Is Shepard Smith Really One of the Most Powerful Gay Men in the Country?

Fox’s Shepard Smith

Last week, Out Magazine released the Power 50, their (fifth) annual list of who they deem to be the most powerful gay, bisexual, lesbian, or transgender individuals in the U.S.

Acting Apple CEO Tim Cook topped the list, followed by Ellen DeGeneres.

I’ve worked at long enough to know that it’s impossible to publish any such list, which are all by definition pretty subjective, without attracting a whole host of complaints over omissions and overly generous rankings (and plenty of people are also upset the list includes no people of color, among many other reasons).

The discussions and arguments are kinda the whole point of lists like these.

But yeah, I have my own complaint: Out is almost ridiculously vague about exactly what it is they’re actually measuring. They say, “As always, the positions were determined by a range of factors, including power to influence cultural and social attitudes, political
clout, individual wealth, and a person’s media profile.”

A person’s “media profile”? What does that mean?

And for what it’s worth, they’ve never been any clearer about their criteria in previous years either.

One thing we know: they’re not ranking people who are actually “out” (which is a little ironic, given the title of the magazine the list is appearing in). As in previous years, the list includes a number of prominent people, including Anderson Cooper (at #3), non-journalist Matt Drudge (at #39), and, a new entry to their list, Fox anchorman Shepard Smith (at #6), who do not publicly identify as gay.

But frankly, if they’re using the list to out Shepard Smith (and they are), doesn’t that warrant a full article in itself? What are their reasons? Yes, yes, I know everyone “knows” he, along with Cooper and Drudge, are supposedly gay.
But what facts exactly did Out use to arrive at the conclusion that they’re all absolutely definitely gay? Frankly, that information is more interesting to me than their appearance on this particular list.

For what it’s worth, Drudge has specifically denied being gay, and Barry Diller (at #8) is married to a woman.

It seems like Out is being passive-aggressive here: they don’t really have any new information, or even any on-the-record, facts, but they want to say these folks are gay anyway, in part to shame them for not being publicly out. At least when the magazine started referring to Cooper as gay, they wrote an article on the topic of the “glass closet,” about public figures who are completely out in their personal lives, but not out as celebrities.

On the other hand, I’m totally okay with the fact that they chose the least flattering photo imaginable of blatant right-wing propagandist Matt Drudge. That’s passive-aggression I can get behind!

And what about other public figures who are rumored to be gay? I can think of at least at least three public figures that “everyone knows” are gay (and at least one who I personally know is gay, even though it wasn’t confirmed on the record). Why aren’t they on Out’s list? Because they have more aggressive lawyers? And frankly, what changed between last year and this one that allowed Smith, who was almost as powerful last year, to finally make the list?

One thing else we know about this list is that these are not necessarily people who are using their power on behalf of the GLBT community. If Shepard Smith is making Fox News more pro-gay than it would otherwise be, I’d hate to see what that would be like. (And I’ve witnessed Smith himself display blatant transgender bias on air.)

All this said, I think you can make a case that in terms of raw “power,” the list is at least defensible —
even if they’re not necessarily the same
choices I’d make.

But I sure wish they’d taken the time to explain some of their thinking.

P.S. Just read the write-up on the list at The Advocate (which has the same corporate owner as Out). It’s poorly-written copy, but they seem to be saying the list is “honoring” “extraordinary” GLBT folks. Now I’m more confused than ever about the purpose of the list, because I don’t think Matt Drudge, Ken Mehlman, and some of these closeted folks are necessarily worthy of “honor,” however much power they wield. Mehlman, for example, used his power to plan Bush’s anti-gay 2004 reelection strategy which got a number of anti-marriage constitutional amendments passed into law.