February 26, 2008
Posted by: Andoni
Most of the interns I have had the honor of working with in my office have moved on to much greater things.
So goes the ad that Larry Craig has posted on his webpage searching for summer interns. This news item hasn't hit MSM yet, but MyFox seems to be having a little fun, noting that, "Interns are paired with staff members."
If I were having fun with this, too, I might suggest that reporters peruse the personals of some of the local LGBT papers like the Washington Blade for an ad that might read like this:
Mature straight acting, closeted powerful government employee capable of advancing the career of the right candidate iso young straight acting male for work in and around DC. Travel and overnights included in official duties. Send resume, wait for personal interview.
January 18, 2008
Posted by: Chris
The American Civil Liberties Union kindly forwarded me the brief they filed in Larry Craig's lewd conduct appeal, after I posted about it a couple of times yesterday.
Some confusion arose over the ACLU's position because an Associated Press account made it appear the venerable civil liberties lobby was arguing that sex in a bathroom stall is "private" and constitutionally protected. The ACLU later clarified that it was the Minnesota Supreme Court -- not the ACLU -- that had reached that fairly outrageous conclusion.
Well, sort of. As I expected, the Minnesota Supreme Court never said that sex inside toilet stalls is covered by the U.S. Constitution's "right to privacy." Instead, the court ruled in a 1970 case (State v. Bryant, 287 Minn. 205, 177 N.W.2d 800) that the police could not surreptitiously videotape bathroom stalls in a department from above to see if people were having sex.
It is one thing to conclude, as the Minnesota court did back in 1970, that people have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" in a bathroom stall -- meaning the government has to have their consent or "probable cause" before engaging in surveillance. It is quite another to conclude that this "privacy" rises to such a level of constitutional protection that sexual conduct taking place there is protected from criminal prohibition.
The ACLU knows the difference and nonetheless stretches the definition of "privacy" way beyond its original scope in a string of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, leading up to the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas sodomy ruling.
Remember that the prohibition against unreasonable searches and surveillance is explicit in the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, and the "right to privacy" at issue in Lawrence (and Roe vs. Wade) is "unenumerated" -- meaning judge-made. The ACLU does no one any favors by arguing for such an extreme extension of the right to privacy, especially when it was unnecessary in the case.
The ACLU -- and Larry Craig, actually -- would be better off arguing that his non-verbal cues -- toe-tapping, hand-waving, etc. -- could not be read to communicate one way or another about where he wanted the sex to take place, assuming they could be read to communicate that he wanted sex at all.
The really troubling police and prosecutorial abuses would be dealt a punishing blow if the courts rule that actual communication of intent to have sex in public -- which would include inside a bathroom stall. The rest is an overreach that risks what would be a real victory for civil liberties.
January 17, 2008
Posted by: Chris
A sharp-eyed reader of The Citizen from Minneapolis noticed that the ACLU has issued a statement on its website disclaiming the AP story on which I based my earlier post. In particular, the ACLU says:
The Minnesota Supreme Court and other courts have found that a closed bathroom stall is a private location. The police have no business spying on people in places where there is an expectation of privacy. The ACLU is in no way advocating sex in public bathrooms. If law enforcement is genuinely interested in stopping sex in public bathrooms rather than ensnaring people in sting operations, posting a sign prohibiting it and announcing police patrols would be much more effective and would meet constitutional requirements.
The point here is that the Minnesota Supreme Court, not the ACLU, has ruled that a closed bathroom stall is a private location. Frankly, I'm not buying it, depending on the context of that earlier ruling -- I'm betting it was a case involving eavesdropping or surreptitious videotaping, not public sex. If so, then the ACLU is in fact arguing for an extension of that ruling to cover sex as well.
I've asked the ACLU for a copy of the brief, which will hopefully clear the matter up.
Posted by: Chris
The American Civil Liberties Union has jumped back into Larry Craig's "lewd conduct" case with an even more aggressive defense of toilet cruising than the last time around. How ironic if the anti-gay GOP senator's longest lasting influence on the law is to establish that sex inside toilet stalls is protected by the U.S. Constitution.
The first time around, when Craig was trying to withdraw his guilty plea to challenge the constitutionality of his Minneapolis airport restroom arrest, the ACLU filed a brief arguing that the First Amendment protects "solicitation," so long as the act being solicited is constitutionally protected.
So a man in a bar asking a woman (or, after Lawrence vs. Texas, another man) to go home and have sex with him would be protected by the First Amendment -- because sex inside the man's home is private and between consenting adults, and therefore constitutionally protected as well. Because Craig never spoke, the police can't prove that he was soliciting sex to take place in the airport, as opposed to some other, private location either at that time or some future date.
This time around, as Larry Craig appeals his conviction, the ACLU appears to have extended that argument signficantly, to argue that public sex -- so long as it's "hidden" within a toilet stall -- is also constitutionally protected, meaning the solicitation of it is as well. "People who have sex in closed stalls in public restrooms 'have a reasonable expectation of privacy,'" the ACLU claimed.
If the ACLU is right, then all the back and forth about Craig's toe-tapping and non-verbal "cues" is irrelevant. The Constitution would protect his right to speak out with a clear voice in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and say, "Would you like to come into my stall and have sex with me?"
I think that goes too far. Yes, the police waste resources on toilet stings and too often entrap or pressure men into pleading guilty when they have not committed a crime. But Anthony Kennedy's eloquent description in the Lawrence decision about "the right to privacy" -- meaning certain personal decisions so intimate that the Constitution protects against governmental interference -- does not extend to sexual conduct taking place in public -- even semi-secluded.
The ACLU didn't have to go as far as it did in Larry Craig's case; the stance it took in the lower court would have vindicated the First Amendment right to solicit private sexual conduct. That would be victory enough and once on the books would eliminate the broad police discretion that allows the kind of abusive techniques employed against Craig, when the police can claim all sorts of information was "communicated" by non-verbal means.
Once solicitation is clearly protected by the Constitution, enforcement would be limited to what's actually being done in public; not what's being said.
Still, I would love to hear the court press Craig's lawyers on whether he agrees with the ACLU about constitutionally protected toilet sex, since up until now he is benefiting from civil libertarian support without taking a clear position himself.
January 08, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Like a skin condition that just keeps flaring up, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig is back in the news today, filing an appeal challenging his conviction for disorderly conduct when he allegedly solicited sex from an undercover police officer in the public toilets of the Minneapolis airport.
The big surprise of the filing was the legal technicality Craig hangs his, er, hat on, according to the AP:
Seeking to have his guilty plea in a bathroom sex sting erased, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's attorneys argue in a new court filing that the underlying act wasn't criminal because it didn't involve multiple victims.
An appeals brief filed Tuesday contends that Minnesota's disorderly conduct law "requires that the conduct at issue have a tendency to alarm or anger 'others' " -- underscoring the plural nature of the term.
Craig's brief goes on to cite other convictions that were overturned because the multiple-victim test wasn't met. His lawyers apply the same logic to his case.
So a lion of the the anti-Clinton party is reduced to arguing his innocence depends on what the definition of "others" is.
Without seeing the briefs it's hard to gauge Craig's chances, including whether he can even raise challenges like this on appeal having already pleaded guilty. He's reduced to technicalities like this because his decision to plead guilty robbed him of the stronger arguments he could have made that the evidence didn't establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Even still, the plain language of the statute would seem to go against the Republican senator. If the law were subjective -- requiring that the Craig's actual "conduct alarm or anger others" -- that would be one thing. But it's apparently written with an objective standard -- prohibiting conduct that "has a tendency to alarm or anger others" -- which proscribes a type of conduct, not the number of victims in the actual facts of the case.
Craig also tries a couple of loser claims, including that the undercover officer couldn't have been offended because he "invited" Craig's conduct. Interesting. I thought Craig had no idea he was even communicating with the cop?
He also tries an intriguing First Amendment theory, arguing that "the hand signal allegedly used to communicate a desire to engage in sexual conduct would be constitutionally protected speech." Let's stop to appreciate the irony here, of a conservative U.S. senator with an anti-gay voting record arguing the First Amendment protects hand signals in public restrooms indicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct.
Craig no doubt relies on the Supreme Court's landmark sodomy case, Lawrence vs. Texas, to argue that sexual conduct between two men is constitutionally protected, so "hand signals" and other forms of communication to solicit it are as well. That same argument has been used successfully since Lawrence in several other states to challenge public solicitation laws, but not usually when the defendant has already pleaded guilty. I'm not sure how Craig gets around that problem, considering that the protection of Lawrence doesn't extend to sex in public, and that's what the police report said he was soliciting.
It would be just delicious if Craig's case actually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, preferably with high profile appeal ruling this November, allowing the justices to establish once and for all that solicitation of a constitutionally protected (sex) act is also constitutionally protected. But something tells me Craig's quest for vindication isn't so strong that he wants his name to be synonymous with a landmark constitutional law case memorializing his restroom indiscretion.
December 07, 2007
Posted by: Chris
The Larry Craig toilet tapping has just about run its course as a social phenomenon, working its way through mainstream culture in an episode of ABC's "Boston Legal." Conservative lawyer Denny Crane (William Shatner) is the Craig stand-in here, busted for tapping his foot in a bathroom stall at the courthouse as he tried to hum his way through mild constipation.
Alan Shore (James Spader) defends Crane on the solicitation charge and in his closing argument takes on not just the facts of the case but the bigger social and political issues -- even the David Vitter comparison -- pretty much hitting the nail on its proverbial head. The jury finds Crane not guilty, as they would have Craig.
In case you missed it, George Clooney and Brad Pitt pulled off their own Larry Craig send-up in a Julia Roberts film tribute, of all places. For that video, just follow the jump.
December 05, 2007
Posted by: Chris
An interesting debate is shaping up over how or whether gay media and bloggers will cover the arrest of gay Senate aide Mike McHaney (pictured here from his Friendster profile) for allegedly showing up for a three-way involving a 13-year-old male. I have argued that sex scandals like McHaney's illustrate the illogic and, at least, the over-emphasis on "hypocrisy" as the only factor in whether a sex scandal is newsworthy or blogworthy.
There can be little doubt that if McHaney were an aide to, say, Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott or some other anti-gay Republican, the blogosphere would be having a field day with the arrest. But as it turns out, McHaney works for gay-friendly Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat.
The logic here is what fascinates me. It would be hypocritical for the aide to an anti-gay Republican to be busted as a sexual predator, but it's not hypocritical for the aide of a pro-gay Democrat. What does that say about pro-gay Democrats exactly? That we expect this sort of behavior from them and their staff? Or is that so long as you don't legislate morality, your own immorality and that of your staff doesn't "stick" on you?
Matt over at The Malcontent points out the one-sidedness:
Say what you want about Larry Craig, but no one is calling him a pederast.
And herein lies one of the chief problems with the leftists who decide whom they choose to out based on their political party: While they busy themselves with Republican closet cases and politicians who aren’t in favor with HRC, they tend to lose sight of equally bad or worse behavior in their own midst.
Now comes a response from Joe.My.God, who has been among the first and most extensive with coverage of gay sex scandals involving anyone right of center politically. Joe passed on the McHaney scandal entirely at first, then posted about it in response to my report that McHaney previously worked as Joe Solmonese's scheduler at HRC. Even still, Joe posted mainly to explain why he thinks the scandal still isn't blogworthy:
Sex crimes, gay and straight, occur every day. Does the gay blogosphere have a moral imperative to cover the crimes of relative nobodies, just because they work for politicians, especially when the perpetrators have no known anti-gay track record? I don't think so.
I've exhaustively covered the stories of major hypocrites like Ted Haggard and Larry Craig, and dangled unproven theories such as the recent Trent Lott hooker nonsense. But I've also left other unpleasant stories about Democrats and Republicans alone, for the reasons mentioned above.
By Malcontent's standards (and probably Chris Crain's), my hands are not clean. There may indeed be some "meat" to the McHaney story, that remains to be seen, and Crain is absolutely correct that we need to call out our own, even if it damages the movement. I just don't agree that we've been doing that bad of a job.
Joe's thoughtful post touches on the two central problems I have with how left-leaning gay bloggers handle the sex lives of those involved in politics (or, in Haggard's case, religion).
First, this exaggerated focus on the importance of hypocrisy as the only newsworthy or blogworthy angle to the sexual conduct of those in politics leads to all sorts of horrible intrusions into personal privacy. Gay bloggers on the left routinely traffic in rumor and unconfirmed innuendo involving the alleged intimate details of the sex lives of those they "report" on, whether or not misconduct or a crime is involved.
Second, these bloggers traffic in a double standard that says sexual misconduct is blogworthy only if it suggests hypocrisy; that is, only if it's committed by conservatives or those who work for them. Or, in the case of those bloggers who attempt to out conservatives and their staffers, no mis-conduct is required at all -- simply alleged gay sexual conduct, or even gay affiliation, such as showing up at gay parties or bars.
Of course I understand that hypocrisy is newsworthy and blogworthy, but if sexual misconduct says something about the credibility of conservatives, why doesn't it say anything about the credibility of liberals when it happens to one of their own?
If McHaney worked for Trent Lott, for example, we'd be told that the scandal reflects on the legitimacy of Lott's position on gay rights and moral values. Why doesn't the same hold true for McHaney's boss, gay-friendly Democrat Maria Cantwell? Is liberalism associated with a culture of permissiveness in which a Senate staffer could spend work time setting up a three-way with a 13-year-old? Or in which someone with a history of sexual impropriety could be shipped around among a top gay rights group, two Democratic presidential campaigns and a U.S. senator without anyone raising a red flag?
I don't necessarily think so, certainly about the permissiveness theory, but my point is it's one-sided and unbalanced -- and dare I say it? hypocritical -- to only make political judgments about the sex scandals of those you disagree with.
December 02, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Leave it to the Idaho Statesman, which already wasted months passing around photos of Larry Craig in D.C. toilets, to set a new journalistic low in its coverage of the senator's ongoing saga. This time around, the paper is publishing in graphic detail -- along with audio interviews for the truly voyeuristic -- the claims of four men to have had sex with Craig, who has denied being gay.
That denial is the supposed justification for the story, though we know the Statesman's editors have said in the past that it's newsworthy enough that any of the conservative state's politicians might be gay to root around in private lives. So the prejudices of the citizenry overrule the reasonable expectation of privacy that those in public office deserve.
What's truly depressing about the new Statesman article is the very low bar set for credibility to be included in the story:
As with the Statesman's August report, the new evidence is not definitive. There are no videos, no love letters, no voice messages. Like last August, they are he-said, he-said allegations about a man seeking discreet sex from partners whom he counted on to never tell.
But the Statesman's investigation, which included reviews of travel and property records and background checks on all five men, found nothing to disprove the five new accounts.
In other words, in the Orwellian mindset of the Statesman and its crackerjack gay sex reporter, Dan Popkey, an allegation of private sexual conduct is true unless proven otherwise. So without any actual corroboration, much less the level required by good journalists before invading the privacy of public figures, Popkey and the Statesman roll the presses.
Sadly, the media is sinking to the level of bloggers and some of their readers. Our own little online poll has shown that the mere allegation of sexual misconduct, made on the blogs, leads a third of folks to assume it's true until proven otherwise. Another quarter assume it's false until proven otherwise, and 43 percent (a disappointingly small number) pay no attention absent evidence.
Two of the four accounts relayed in the Statesman are remarkably weak. Neither David Phillips -- who recently made headlines by protesting the removal of his "POOFTER" license plate by the state of Virginia, and Mike Jones -- the prostitute who brought down Ted Haggard -- actually got Larry Craig's name. And Phillips changed the year of his alleged encounter when Craig's staff pointed out he lived on a yacht in 1986, not a Capitol Hill townhome as Phillips claims.
So how does Phillips know it was Craig he had sex with two decades ago? He recognizes his "formal voice." That's it. Both Phillips and Jones come off as desperately seeking to extend their 15 minutes of infamy. And Jones claims he recognized Craig, though Craig is if anything remarkably nondescript physically.
A third man claimed Craig stared at his penis and gave him his phone number way back in 1981, a quarter century ago. A fourth simply claimed Craig was "unusually attentive" in a personal conversation. A fifth man, who refused to allow his name to be used, claimed Craig put his hand under the stall of a Denver airport restroom stall, like in his famous Minneapolis encounter with an undercover cop.
The point isn't whether some or all of these allegations are true, although all of them are remarkable weak. The point is they are not newsworthy and don't come close to meeting the minimum standard the media should set before publishing alleged details of even a public figure's sex life.
At this point, the Statesman appears so desperate to justify its investment of resources and reputation on its investigation of Craig that almost anything goes. To that extent, the Statesman is the media version of the "independent counsels" of the Clinton years, given unlimited resources to investigate Bill and Hillary and anyone else who might arguably connect with the original assignment. After so much time and money, the pressure to find something -- anything -- is overwhelming.
Fortunately our government has scrapped the independent counsel -- more like personal prosecutor -- statute. Embarrassing accounts like today's Statesman story will hopefully have the same reverse effect in the media.
November 14, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Since I've been very direct with criticism of Matt Foreman and the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force for their divisive role as lead grandstander in the trans-or-bust "United ENDA" coalition, I want to offer some props for the organization's recent missive to the Senate Ethics Committee about the Larry Craig toilet scandal. The Hill newspaper, which broke the Craig story way back when, has the details:
A leading national gay rights advocacy organization is pressuring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Ethics Committee, to drop an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). As a result, Democrats may question the merits of pushing the embattled Republican out of Congress.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which last week helped push gay rights legislation through the House, has written a strongly worded letter to Boxer and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the Republican vice chairman of the ethics panel, criticizing their investigation of Craig as unfair.
The group argues the Ethics Committee has singled out Craig because he allegedly solicited gay sex but has ignored allegations of impropriety involving Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) because Vitter’s alleged behavior was heterosexual.
It's rather humorous to see The Hill identify the Task Force has having "helped push gay rights legislation through the House" last week, when Foreman's group actually did everything they could to keep Barney Frank's compromise ENDA from coming up for a vote, or passing. Still the paper can be forgiven the error; generally you would expect gay rights groups to favor gay rights legislation.
The paper's political analysis is also a bit off. The Democrats hardly need the Task Force to give them a reason to leave lame duck Larry in his Senate seat. It serves their interests just fine to have a sitting reminder of GOP hypocrisy in place until Election Day.
That said, given all the civil liberties concerns about Craig's misdemeanor arrest and guilty plea, it would compound things to see Craig pushed out while admitted "john" David Vitter is left in office. My old friend Chuck Wolfe, who heads up the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, had a similar message for Senate Dems:
“Certainly there’s a double standard because everyone’s assumption is they are dealing with one [lawmaker’s transgression] because it’s homosexual sex and not the other’s because it’s heterosexual sex,” said Wolfe, in reference to the ethics committee. “If they investigate every member of the U.S. Senate because of an extramarital affair, gay or straight, we’d be getting even less done than we are today.”
“Anyone with any degree of personal ethics will drop it,” said Wolfe.
Of course, there is the matter of Craig pleading guilty to a crime and Vitter not having been charged. On the other hand, Vitter admitted breaking the law, while Craig tried to withdraw his guilty plea and asserts his innocence.
Either way, as I pointed out in a blog post comparing the scandals to Barney Frank's escort scandal way back in 1990, none of these crimes involve the type of official abuse of power that would justify removing them from office.
October 06, 2007
Posted by: Chris
While the rest of us were fighting this week about transgender rights and such, the Larry Craig scandal descended from the absurd to… er… whatever is one level worse than that.
It was disappointing if not unexpected that the judge refused the Idaho senator' attempt to withdraw his guilty plea. There was the expected finger-wagging that Craig, of all people, should have known what he was doing when he pleaded guilty in the first place: "The defendant, a career politician with a college education, is of at least above-average intelligence. He knew what he was saying, reading and signing."
I like the dig at Craig's intelligence. Nicely done. I don't disagree with the judge, but it was a crimped ruling. Accepting for the sake of argument the problems with the constitutionality of Craig's arrest, then the police were counting on exactly the external pressures Craig caved to (actually multiplied in his case) to preclude him against the defendant asserting his own constitutional rights. If you care about civil liberties, then Craig's loss this week was also a lost opportunity to strike a very public blow against police abuse.
Contrast, if you will, Larry Craig's arrest with the near-arrest of another toe-tapping Republican exposed this week, this one out of Louisiana. St. Bernard Parish Councilman Joey DiFatta, 53, dropped out of the Louisiana state Senate race after it was revealed that he had been questioned by police twice on mall restroom lewdness charges. (No word on whether DiFatta is married; does anyone know?)
In the first incident, another restroom user physically held DiFatta for police after he caught the GOP pol peeping through a gloryhole to watch him pee. The man later dropped charges. The second incident, however, involved an undercover cop and would serve a nice instruction manual for the cops in the Minneapolis airport who nabbed Craig. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:
Jefferson Parish deputies working an undercover detail in a men's bathroom at Dillard's at Lakeside Shopping Center in March 2000 stopped DiFatta after he indicated a desire to engage in sex with an undercover deputy in an adjoining bathroom stall, according to an interoffice memorandum written by Sgt. Keith Conley, one of the deputies involved in the investigation.
The report said DiFatta slid his foot into the deputy's stall and tapped the deputy's foot. In the report, Conley noted that such activity is common among men to indicate a willingness to participate in sex.
The deputy inside the stall, Detective Wayne Couvillion, responded by tapping his foot, and DiFatta reached under the partition and began to rub the deputy's leg, the report states.
The detective asked DiFatta, "What do you want?" according to the report, and he replied, "I want to play with you."
DiFatta also used a hand signal to indicate that he wanted to engage in sex and used language that indicated the same, according to the report. Conley, who is now the Kenner city attorney, confirmed the report's authenticity Thursday.
The incident did not culminate in an arrest because the deputy in the bathroom with DiFatta terminated the investigation after several children entered the bathroom, the report states. Conley noted in the report that DiFatta appeared well-versed and comfortable with the routine.
Conley wrote that had the investigation been allowed to continue, it likely would have concluded in DiFatta's arrest on obscenity charges, including a possible attempted crime against nature.
The civil libertarian in me is still troubled somewhat by the cop's responsive toe-tapping. If the concern with this sort of behavior is to protect those for whom it's unwanted, then the test ought to be whether DiFatta continues to pursue without any thumbs-up (metaphorically speaking) in response.
Still, the police officer here followed all the rules and was waiting for unambiguous communication far beyond anything Larry Craig did. Note that even, "I want to play with you," wasn't enough. Interestingly, the undercover cop Sgt. Conley is now the city attorney of Kenner, La. Perhaps that's why he was so careful.
(Yet another Republican with a wide restroom stance lost his lunch this week in Tallahassee, Fla.)
Meanwhile back in Idaho, or actually Washington, Larry Craig has taken Barney Frank's advice and will not resign his seat. Good for him. It will be much more entertaining to have him there and watch the Republicans twist and turn in distinguishing between Craig's misdemeanor offense and that other Louisiana Republican's admission to using the services of prostitutes.
Speaking of prostitutes, Ted Haggard's former escort Mike Jones apparently has a few ticks left on his 15 minutes of fame. In an interview with a Palm Springs radio station, he alleged in coy fashion that he had also serviced Larry Craig:
While promoting his new book during a radio interview with KNWQ-AM in Palm Springs this week, Mike Jones hesitated from making the allegation on the air. Management for the radio station says Jones told them he would reveal something about Idaho Senator Larry Craig on the "Bulldog Bill Feingold Show."
While he hesitated doing so on the air, a NewsChannel 3 camera was rolling when he made the accusation during a commercial break. Feingold asked whether the senator had seen Jones in a hotel room. Jones responded, "No, he came to see me." Jones then added, "His travel records to Denver have been documented. That's what I wanted to say."
I believe him, especially since he told gay blogger Joe.My.God the same story when the Haggard scandal first broke. Jones was apparently waiting to see if Craig would resign and decided to go public when the Idaho Republican reneged on that decision.
It will be curious to see if the mainstream press follows the Jones lead now that Craig is staying in office. Craig has vehemently denied Jones' accusation and, unlike in the Haggard case, Jones has no smoking gun phone messages. But if Jones can recall dates and the press can cross-reference trips by Craig to Denver, then watch out…
As much as the blogosphere and late-night comics would revel in yet another chapter in Craig's hypocrisy, I hope at least some of us will remember that it really doesn't help our cause.
For a complete and up-to-date news summary about the Larry Craig scandal, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/larrycraig
September 18, 2007
Posted by: Chris
…a report emerged this week that an Episcopal priest in Boca Raton was arrested recently for soliciting sex in a public restroom. And in his case, it was crystal clear that the solicitation was for sex that would take place in private — back in the priest's home, actually:
Father Michael Penland was charged on June 28 with “soliciting for a crime against nature” in Waynesville Recreation Park after he allegedly asked an undercover officer to go home with him and have sex. On Sept. 5, Episcopal Bishop Leo Frade suspended Fr. Penland from his priestly duties at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton.
“The charge is brazenly unconstitutional,” said Robert Rosenwald, an ACLU lawyer with the Florida chapter’s LGBT project, who examined the police report.
Penland was issued a citation after he allegedly followed an undercover detective home in his car after soliciting him for sex in a public bathroom. He was among seven men arrested by the Waynesville Police Department in a summer-long sting operation dubbed Operation Summer Heat.
The ACLU lawyer is right on target…again. I have no issues with laws against public sex, but soliciting an act that is constitutionally protected -- and that certainly includes adult, consensual sex in your own home -- is protected by the First Amendment.
September 17, 2007
Posted by: Chris
I'm happy to report that both the ACLU and the Washington Post have joined a growing chorus of voices asking questions about the Larry Craig arrest. The ACLU has filed a brief on the conservative senator's behalf -- and they say politics makes strange bedfellows -- arguing pretty much what I've been saying in this space since the night the scandal broke:
Solicitation for private sex, the ACLU argues, is protected speech under the First Amendment no matter where it occurs. … In its brief, the ACLU argues that the government can arrest people for soliciting public sex only if it can show beyond doubt that the sex was to occur in public.
That second sentence is key. There's been rampant speculation, including by me, over whether Craig was there to solicit public sex or private sex, and the speculation only proves the point: There's no way the government can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a few hand and foot signals indicated one or the other.
The prosecutors no doubt know this, so the charges are "disorderly conduct," an entirely too vague and subjective offense that they know most of those busted won't challenge because, like Craig, they just want it to go away. Whatever your sympathy level for Craig, and I have some in reserves, it's an abuse of government power to bully people into accepting an unconstitutional arrest based on their own self-loathing or lack of fortitude to escape from the closet.
I've read an enormous amount of hostile crap from the likes of Dan Savage, Michelangelo Signorile and Mike Rogers who have succeeded in politicizing sex to a degree our conservative opponents wouldn't dream. Thank God for the ACLU, which remembers that even unsympathetic individuals deserve to have their civil liberties respected:
"Senator Craig has not always been a great friend of civil liberties, but you shouldn’t have to endorse the civil liberties of others to keep your own," said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU [who is openly gay, adds CC]. "Government should make public restrooms safe for all, but it should do so in a manner that is really designed to stop inappropriate behavior, rather than destroying the lives of people who might have no intention of doing anything illegal."
A Washington Post editorial this weekend wasn't quite so solicitous (pun intended) because it suggests the Minneapolis court should reject Craig's attempt to withdraw his guilty plea. I understand the sentiment, since he certainly made as well-informed lay decision as anyone could under the circumstances, considering he's been writing laws for almost two decades.
But with so much public attention on his case, I wouldn't mind seeing him succeed withdrawing so he could challenge the constitutionality of his arrest, which WaPo agrees was over the line:
Mr. Craig should have been able to beat the charges because none of the gestures, in and of themselves, constitutes a crime. And Mr. Craig, even by the officer's account, did not expose himself or commit any other act that would have breached the law. …
It seems clear that he pleaded guilty because his priority was not exoneration but avoiding exposure. What's troubling is that the sting operation may have been counting on just that sort of motivation in order to extract guilty pleas from men who, in fact, had done nothing explicitly lewd or illegal.
For a complete news summary of the Larry Craig scandal, click or bookmark: http://gaynewswatch.com/larrycraig
September 14, 2007
Posted by: Chris
Yes, I know I wrote before that the "case was closed on Craig," but we should be so lucky. I received an interesting email from a respected reader of this blog, Charlie Rounds, founder of RSVP Vacations, longtime activist and a Minneapolitan (who knew they called themselves that?).
Charlie offered this tidbit, in response to the claim that Larry Craig had to leave the secured area of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to visit the restroom he claims he happened upon:
I can clear up the security question -- there is no way that he had to leave a secured zone and re-enter to get to this bathroom. All gates at the Lindbergh Terminal are accessible after entering security -- there are no exceptions. Being a Minneapolitan, in the travel industry, and flying at least once a month I am pretty familiar with the airport.
I've read elsewhere that some of the posts on CruisingForSex.com, the ridiculous (and ridiculously popular) website that facilitates tearoom cruising, second Charlie's recollection about the location of the restroom.
Even still, the most damning piece of evidence I cited in that "case closed" post was Craig's recorded reaction to being arrested. "You solicited me," he told the undercover cop. That single utterance eradicates any reasonable doubt about Craig's intentions in that restroom.
But it doesn't answer the constitutional questions raised about his arrest. And just like the ACLU defended neo-Nazis to defend First Amendment rights for all of us, the fact that Craig is a self-hating homophobe doesn't lessen the important safeguards on police misconduct that could be established if he prevails. Why Craig? Because the nation is watching.
For a complete news summary on the Larry Craig scandal, click or bookmark: http://gaynewswatch.com/larrycraig
September 10, 2007
Posted by: Chris
That was the subject line of the email from long-time journalist Rex Wockner, giving his list serv a heads up about a blog post that does, indeed, close the books on the part of the Larry Craig scandal about which none of us had any doubts: The Idaho senator was in the airport restroom to solicit sex.
The blogger, from Idaho, makes two very keen observations about the Craig arrest that have escaped pretty much everyone -- certainly me, anyway. Bryan Fischer, who writes for the Sun Valley Online, pointed out these nuggets:
Most observers have overlooked one of the senator’s first statements to the arresting officer, “You solicited me.” That is an admission on the senator’s part that some kind of exchange of signals occurred between him and the officer. Further, if he was not familiar with the protocol used to arrange sexual liaisons, how did he know he was being solicited in the first place? Most of us had no idea of the process homosexuals use to arrange restroom trysts until we read about them in articles about the senator’s arrest. …
The senator by his own admission had frequently been in that particular restroom, a restroom which is advertised on gay websites as a prime location for anonymous encounters, and is so far out of the senator’s way that he actually had to leave security to get to it, then pass through security checkpoints again to get to his next gate. It beggars belief that, in an airport with dozens of public facilities, he just happened to find himself in the one restroom in the entire airport noted for anonymous sexual encounters.
I've seen some web chatter since Fischer's post that takes issue with the second point, with some folks claiming the security perimeter at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport had been extended recently to include the restroom, and others saying it hasn't.
For me, the first point is the more convincing, at least when it comes to Craig's intent. By claiming the officer solicited him, Craig not only made clear that he was fluent in the lost language of the tea rooms, but he had peered, toe-tapped and hand-waved in response to the undercover cop's invitation.
But that same admission reminds the civil libertarian in me why the whole Craig bust stinks. The undercover cop acknowledged that he pumped his foot up and down in response to Craig's toe-tapping. No doubt he met Craig's peering gaze through the crack of the restroom stall as well. There's no indication that Craig would have ratcheted things up to foot-tapping and hand-waving -- much less overt sexual conduct -- unless the cop had responded favorably.
But Craig was busted for engaging in conduct that was unwanted, which is the opposite of invited. He was arrested for "disorderly conduct," meaning "offensive … conduct … tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others," and "invasion of privacy," an offense only adopted last year in response to surreptitious videotaping of restrooms. Yet here, Craig's apparent interest in the undercover cop was entirely unsurreptitious.
The offense Craig pled guilty to, "disorderly conduct" reads like political correctness run amok. Exactly how does a court decide whether conduct tends "reasonably to arouse alarm, anger or resentment in others"? Holding my boyfriend's hand would probably fit that definition in Idaho. And Craig's toe-tapping and hand-waving probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow in many major cities.
Regardless of how vaguely the statute is written, it's clear Craig's conduct was in response to behavior from the undercover cop that would "reasonably" suggest Craig was not "arousing alarm, anger or resentment."
It's too bad for Craig that he pled guilty, though I don't feel a great deal of sympathy for him personally. But I do hope the public debate that's emerging now that he's fighting his guilty plea might discourage further unjustified arrests.
August 31, 2007
Posted by: Chris
As news broke today that Larry Craig is expected to resign tomorrow, I've thought better of my post a couple of days ago when I said in passing that I agreed with the calls for him to leave the Senate.
The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force has been among those to remind us that GOP calls for Craig to resign are in sharp contrast to the standing ovation received by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter after it emerged that his phone number was in the records of the so-called "D.C. Madam." Matt Foreman, the head of the Task Force highlighted the disparate treatment of the two senators this way:
Let’s see — one Republican senator is involved in soliciting sex from a man and the Republican leadership calls for a Senate investigation and yanks the rug from underneath him. Another Republican senator admits to soliciting the services of a female prostitute and there’s not only no investigation but the senator is greeted with a standing ovation by his Republican peers. What explains the starkly different responses? I’d say rank and homophobic hypocrisy.
It's a fair point and it's also noteworthy that Foreman does not call on either Vitter or Craig to resign. He's pointing out that the Republicans treated Craig's admission of guilt very differently than Vitters, based on homophobia, hypocrisy and, I would add, empathy. Member of the Republican congressional caucus, who allegedly delivered that standing ovation in response to an emotional apology by Vitter, can imagine themselves in his position much more easily than Craig's.
But those who would like to see both Craig and Vitter gone should remember the scandal that enveloped Barney Frank, the prominent Massachusetts Democrat, who was caught up in his own scandal involving a (male) prostitute back in 1990, just a few years after he publicly acknowledged for the first time that he is gay.
Like Vitter, Frank admitted hiring a prostitute, in his case Stephen Gobie, whom the congressman then befriended and allowed to share his Washington, D.C., townhouse. Even more damaging, however, were the House Ethics Committee findings that Barney used his office to influence the dismissal of 33 D.C. parking tickets and inappropriately encouraged Virginia officials to act favorably in Gobie's probation on a felony charge.
The committee decision, adopted by the House, was to reprimand Barney, who resisted calls including from the editorial page of the Boston Globe, to resign. He has gone on to serve with distinction, becoming an important and influential on a range of issues, including Bill Clinton's impeachment, gay rights and banking regulation.
In an interesting historical footnote, Larry Craig was an Idaho congressman and member of the House Ethics Committee member at the time of the Frank/Gobie scandal, and voted for the more serious punishment of censure. Apparently he believed about Barney, as he would later say famously about Clinton, that "he's a nasty, naughty, bad boy."
There are a few differences, of course, among these scandals. Craig was the only one to plead guilty to a crime, albeit a misdemeanor, and he's the only one not to admit the accusations, thus showing a lack of remorse. I'm not sure either of those difference rise to the level of requiring his resignation, and certainly Barney's use of his office is not unlike Craig's attempt to intimidate his arresting officers by flashing his Senate business card and saying, "What do you think of that?"
Of course the scandals involving Vitter and Craig highlight a hypocrisy with their "family values" posturing and opposition to equality for lesbian and gay Americans. But if hypocrisy were grounds for resignation, we'd need a lot more resignations and on both sides of the aisle. I would much rather have Vitter and Craig serve out their terms, as reminders of GOP hypocrisy, both now and next year, when both are up for re-election.
August 30, 2007
Posted by: Chris
As promised, Newsweek has posted my debate with Michelangelo Signorile about the ethics and effectiveness of outing, in the light of the Larry Craig scandal. They headlined it "Legitimate Journalism or Witch Hunt?" I'll let you guess who took what side…
Take a look and let me know what you think…
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
August 28, 2007
Posted by: Chris
This time around it was years in coming. As you no doubt heard yesterday after Roll Coll broke the story, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig pled guilty to lewd conduct a month ago after he was arrested by an undercover officer in June in a public restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
The gay and leftie blogosphere is, of course, gleeful, as is practically every gay person I've talked to in the early hours after the scandal broke. I understand the indignation that rises up each time we see one of these "family values" types go down in flames. I just don't understand why we don't see the contradictions in how we cheer on the politics of personal destruction, however self-inflicted.
Even in the early hours of the Larry Craig scandal, a few angles to this story give me pause. First and foremost, was Senator Craig really guilty of lewd conduct? I'm no defender of public sex or public lewdness, but so far as I can see he engaged in neither. According to the arrest report, an undercover police officer whose unhappy task it was to sit for long periods in an airport toilet stall noticed that a man later identified as Craig was peeking through the crack over a period of two minutes while "fidgeting" his hands. (Craig said later he was waiting for an empty stall; one of many points the officer disputes.)
Once Craig was seated in the stall next to the officer, the senator put his roller bag against the front door of the stall. "My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall," Sgt. Karsnia of the airport police wrote in his arrest report. I guess those who use the bathroom "for its intended use," as Karsnia puts it in the report, choose to store their luggage in some more convenient location within the stall…?
Craig then "tapped his foot," reported Karsnia, who "recognized this as a signal by those who wish to engage in lewd conduct." I'll leave it to you whether there might be one or two or 13 more innocent explanations for such behavior.
Finally, Craig's foot tapping crept over into Karsnia's stall and even made contact with Karsnia's foot. Craig then swiped his hand a few times under the stall divider, enough that Karsnia could see his fingers and even his gold wedding ring — a point Karsnia made sure to include in his report.
Based on this and this alone, Craig was arrested for lewd conduct. Now I'll admit to being much more naive than Sgt. Karsnia about the etiquette of toilet sex, but exactly how was this lewd? Strange? Yes. Annoying? Absolutely. Lewd? Explain that to me again.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that Craig was somehow crudely indicating his sexual interest in Karsnia. The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas decision that sex between consenting adults is constitutionally protected. Many states have correctly concluded that, as a result, solicitation of sodomy or other forms of sex, even when the conversation takes place in public, is also constitutionally protected. If conduct is constitutionally protected, then we have a First Amendment right to discuss it.
That protection falls by the wayside, as well it should, if Craig was not just soliciting a private sex act in a public place but actually intended for the sex itself to take place in public. Nowhere does the arrest report explain to us how Sgt. Krasnia made that leap of logic based on Craig's foot-tapping and hand-swiping.
The arrest report does indicate that Craig was late for a flight, so it may well have been some odd form of quickie was what was on his mind. But it also reported that Craig identified himself as a regular commuter through the airport, so another explanation might be that he wanted to set up some later rendezvous.
Yes, I know that Craig pled guilty to the charge, and it's on that point where he most clearly hoisted himself on his own petard. He was so afraid of how things would look that he lacked the nerve to defend himself and his rights — just as over the course of his life he lacked the nerve to accept his sexual orientation (whether bisexual or homosexual) and defend the rights of those who share those orientations.
The saddest part of the Larry Craig scandal to me is that it will only encourage and energize those who troll the sex lives of politicians in search of juicy slime to spread — as if that somehow makes the case for our equality. As for me, I don't favor arguing I have a right to privacy in my choice of sexual partners by invading that right in others, even if they are our opponents, and even if they are hypocrites.
We should take no joy in the ruin of Larry Craig's marriage and reputation — even if it is well deserved and a long time in coming. The man has known for two years now he was under intense scrutiny for rumors that he's gay and has sex in public toilets. Not since Bill Clinton have we been treated to a public figure so compulsively unable to control the little head with the big one.
But you won't find me arguing that somehow Larry Craig's self-destruction is an argument for my own equality. I can think of about 533 more effective arguments we could make that don't require someone else's ruin or suggest we all share some general (im)moral equivalence. Gay Americans are entitled to equal treatment and protection against discrimination whether or not every member of Congress who voted against gay rights has an utterly umblemished sexual history.
If Larry Craig really does troll public toilets for sex, it doesn't prove his "family values" rhetoric is claptrap anymore than Bill Clinton's infidelity proved his support for gay rights was the product of his promiscuity. The case for gay rights is compelling enough on its own merits. Let's not jump in the mud and join in the muckraking.