October 18, 2006
A short-sighted outing
Posted by: Chris
Mike Rogers has done it again. The blogger-activist who made headlines two years ago outing gay (mostly Republican) members of Congress and staffers, today claimed that Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (also Republican) is a closeted gay man. Rogers claims to have spoken with four men — one in Washington, D.C., and three back in Idaho — who in turn claim to have had sex with Craig. None of the four men is identified, and Rogers indicates they don't know each other and yet still identified "physical characteristics" from Craig that lent their stories credibility.
Craig's hometown newspaper reports the senator has called Rogers' claim "ridiculous."
Rogers claims the "outing" of Craig, who is married with two children, is justified because he has a horrible track record on gay rights. That much is for certain: He has received a zero on every scorecard from the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based gay rights group, during his current, six-year term. To earn a zero on all those scorecards, Craig opposed not only gay rights legislation, but a number of fairly non-controversial HIV/AIDS measures. He has also refused to adopt a policy not to discriminate in his own office on the basis of sexual orientation, something even many Republicans with poor gay rights records have been willing to do.
Follow the jump to find out why this 'outing' was a bad idea…
Is Craig's outing a matter of the end justifying the means? I don't think it qualifies on either count.
First the means: As I wrote in a Blade editorial, my own view is that true "outing" — investigating whether someone who claims to be straight, or won't answer the question, is actually gay — is a matter of weighing the newsworthiness of knowing the public official is gay vs. how much gathering and revealing the evidence impinges on the public official's personal privacy.
The newsworthiness here would be the brazen hypocrisy of an elected official who opposes gay rights and HIV/AIDS legislation while secretly is gay (or bisexual) himself. Rogers doesn't directly claim any criminality or impropriety with Craig's alleged gay ho0kups, though he claims his D.C. source had sex with Craig in a public place: the public restrooms at Union Station, a well-known spot for anonymous sexual encounters. Rogers also highlights a vintage video of Craig that curiously denies any involvement in the 1982 congressional page scandal before anyone had suggested he was.
(Curiously, the Idaho sex crime statute covering adultery doesn't apply to Craig even if he had sex outside his marriage. Idaho Sect. 18-6601 only prohibits a married man from having "sexual intercourse with a woman not his wife." The state's sex crime laws still prohibit sodomy, though that measure was rendered unenforceable after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in Lawrence vs. Texas. Rogers doesn't offer a time frame for Craig's alleged gay romps.)
It's not exactly "stop the presses" time when a politician turns out to have failed in his personal life to live up to the standards set by his voting record. Then again, a politician's voting record is not supposed to be the gross sum of his private acts. Should an elected official who has never admitted to embezzling a previous employer then oppose all embezzlement laws? An anti-gay closet case is a much tougher case, since he's lobbying to limit the rights of a minority group to which he secretly belongs. But on the "newsworthiness" scale, it's probably a 6 or 7.
Weigh that against the lengths Rogers went to, delving into Craig's private life. Going public with someone's private, consexual sex life is a pretty invasive thing. (Stop for a second to think how it would make you feel.) To me, the private sex life deserves respect in all but the most newsworthy stories. Craig's really doesn't qualify.
Now to the end, not justified by the means: Outings like this one have an effect that I'm sure Rogers doesn't intend. Because the idea of invading someone's private sex life is repugnant to most people, including most journalists, the press tends to confuse the mere questioning of someone's sexual orientation with invading their bedroom. As I've written about twice before already in this blog, that media double-standard does a grave disservice to gay people, and to journalism generally.
Even if this outing results in Craig resigning from Congress, which is doubtful, any boost on gay rights generally will be slight. Outing can have a positive impact on that politician's voting record, as I went to lengths to compile a chart (click to enlarge) to show, but there's no evidence it has a similar effect on other closeted politicians.
I don't question Mike Rogers' motives in his outing campaigns, but I think the effort against Craig isn't justified, and as with a number of his other targets, he winds up hurting his own cause.
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