One Man’s Outing is Another Man’s Reporting

One Man’s Outing is Another Man’s Reporting

Kudos to blogger Mike Rogers for another important piece of investigative journalism that last week turned up the fascinating news that Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum has a gay communications chief, Robert Traynham.

Santorum is the famously anti-gay, third-ranking Senate Republican who freaked out an Associated Press reporter two years ago when he compared homosexuality to “man-on-dog sex.” His antipathy toward gay rights, wrapped in his political posture as a devoutly Catholic traditionalist and defender of the American family, seemingly knows no bounds.

It was jarring, then, to read that the man who would uphold sodomy sanctions in the U.S. attacked Rogers for “bigotry” and a “rude and mean spirited invasion of [Traynham’s] personal life.”

The hypocritical conceit here is that Traynham’s personal life has nothing to do with his work for Santorum, while the truth is that Santorum’s work could have everything to do with Traynham’s personal life, and with that of every other gay or lesbian American.

Traynham apparently buys into this double standard. Asked his view of Santorum’s politics by Rogers, he defended the senator as “a man of

principle.” A follow-up question about how Santorum’s Christian-right fans would view a gay man in his operation elicited the response that it was irrelevant, before Traynham finally just hung up on Rogers.

In similar fashion, Traynham, who moonlights as a paid lecturer around the country, told a group at Harvard that his being black had “zero” to do with his job, in an appropriately conservative eschewal of identity politics. Yet, he is also involved in an organization that seeks to recruit more African-American conservative candidates for public office.

Santorum’s blast at Rogers ably played off the lingering qualms in the news business and in society generally about the honest reporting of the lives of gay men and lesbians. Even the Washington gay establishment has rushed to condemn what it views as a new wave of “outing,” with the Human Rights Campaign castigating Rogers for work he was doing to identify gay staff members working for homophobic legislators on Capitol Hill.

Yet, the mainstream media is beginning to wise up, or perhaps grow up. The Philadelphia Inquirer Saturday carried the Traynham story. By pure serendipity, Sunday’s New York Times Magazine carried a column by the resident ethicist, Randy Cohen, defending reporting about a public figure’s sexual orientation, particularly when that person’s public posture on gay rights is at odds with their private conduct.

During the time he has run his site, Rogers has performed a valuable service for the gay community, forcing the resignation of a closeted, anti-gay Virginia congressman, but also offering a brave Minnesota Republican state legislator a platform to acknowledge publicly that he is a gay man.

It’s easy to knock the kind of work that Rogers does, by charging that he’s basically going through people’s garbage to break his stories. But the journalism he does comes from a proud tradition of forcing the nation to look itself in the eye and acknowledge the everyday lies and hypocrisies in our midst.