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    October 20, 2006

    I take it back

    Posted by: Chris

    Earlier in the week, I challenged Mike Rogers, the "outing activist" who targeted Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, to let his sources talk to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Craig's hometown newspaper, which has reported on the attempting outing.  Well now, I take it back.

    Not because of anything Rogers has said in response, mind you.  Rogers hasn't answered my blog post or e-mails I've sent him.  It's not surprising.  He's always been all-offense and no-defense, completely wilting in the face of challenge. 

    Mikerogers_1 Two years ago, in the midst of his initial round of outings on Capitol Hill, he lit up the phone lines at the Washington Blade, where I was editor, absolutely apoplectic that we planned to run his photo along with a profile of him.  He insisted, in a battery of phone calls of ever-increasing intensity, that he faced death threats and would be physically endangered if his photo ran in the Blade. 

    The claim was ridiculous on its face, especially considering the photo we were running was a screen capture (shown here) from his recent appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor." Rogers also refused to be interviewed for the profile or answer any questions about his own motives in bringing the outing campaign.

    Follow the jump for a re-direction of the Craig "outing" challenge:

    No, my decision to take back the challenge comes after  reading an insightful post on the subject by Vaughn Ververs at the CBS News blog, "Public Eye." Ververs pointed out that the "outing" of Craig would never have resulted in a story as recently as a few short years ago. Then he went on to quote the Spokesman-Review blog that discussed the internal debate at the newspaper about whether to run the story. On that blog, called "The Daily Briefing," readers are even given the opportunity to view daily news staff meetings, where stories are discussed and assigned.

    That's when I realized that the Spokesman-Review, in a bid to remain relevant in new media age, has become little else than a blog itself, with none of the filtering role that the public still needs from the mainstream media.  If readers can view story budget meetings, where all sorts of rumor and speculation are discussed before being verified and confirmed, then why not go ahead with a full-fledged story based on unconfirmed rumor.  What's the difference at that point?

    My challenge to Rogers, who masquerades as a journalist — even literally back in 2004, when he repeatedly posed as a Blade reporter on the telephone to gain access to Hill sources — should have been to the Spokesman-Review.  The story done by that paper is a mess of unconfirmed facts, from the big whopper about Craig, to Rogers' unverified claim to being "the nation's top gay activist blogger," to identifying Rogers as "president of a gay rights organization called Proud of Who We Are."  By all indications, Proud of Who We Are is ought to be called Proud of Being Mike Rogers, since it's nothing but Rogers masquerading yet again, this time as a gay rights group.

    But back to the outing claim that was the basis of the story.  The only way journalists have any credibility with the public is by following a set of basic rules, among them that they don't published mere rumor without confirmation.  That comes in the form of sources, either credible sources on the record or credible off-the-record sources granted anonymity for good reason — a good reason explained in the story.  Even with anonymous sources, good journalists confirm enough facts in the sources' account to give the journalist, and his/her editor, confidence that the allegation has some basis in fact.

    The Spokesman-Review apparently did none of this with Rogers' claim, and there's no indication they even attempted it.  The paper's story indicates Rogers refused to reveal his sources.  So long as the Spokesman-Review promised anonymity as well, why wouldn't they also talk to the paper? A journalist at the Spokesman-Review is far more likely to go to jail to protect the anonymity of a source than an activist.  And if Rogers won't provide the names so long as the anonymity promise is made, what does that tell us about the sources' credibility, or whether they even really exist? 

    I won't hesitate to criticize the mainstream media for shying away from doing real reporting about the sexual orientation of public figures.  But what kind of crazy media world are we living in if some reporters protect sources they know to be gay until the source gives the OK they're out, while others will publish completely unsubstantiated gossip that a married man is cheating on his wife with as many as four other men?

    The financial and journalistic challenge presented by the Internet to the mainstream press — especially print dailies like the Spokesman-Review — is bound to shake things up in old-school newsrooms.  But surrendering the credibility of journalism by sinking to Rogers' level only makes responsible coverage of sexual orientation all the more unlikely as other journalists see the slippery slope down which "outing" can lead.



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