When the Closet Hides Corruption

ClosetI’ve always generally been against publicly outing closeted gay public figures. I think every gay person has their own personal journey toward acknowledging their sexual orientation, both privately and publicly. That personal journey should be respected – no matter who they are, and I know that most journalists and mainstream media outlets have strict policies against outing closeted gay public figures. But – what are the journalistic standards when the closet is used to hide political corruption or unethical business practices of public officials? Asked more directly: Should journalists reveal the existence of a same-sex personal relationship when the politician is using their public position to benefit their same-sex partner? 

When journalists report the story about a scandal, don’t they have an obligation to include the fact that one of scandal’s key players is in a personal relationship with the politician – even if it’s the first time that it’s publicly reported that the politician is gay? Is it ethical for the journalist to leave this important fact out of their story just to comply with the publication’s policy against ‘outing?’ Isn’t the obligation on the journalist to report all the facts of possible corruption?

The partners of out gay public officials have been the subjects of headlines. My friend Carl DeMaio is running for Congress in California, and his partner’s business dealings have been reported in the press. Former Congressman Barney Frank’s boyfriends have routinely ended up in the news over the years. Shouldn’t closeted politicians have the same level of scrutiny of their personal relationships? And there’s certainly a double standard compared to straight couples.

Just as examples: What if Gov. Bob McDonnell’s boyfriend had accepted extravagant gifts, big checks, and consulting contracts from wealthy donors instead of his wife? Would the press have ignored that part of the Virginia Governor’s corruption? What if ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s boyfriend had been a part of his illegal use of campaign funds? Would the boyfriend be free instead of his wife being convicted?

When it comes to political corruption, journalists have a job to do and they owe the public a full account of potential corruption even if it violates the old rules against outing gay public figures. When personal relationships affect the public actions of public officials, then it should be reported – gay or straight, out or closeted.

That’s my take. What do you think?

*NOTE:  Of course this post was sparked by a recent conversation I had about a real-life situation. I’m not going to out anyone here, but I do think that this general topic is worth talking about.

5 Replies to “When the Closet Hides Corruption”

  1. As a former newsprint reporter for a small town daily, my sentiments are with you on this. (BTW I also just happen to be gay in a long-term relationship.)

    Elected officials cannot hide in secrecy over sexuality when the corruption extends into the closet. The door must be opened and the light turned on. The public trust is the issue here, not the individual, closeted official’s personal life. The harm to the public, the voters, citizens trumps the rule on “outing” in cases such as you describe in your post.

  2. Has corruption been proven? Because if it’s an unsubstantiated allegation from a rival, or someone advocating his/her strongly held opinion that something should be considered wrong, then the reporter needs to weigh carefully whether (s)he is being fed lies.

    1. That’s a good point. That certainly came up when my friend and I were discussing this the other day.

  3. Isn’t cronyism largely illegal regardless of whether the relationship between the two individuals is sexual in nature? And if that is true, would disclosure of the sexual orientation of either individual be superfluous?

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