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Posted by on Jul 24, 2008 in Media, Politics | 4 comments

Edwards’ love child and the hetero/homo double standard divide

A gay man, I had lots of interest in the Larry Craig story; far less in the John Edwards story. But I don’t see the double standard that my co-blogger Shaun does (be sure to check out the comments); or that Jack Shafer articulates in his Slate piece. In fact, I see Schafer stipulate the differences that count:

A cop charged Craig with a misdemeanor, and he pleaded guilty. [Emphasis mine.] There’s no denying the police blotter is always news, and there’s no denying that Craig deserved the hypocrisy scrutiny. Edwards, as far as we know, is guilty of nothing beyond running away from tabloid reporters in a Beverly Hills hotel stairway in the wee a.m. after visiting a female friend in her room. Also, all of the Enquirer’s published “evidence” of an Edwards affair comes from unnamed sources. And I should mention that an Edwards political operative, Andrew Young, claims that he is the father of Hunter’s child. (Young is married with children of his own.)

Furthermore, the fact is that the press is and will be all over the Edwards story. I bet it leads the morning shows tomorrow. These are the means and methods of the modern media machine. The press is doing the dance they always do — and indeed must do if they are to technically abide by their journalistic standards and not wholly succumb to those of the tabloid or blogger.

But I specifically take the time to write because of Shafer’s introduction of Larry Craig for comparison, and the deep, deep popular misunderstanding of the closet and the press, the notion of special privileges for gay people, and the confusion over the controversial practice of “outing” whereby gay activists make public the private facts of an individual’s intimate relationships.

You see, I do think there is a double standard I’d like to emphasize, but it’s not the one Schafer identifies. (And admittedly not relevant to this story — but then, I didn’t introduce Larry Craig into the story either!) Using the occasion of Jodie Foster’s public acknowledgment of her 14-year long obvious though unreported relationship with her lesbian partner, Chris Crain clarifies:

Here is the double standard on outing. When it comes to heterosexual celebrities, the entertainment media can’t get enough, reporting every salacious detail they can get their hands on.  And when closeted celebrities are caught in scandals, they’ll jump in with gusto. But gay celebrities in happy, well-adjusted relationships — whether Ellen or Rosie or Jodie (why are they all lesbians?) — the public is told nothing about until the celebrity says OK.  Even if the gay star shows up escorted in public by her partner at event after event.

The same type of double standard holds sway with closeted politicians as well, with those accused of shenanigans investigated without any regard to privacy. But it’s hands off on those with long-term relationships until they come out. Mark Foley is an example of both standards.

The alternative I have advocated for years is “equality.” Apply the same rules to gay and straight celebrities, and the same rules to gay and straight politicians. Ask about their personal lives, as they would otherwise, and report their answers, whether they lie, equivocate or refuse to answer. Then report the public facts that fit or contradict what they’ve said.

Digging deeper into their private lives is a judgment call, just as it is with straight politicians, that inevitably involves balancing the newsworthiness of the information versus how much personal privacy must be invaded to get it. It’s unthinkable that a heterosexual Hollywood celebrity of Jodie Foster would have a 14-year-relationship that went completely unreported. It’s way past time that it be unthinkable for gay celebrities, too.

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