Entertainment Weekly Deserves Applause for “Coming Out” Report

While five words from Anderson Cooper– “The fact is, I’m gay” — have made the headlines the last 24 hours, it’s actually the report , which sparked the e-mail exchange between the CNN Anchor and  Blogger Andrew Sullivan, that warrants a closer look.

I’m glad I picked up a copy of Entertainment Weekly last week when I saw the pictures of eight celebrities and the headline “The New Art of Coming Out.”

The Article That Started It All

The lead writer, Mark Harris, did an excellent job of explaining what goes into a celebrity’s decision to “go public” about his/her sexual orientation.

Harris and three other reporters, Melissa Maerz, Muzhat Naaren and Adam Vary, provided example after example of the struggle that some film and television stars have had with the decision, even to the point of not wanting to provide a comment for this latest story.

Until this week, I, personally, was not familiar with the term “glass closet”– a term for when one’s homosexuality was common knowledge in the entertainment industry, in the press and among gay people, but an individual never says anything specific about it.

The article places this entire discussion into some historical context, while also drawing out a key point– pop culture’s ability to shift the national mood. The timeline that appears in the print edition is awesome.

My intent in purchasing the magazine was to have students in my Race, Gender and Media class read it as part of our unit on “Sexual orientation and media.”       But, given the insights it provides, the story and the timeline that accompanies it could be a teaching tool for any journalist wanting to know how to cover gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender sources.

It goes beyond just asking “is the source’s sexual orientation relevant for the story?”

Courtesy:CNN

Anderson Cooper’s e-mail

Reaction to last week’s  Entertainment Weekly cover story and its mention of a New York Times television critic’s decision to challenge Cooper on not talking about his love life in launching his syndicated talk show was the reason Sullivan e-mailed the CNN anchor in the first place.

It’s interesting to note the New York Times critic wasn’t the only writer to reference Cooper’s lack of disclosure.  Entertainment Weekly writer Tim Stack also made reference to the same lack of disclosure (apparently now known as “the glass closet”).

“There’s no clarity, however, on whether Cooper will address the one topic many people want him to talk about: his personal life,” Stack wrote in the article published last August.

As a result of this latest special report, Cooper has addressed it directly, but also made a statement in his e-mail to Andrew Sullivan that has been under-reported

“I’ve always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly,” Cooper wrote. “As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or her work, their private life shouldn’t matter.”

I happen to agree with that point.  But, there’s more to the e-mail that is equally important

“In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted,” Cooper also wrote in the same e-mail.   “I’m not an activist, but I am a human being and I don’t give that up by being a journalist.”

In many ways, like President Obama’s position on same-sex marriage was evolving,  Anderson Cooper’s position on journalists’ and public figures’ disclosure of their sexual orientation was ALSO evolving.

Thanks to Entertainment Weekly’s reporting  and Andrew Sullivan’s blog post,  we see the impact of this evolution and have learned some lessons on how to reflect this aspect diverse world in which we live.

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at The University of Alabama and past chairman of the SPJ Diversity Committee.  He’s currently a member of the SPJ National Board of Directors.

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