According to an article written for IndieWire last week by Eugene Hernandez, National Public Radio in effect censored Nathan Lee’s review of Outrage, Kirby Dick’s documentary about purportedly closeted gay conservative politicians. Hernandez writes:
Citing a policy of protecting the privacy of public figures, an NPR superior cut the names of current Florida governor Charlie Crist and former Senator Larry Craig from the review after writer Nathan Lee and his assigning editor at NPR had agreed on the text of the piece. However, a photo of Larry Craig accompanies the review and says that the former Senator is a subject of the documentary. It also hints strongly at the inclusion of Crist in the doc.
For all those who haven’t seen it, Outrage opens ominously with text on the screen that claims a “brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy” exists in America that keeps the identity of gay politicians a secret from the public at large, no matter how many people inside the Beltway are fully aware of it. At first blush, it’s a rather overblown statement, that Dick might strive mightily to prove throughout the film, but never quite achieves.
What Dick does achieve is more than most journalists have: getting a number of sources (named and anonymous) to go on film describing exactly how they know that politicians from Crist to Craig and others, as well as one right-wing media star, are gay. Outrage also contains a sincerely righteous fury, born from the fact that most all the politicians Dick is accusing of being closeted here just so happen to be conservatives who righteously legislate against gay rights whenever possible.
Some would term that gossip. Others, though, might call that a news story.
So NPR’s concern about “trying to respect the privacy of public figures and of not airing or publishing rumors, allegations and reports about their private lives unless there is a compelling reason to do so” (as an executive director told Hernandez) doesn’t quite hold true. One could argue that simply repeating rumors about politicians’ sexual orientation does not have journalistic relevance.
But when those politicians’ sexual orientation is being reported on in the context of reviewing a documentary about that subject, the documentary has amassed multiple sources for its claims (more than mainstream newspapers often use for juicy stories, it must be said), and those politicians consistently vote in a way viewed by many as homophobic, claiming there is “no compelling reason” doesn’t hold water. What it does do, in fact, is give those people who believe there is a media conspiracy hiding gay conservative politicians in plain sight, proof that they’re right.