Journalism is ground zero for truth in a free society. So if the journalist is gay does this obligation to truth create a greater responsibility to be “out”? In a culture where the accomplishments of gay people often remain invisible, is answering the simple question on sexual orientation part of a commitment to reveal the world as it is – or is it irrelevant in a profession where “you are not the story”?
In a two-part series, AfterElton.com explores the careers and choices of gay television journalists. First, we highlight the work and experiences of nine of the most high-profile gay on-camera newsmen in the country – with more journalists featured throughout the week on the AE blog. Part II, which will be published on AfterElton.com on May 21, investigates the issues surrounding being out within news organizations and in public, and looks at the impact of those choices on the individual and society. That discussion includes all the newsmen as well as network news executives – both straight and gay.
Over the past seven months AfterElton conducted extensive interviews on and off the record for this series. Here, we spoke with five national news correspondents and four anchors about their work and their choice to be out — some of these journalists discussing this publicly for the first time. They have reported on Washington politics, natural disasters and from the Iraq war zone, many risking their lives to bring facts about our world to the American people. By speaking openly about their careers, these reporters create a fuller picture of who gay people are, and a clearer image of the truth.
Miguel Marquez: It's a weirdly intimate business.
From Baghdad, in a telephone interview with AfterElton.com, ABC News correspondent Miguel Marquez spelled out the main security concern for himself and all the reporters in Iraq . "Dying," said Marquez, pointing to random violence that could come at any moment from an IED en route to an interview, or being ambushed while traveling with the military. Marquez said the challenge becomes "getting the story without getting yourself, or your crew or anybody killed."
During his many trips to Iraq since joining ABC from CNN over two years ago, Marquez has interviewed American military officers, Iranian diplomats and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He has also reported on the deaths of too many American soldiers and Iraqi citizens in a place that he says has gotten more and more complicated.
Marquez said many of the intense situations that correspondents report from — war zones, hurricanes, California wildfires — make news "a weirdly intimate business." In some of those situations, Marquez believes, being frank with colleagues about sexual orientation can be part of what allows you the comfort level you need.
"It makes a big difference," said Marquez. "You're traveling with producers and people in cars, and you've been with them for two or three days, you all stink, and you're calling loved ones on the phone, trying to whisper 'I love you' and having very intimate conversations. … The more comfortable you are personally, I think the better the experience."
And Marquez's experience is that universally within the news agencies, people are open and accepting. It's the next level — being open with outside press and thereby the public — that some of his colleagues won't do.
"It also comes down to a very personal decision," said Marquez of the decision to be out. "It's hard for me to judge anyone else." But his own decision on the issue comes down to this: "I'm in a business that's all about truth and honesty, and to some degree I'm responsible to be honest as well."
John Yang: Why should I pass as being straight?
NBC News Washington correspondent John Yang is one of the most accomplished and respected journalists in television news, often reporting the lead story on NBC Nightly News. A former editor at the Washington Post, Yang spent seven years as an international and Washington correspondent for ABC News.
In this, the first profile where he mentions his sexuality, Yang said that taking on the coveted job of Jerusalem correspondent for ABC in 2003 "was the first time I felt like an adult." This despite the fact Yang had reported for years from the White House and Congress, as well as the Iraq war in 2003.
Regarding the Jerusalem appointment, Yang admitted, "I was extremely flattered because at ABC News, Peter Jennings had veto power over foreign correspondents. And this was an area that Peter cared deeply about. And actually Peter got on the phone … and said 'I'd really love for you to do this.'"
And being gay may have given Yang an edge landing the post. "It's actually something that Peter said to me," Yang recalled. "It's that he thought that — and looking back, you can take what he said a couple of different ways, whether he meant [me] being Asian or being gay — but that he thought that what I would bring to that reporting was an understanding or an insight into … people who are marginalized."
Yang has found that among the politically powerful in Washington, being gay is also accepted, despite public rhetoric that might suggest otherwise. In a follow-up email to AfterElton.com, Yang recalled a 1992 phone call from a conservative Republican senator after a Washingtonian magazine piece on Yang's employer at the time, the Washington Post, alluded to his sexual orientation.
"John, I saw that thing about you in the magazine," the senator told Yang. "I just want to tell you it doesn't make any difference to me. You're still the best damned reporter I've ever dealt with." Yang thanked the legislator, who after a pause asked, "I haven't said anything wrong, have I?" Yang assured him: "No, Senator. You said just the right thing."
And why is Yang one of the few national television journalists choosing to be candid about sexual orientation? He connects it in part to his experience of being perceived as a racial minority. "There are certain things about myself that are immutable, and some of them are obvious," Yang said. "I'm Asian. I mean, anyone who sees me on the air or hears my last name knows that. … And in a way, I felt that I can't pass as not being Asian, so why should I pass as being straight?"
Manuel Gallegus: It hasn't been any issue at all.
This is CBS Newspath correspondent Manuel Gallegus' first interview where he acknowledges being gay, and Gallegus admitted that “I'm not so sure ten years ago we would be having this conversation.” Unlike Marquez and Yang, Gallegus was not comfortably out in newsrooms early in his career, concerned that being gay might hurt him behind the scenes.
“You always think about that. Especially when you're a public person, you're on-air talent. I think everybody's concerned with their own image.” But Gallegus said as he became more confident and satisfied at his job, met other gay people at CBS, and found the environment was an accepting one, “I realized that I had nothing to worry about. And it hasn't been any issue at all.”
Gallegus has had an incredibly diverse reporting career, interviewing Pearl Harbor survivors and actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio in the week before this interview. He has also reported from the 1999 Columbine school shooting, and the scene of two of the most devastating natural disasters in recent US History: the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and New Orleans during hurricane Katrina.
Gallegus, who has Mexican ancestry, is greeted on the street by enthusiastic Latino youth with “Hey Brown Man! It's good to see you on television!” And Gallegus thinks being visible as a successful gay man is important in a similar way. But ultimately, Gallegus said he chose to answer the question on sexual orientation here because as a journalist he himself depends on difficult answers; sometimes from people in the most intimate and tragic circumstances. “How hypocritical is it for a journalist to not want to talk, to not give an interview?”
Jeffrey Kofman: I can be honest.
For a long time it seemed that ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman was the only openly gay correspondent in America. In fact, he's answered the question about sexual orientation in press interviews since the late '80s when he was a young reporter with the CBC in Canada.
Like Gallegus, Kofman links his decision to be out with his mission as journalist. "I do believe that we spend a lot of our time asking people to be honest and straightforward with us. … While I don't think a reporter's public life should be the center of his or her work, I think at some point you can't dodge the reality of your life and pretend you're being honest."
In 2003, Kofman's honesty created something of a minor national incident in the U.S. After his World News Tonight report from Iraq on troop morale — which included one soldier calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld — Matt Drudge briefly printed the headline, "ABC News Reporter Who Filed Troops Complaint Story — Openly Gay Canadian," linked to an interview Kofman did with national gay magazine The Advocate. Drudge later claimed the story was slipped to him by an overeager White House staffer, presumably in a misguided attempt to discredit Kofman.
But Kofman can handle a tussle with the White House. His resume reads like a definition of machismo journalism. He has reported from Colombian jungles, done four tours in Iraq and covered the Afghan war from an aircraft carrier. In Haiti , Kofman was chased by mobs and threatened at gunpoint by guerillas, and was the first journalist to report from the scene of the 2004 overthrow of then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Kofman, who spent his last vacation trekking in the Andes with his partner, said his "outside the box" career aligns well with how he wants to live his life. But 25 years ago he wasn't sure he'd be in his dream job today as a world-traveling network correspondent. "I think that being gay, in my own mind, made me wonder whether it was possible," he said. But now, "When I look back on the decision I made about being open, I'm very happy. I don't have to make up stories; I can be honest. And that's the way I want to live my life. That's the way I want to do my work."
Jason Bellini: That's not honest.
The youngest reporter who spoke to AfterElton.com, and one who may indicate a happy generational shift, is Jason Bellini, correspondent and host of CBS News on Logo (Logo is AfterElton.com's parent company.). Out in press interviews since the beginning of his career in 2000, Bellini nonetheless continued to get the plum assignments. A correspondent with CNN at the time, Bellini was one of the youngest embedded journalists during the initial 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq.
"We were using technology that was still unproven," Bellini recalled. That created some surreal moments broadcasting on CNN. "I remember being in the sand dunes when there was a small battle going on. And we got our satellite up, and I was broadcasting and thinking to myself, this is really weird. We're going live from the middle of the desert, and there's nothing around for hundreds of miles."
Bellini created his career in news out of sheer daring. In 1999, when the Kosovo war broke out and the U.S. bombing campaign began, Bellini quit his job and traveled to the war zone on his own, hoping to send back stories on spec that he shot on his digital camera and edited on a laptop. While there, he got into the system at CNN and made himself indispensable, quickly working his way up to CNN correspondent.
Bellini's early decision to be out reflects a similar boldness. While other on-camera people still hold onto a controlling attitude about their image, for Bellini the choice was clear-cut: "Skirting that issue, saying it's nobody's business, I think that's disingenuous. Because if people are interested in you outside of the parameters of your job itself, and you ignore [being gay], then you're ignoring an important part of yourself. And that's not honest."
Randy Price: A little bit of collusion.
"The country's first openly gay newscaster" is a line right off Randy Price's official WHDH bio. Possibly the most high-profile anchor in Boston, Price has helmed newscasts and local newsmagazines there for over 20 years. Out to the press since 1996, Price said that when it comes to sexual orientation, "There has always been a little bit of a collusion among media about that kind of stuff being public."
Price experienced that collusion firsthand in the '80s, when he was a young anchor who had already been living with his partner for almost a decade. In newspaper profiles of himself from that time, readers could see him at home with his dog, "all these things about my life. And never one — not one mention — of do I live with anybody, what's the story of my personal situation. … They didn't ask any of those questions because they knew the answers." And Price confessed, "I probably didn't push the point."
Now, 10 years since Price began answering those questions, he is amused that some still see those answers as irrelevant. "People ask that question," Price said. "Like, 'Well, you know, is it really necessary for you to discuss your sexual life with everybody?' And I go, 'Well, you know, I never really thought I was discussing my sex life. … I said I'm a gay person, I live with another guy, and I have a long-term relationship. If I don't tell you that, then there's really no foundation for us having an exchange about who we all are."
Hank Plante: Being gay has made me a better reporter.
Price may very well be the United States' first openly gay television news anchor, but Hank Plante might be its first openly gay television reporter. Plante, political editor of CBS 5 in San Francisco , has been in 11 newsrooms during his career, and he's broken barriers in many of them.
Covering AIDS as an openly gay man in Houston in the early '80s, the hostile feedback Plante received wasn't solely from viewers. "The general manger at the station at the time didn't like our coverage, didn't like the fact that I was gay," he recalled. "And I ignored him." Covering AIDS in San Francisco soon afterward, Plante took even more fire — some of it from unlikely sources. "People in the gay community said, 'You're making us look bad … they'll think we're all AIDS carriers.'"
Plante won two Emmys and a Peabody for his San Francisco AIDS coverage, and in 2005 was presented with a GLAAD Pioneer Award. Plante sees his sexual orientation as both irrelevant to his job and something that informs it. "Being gay has made me a better reporter, just as it's made me a better person," he said. "I don't just see the outside. I know there is a whole life there that I need to be open to."
But despite his own groundbreaking choices, Plante parts with some of the reporters interviewed here, not seeing a connection between his mission as journalist and the choice to be out. However, he has found his own openness earns him respect in interesting ways.
"I'll tell you where it helps me, this transparency," explained Plante, revealing that for a big interview — such as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger or a U.S. senator — he routinely comes out to his subject before the interview begins. "I just kind of slip it in. 'Oh, you know, I was talking to my domestic partner last night, blah, blah, blah.' … And you know what I find is? It relaxes them. It creates a very honest space, and they're more open to me. … I can't explain it. Something magical happens."
Craig Stevens: I just never let it be that big of a deal.
Miami anchor Craig Stevens heads four newscasts every evening on WSVN and believes that kind of transparency regarding sexual orientation can translate to credibility with viewers as well. "How can you believe someone when there's an inherent deception, a withholding of something about someone [such as being gay]?" he asked.
Stevens thinks the positive reaction he has received as an out anchor comes in part from his own attitude. "If it's this big hand-wringing, sort of tortured decision, I think people feed off your energy," he said. "I just never let it be that big of a deal." But Stevens acknowledged that there's a lot of anxiety out there: "I have friends within the industry who, really, there's this anguish, this fear of what happens" if they come out.
Randol White: I could just feel my blood run cold.
Randol White was afraid. A morning anchor in Madison, Wis., he was sure that if anyone knew he was gay, he would lose everything. Mustering the courage to go to a gay club two hours away in Chicago, White was alarmed when he was recognized in the bar by some Madison viewers. "I could just feel my blood run cold," White recalled.
But the world didn't cave in. And slowly White ventured out more, allowing himself to be recognized in gay bars in Milwaukee, then inside Madison. Eventually White was out to his employers, co-workers and his audience, casually mentioning friends and events during morning-show chat that identified him as gay.
And White said he experienced no negative reaction. Being an "out newscaster," he said, "has been 100 percent positive." Now an anchor on the morning show and the noon newscast for CBS affiliate KCOY in Santa Barbara, Calif., White connects his choice to be out to something he heard openly gay Wisconsin representative Tammy Baldwin say: "If you want to live in a world where you can hold your boyfriend's hand walking down the street, then hold your boyfriend's hand walking down the street."
White said: "I think that's such a powerful statement. Because you have to do it, for it to ever be accepted."
AfterElton.com continues profiling these out journalists throughout the week on the AfterElton.com blog, highlighting former CNN correspondent Thomas Roberts on Tuesday, Regional News Network anchor Paul Mueller on Wednesday, and more from Miguel Marquez in Iraq on Thursday. Part 2 of this article, a lively discussion with the journalists and network news executives, will be published on May 21. It includes a coming-out interview with one of those executives.