A new film about closeted gay Republicans attacks the media's hesitation about outing, but doesn't deliver any surprises of its own.
A movie premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival this week is bound to cause at least a little bit of outrage. That’s not surprising, considering it’s, well, called “Outrage,” and is a documentary made by a former aide in the Clinton White House about about closeted gay politicians.
I haven’t seen the film, but from what I’ve read, the promise that it will actually out some politicians seems to be overhyped. From the list compiled by the Los Angeles Times, it appears that most of the people targeted in the movie have been outed to one extent or another already.
The person most reviewers have been focusing on is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was recently married — his engagement was announced right around the time when speculation was mounting that he could be chosen as John McCain’s running mate. He was actually first outed back in 2006, by Bob Norman, a reporter for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach, who was also the first reporter to the story of former Rep. Mark Foley’s sexuality, in 2003.
That said, just because there’s not much news to the film doesn’t mean it’s not a important discussion worth having. The issue is one I’ve been thinking about since my earliest days on staff at Salon, when, in the wake of the Foley scandal, I wrote two articles (they’re available here and here) about a number of semi-closeted gay Republicans, the ethics of outing and the media’s attitude about it. Some people, like the makers of “Outrage,” follow what’s known as the “Barney Frank rule,” for its creator, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. In short, the guideline is that it’s acceptable to out those people who, from the closet, are working against what’s believed to be the interest of the LGBT community at large.
You can debate the propriety of that, and plenty of people do. But the double standard in the media about reporting on sexual orientation – same-sex relationships are treated as something that should be kept secret, but no such judgment is made about heterosexual relationships — is potentially harmful in many different ways.
First of all, it means that we don’t hear about the sexuality of some prominent people who are gay, from Foley to singer George Michael and many others, until there’s some scandal involved. That only reinforces the old stereotype of gay people as deviant. So does the feeling in the media that gay people should be especially protected from having their sexuality publicized. As Larry Gross, director of the School of Communication in USC’s Annenberg School, and the author of “Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing,” told me back in 2006, “You can talk about certain things about heterosexual public figures where in the context of gay public figures you can’t talk about much milder things… I think the exaggerated concern over that reveals the distaste, the stigma and all that rather than the fact that this is such a delicate matter.”
And, in cases like Crist’s, it means that the media knows something its audience doesn’t, and is holding back information about people who are running for public office. When his engagement was announced, there was largely no discussion of what most every national political reporter was probably thinking. What there was instead was a sort of inside joke, which was easy to catch if you were in on the secret, but not obvious to most readers and viewers. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, for example, could barely suppress an impish smile when talking about the news. It’s time to move past that in some form or another, and if the movie helps in that respect, then that’s a good thing — even if it’s not actually outing anyone itself.
Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon. More Alex Koppelman.
More Related Stories
- Is the Environmental Defense Fund ruining environmentalism?
- Top 5 investigative videos of the week: "Winning" Afghanistan
- Jester clowns Westboro Baptist Church
- GOP: Party of crybabies
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
War Room is our political news and commentary blog, with coverage and commentary throughout the day.