On Friday, NPR did a segment on Kirby Dick’s movie “Outrage,” the premise being that the movie may have been more explosive a decade ago. In its first seven days of release, the movie has grossed $49,000 in five theaters.
But the NPR story also makes clear that there are many places where an openly gay politician can’t get elected, and the mainstream media’s delicate treatment of the subject is underscored by the fact that NPR didn’t name any of the closeted politicos cited in the documentary. That follows a review it posted last week that also did not include the names of those mentioned.
I still have mixed feelings about “outing” of certain politicians — for reasons largely personal — but Dick and the producers of “Outrage” make a clear and compelling case for it.
For one, they see a double standard: The media is willing to report on the private lives of heterosexual politicians but not gay ones.
It’s also important to note that those outed in Dick’s movie are different than say, an entertainment celebrity or other public figure. Rather, they are aiming for the hypocritical: A closeted politician with a record of voting anti-gay.
But NPR also quotes former Arizona congressman Jim Kolbe, an out Republican who also is interviewed in the movie: “They can have other reasons for casting the votes that they do. They don’t have to be supportive, necessarily, of the entire gay agenda.”
I talked to Dick a few days ago about what has surprised him about the response to the film, who he’s heard from and what impact he thinks it will have in the future.
W&W: Were your surprised at all by the reporting on this movie — so many news outlets did not name names mentioned in your film?
KD: I would hope that this would open up the discussion around this subject matter. What I find fascinating is that in the movie one of the critiques is that the mainstream media hasn’t been covering the subject itself, the hypocrisy of closeted politicians. And yet when my film comes out, they avoid covering that subject once again. So I have to say I have been surprised.
I think there is a breakthrough, and I have to give credit to the west coast. The Los Angeles Times jumped in early on, the San Francisco Chronicle I think has been very diligent about reporting on this. The Washington Post, although very supportive of the film, did not [cite names], and the New York Times did in their review. I don’t think there has been a mainstream television outlet that has, so that has been a barrier to crack. (For the record, Variety and W&W did report on the names mentioned).
In terms of the mainstream media, one of the things I want to be very clear on is the reporters themselves want to cover this story. I find it is the people higher up the ladder that are making the decisions not to have the reporters report on the politicians that I cover in my film.
W&W: Do you see a change in the debate over outing?
KD: Yes, that was exactly the intention of my film. The discussion of outing has been fascinating. There are ethical issues, certainly in outing celebrities, and I think that is a discussion that should be had. But I think the discussion of outing closeted politicians who vote anti-gay obscures more important issues, which is the existence of this hypocrisy in the American political system and in particular the politicians who are participating in this hypocrisy. Because I feel the closet contorts the American political system. Officials who are in the closet who would be normally inclined to vote pro-gay vote anti-gay because there are rumors that they are gay and they think if they vote pro-gay people will be inclined to think they are gay.
W&W: One name who stood out who is not featured in the movie is Mark Foley. Is that because he had a record much more supportive of gay rights?
KD: Exactly. I really wanted to keep sort of a laser focus on this issue of hypocrisy.
W&W: Do you think your movie will become any kind of an issue in Charlie Crist’s campaign for the Senate in Florida?
KD: I didn’t make this film to in any wa impact any politicians’ career at all. I made this film to encourage politicians to come out of the closet and to encourage the mainstream media and all media to report on hypocrisy when it takes place, and also to encourage future politicians to make their decision to enter their career to run as out politicians, whether Democrat or Republican.
…I think politically, Florida is a place where a middle of the road Republican, who is a very skilled politician like Charlie Crist, has the opportunity to run as out and win, not in this election but perhaps in some election in the future.
W&W: What kind of reaction have you gotten from those mentioned?
KD: We have gotten two reactions. One was Ed Koch, who said he was “outraged” by “Outrage.” But I was pleased he mentioned the title of the film twice in his response. He did not deny that he was gay, and he went on to say that he advocated for a number of gay rights issues, and that is true. He did not dispute the point made in the film that his administration was very slow in responding to the AIDS crisis in the early 80s, and that time New York City was at the epicenter of the crisis.
Also, Jim McCreary, I think issued a statement, essentially saying the best thing to do in a situation like this, for any politician reported on in my film, is to not comment, and so he wasn’t going to comment. Again, he did not deny that he was gay. This is the more typical response — they either have no response or just say no comment because they are hopeful this issue just dies down, and it has in the past when these stories come up. They come out of the gay press most often and the mainstream press doesn’t pick them up. And so the strategy of ignoring these stories has been successful. Hopefully, the press will continue to report on this.
W&W: Have you heard from anyone’s lawyer?
KD: I have not.
W&W: Obviously, that must have been a concern?
KD: We certainly had attorneys involved every step of the way. The sourcing in my film is very accurate, and obviously in this society anybody can initiate any kind of legal action. But I think we’re in a very strong position, so I am not especially concerned.