The way that the sexual orientation of Judge Vaughn Walker -- the federal judge who overturned Proposition 8 last week -- has been targeted and exploited by proponents of Prop 8 is not only an example of the ugly smear tactics of the theocratic thugs who call themselves Christians; it's a testament to how easily the media is manipulated by the right into doing things about which editors and reporters claim to be staunchly opposed.
I'm talking about that fact that every far-right organization, from the National Organization for Marriage to the evangelical American Family Association, has attacked Walker's decision as biased because he is supposedly "openly gay." On CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, Tony Perkins of Family Research Council repeated this lie:
I think what you have is one judge who thinks he knows -- and a district level judge and an openly homosexual judge at that -- who says he knows better than not only 7 million voters in the state of California but voters in 30 states across the nation that have passed marriage amendments," Perkins said. "Had this guy been... an evangelical preacher in his past there would have been cries for him to step down from this case. So I do think [his homosexuality] has a bearing on the case.
Of course, the attack itself is absurd and show's the right's desperation. What will they say next? That Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg can't rule on abortion because they have uteruses?
But more grotesque is the lie Perkins is spinning out, because Judge Walker is in fact not "openly" gay. Perkins surely knows that, as an obsessed proponent of Prop 8 following the trial day in and day out. Judge Walker has not ever confirmed to anyone in the media what sexual orientation he may be. And yet most major media organizations, from the New York Times and ABC News to the Washington Post and National Public Radio, have reported on him as gay or had commentators saying it. (Fox was the first out of the gate, not surprisingly, shortly before the ruling came down. Most quoted the San Francisco Chronicle as the source, and often in the context of reporting on the attacks on Walker coming from the right-wing extremists who now claim his sexual orientation biased his decision.
So what exactly did the Chronicle say on the matter back in February? That it was an "open secret" that Walker was gay.
That's it, folks. No sourcing of any kind -- no witnesses, no former or current boyfriend, no person who Walker confided in, no comment from Walker. Just an "open secret." Gee, there are many Hollywood celebrities and Washington politicians -- Senator Lindsay Graham and Senator Mitch McConnell come to mind -- about whom we've always heard about an "open secret," but I don't see the New York Times reporting on them ever.
The Times and most other major news organizations have strict and simple standards for reporting on an individuals' sexual orientation: Basically, if the person doesn't state it himself or herself, they don't report it, no matter what another news organization has reported. That is, obviously, unless right-wing smear artists are claiming someone is "openly gay." Then it appears perfectly okay to report on it.
That's not to say there isn't a good argument for reporting on Judge Walker if he were gay -- and if you could prove it beyond a claimed "open secret." Surely if he were an African-American judge deciding on a case regarding racial discrimination it would be an interesting factoid, and his race would be discussed as something that perhaps brought more clarity and detail to his decision. Certainly he might be a hero in the black community and many would want to discuss it.
But the outrageous hypocrisy here on the part of the corporate media -- and one that shows how they are manipulated by the right -- is the fact that, even with proof and evidence, news organizations refuse to report on the secretly gay sexual orientation of conservative, anti-gay politicians and public figures when the argument for their exposure is made from the left. When Kirby Dick's much-discussed documentary Outrage hit theaters in 2009, and later premiered on HBO (for which the film has now been nominated for an Emmy), many media organizations wouldn't report on the conservative Republican politicians who were claimed to be gay in the film, like Florida Governor Charlie Crist or California Congressman David Dreier, though there was a plethora of sources and witnesses in the film -- far beyond just "open secret" reporting.
The Washington Post noted in its review that it would not name names, and National Public Radio censored a review on its website. At the time, NPR's ombudsman Alicia Sheppard claimed in an interview on my Sirius XM radio program that reporting on public figures' undeclared sexual orientation was against NPR policy and vowed -- after I pointed out that this was hypocritical in light of others they have named in the past -- that she would police all future revelations on NPR.
Well, there was NPR last week, in an "All Things Considered" report, jumping on the bandwagon, like the Washington Post and others, reporting on Judge Walker as "openly gay" in the context of the criticisms against his ruling. The only difference was that this time the claims were coming from right-wing smear artists, whom the mainstream media are only too eager to accommodate.