August 30, 2007
More from mudville
Posted by: Chris
Sorry to have been out of pocket, gang, but I've been participating in an email debate with Mike Signorile about whether the Larry Craig scandal is proof it's OK for the media to join in the effort to "out" anti-gay politicians. The debate is for Newsweek.com and should be posted soon; I'll be sure to offer a link.
Thanks to all for the great comments to my original post on Larry Craig, made in the wee hours after I learned of the story. A few clarifications so we can further focus the discussion:
By challenging the legal sufficiency of the case against Craig I wasn't suggesting that I buy his unintentionally hilarious explanation about having "a wide stance" on the toilet and searching on the floor for fluttering toilet paper. Of course I believe he was there to cruise for sex, either to take place there or somewhere else. I've since been educated by a friend and by this post by Rex Wockner about how two men can have sex underneath the divider of a public toilet stall. (I had assumed the two men would at least have to join each other in a stall or use a "gloryhole." It all sounds like an awful lot of work to me. Haven't these folks heard of the Internet?)
My point was that Craig's arrest isn't exactly something worth celebrating, even if you still find it novel and gratifying that some anti-gay politicians are self-loathing closet cases.
Also, my criticism of the media wasn't about coverage of his arrest — that's clearly news, especially since he pleaded guilty. My concern is that since Craig had previously been a target of Mike Rogers' outing efforts, that the outing activists will play "I told you so" to justify their tactics.
It comes down to this: It's disturbing enough that the police would arrest someone (famous and anti-gay or not) after stalking out a public toilet and reading sinister intent into toe-tapping and hand-waving. But it's really cause for concern if a few blogger-activists can seduce real journalists into trying to beat the real police to the punch, to the point of passing photos around public toilets (as the Idaho Statesman did) hoping to corroborate years-old accusations. We have quite enough sex police out there, thank you very much. We don't need a bunch of reporters and bloggers acting like keystone sex cops as well.
When Dan Popkey of the Statesman interviewed me months ago in his Larry Craig investigation, he came across as a smart and thoughtful journalist on a very unpleasant assignment. And kudos to him and his editors that they didn't publish a story about their investigation until after news of Craig's airport arrest and guilty plea surfaced.
But I told Popkey then and I believe even more strongly now, that the investigation itself set an incredibly dangerous precedent, that public figures have no expectation of privacy concerning their sex lives. It's noteworthy that when the Statesman finally published the results of Popkey's investigation, they didn't even confine themselves to confirming accusations of toilet cruising.
When only one such accusation panned out at least enough to be included, Popkey dug further and unearthed a 13-year old claim that Craig "made eyes" at someone in a sporting goods store (seriously!), and an ancient accusation that he made a pass at someone in 1967 during college. It just goes to show that witch hunts — and that's what this was — almost inevitably take on a life of their own. (Just ask Bill Clinton and Ken Starr.)
None of this is intended to defend Craig from accusations of hypocrisy or quiet calls for his resignation. He's clearly guilty of the former and ought to do the latter. But the downside of this story is much worse than its upside — in its coarsening of the culture, its effect on media coverage, in discouraging good people from entering politics, and on the image of gay men and the gay rights movement generally. That's what I'm hoping we'll see.
For a complete news summary about the Larry Craig scandal, go to gaynewswatch.com/larrycraig
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