreier falls in this category, but that would be my test as to whether he should be outed.Thanks for discussing this question in such a thoughtful manner!

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