Today, Gawker published a gossipy piece by J.K. Trotter about Shep Smith’s bad behavior at a Chelsea bar last March, which culminated in Smith screeching for a waitress to “get my fucking drink!” (He never got the drink.) It’s an amusing but thoroughly lightweight story, making Gawker’s decision to promote it on their front page slightly puzzling—until Trotter reveals the true lede about halfway through:
Smith had arrived earlier that night with a straight couple and his own regular date, a muscular 6-foot-2 30-something white male, whom Bathtub Gin employees refer to as “his boyfriend.”
Regular date! Muscular! “Boyfriend”! Yes, you’re reading that right: Shep Smith is very likely gay, and Gawker was first to kick open the closet door—definitively, at least. But if that’s Trotter’s big scoop, and Gawker deems it so newsworthy, why did they dump the outing in the middle of a fluff piece about a speakeasy tantrum?
Probably because there’s no other way to do it without seeming sleazily reactionary. Blatant outings of public figures feel, in 2013, like a relic of the dark old days, when someone’s homosexuality was news in and of itself. Devoting an entire article to a celebrity’s orientation, once a sign of progress, would today seem weird and regressive. In a culture increasingly acclimated to the notion that being gay is entirely normal, the classic outing article would have an anachronistic air of tacit homophobia. Its underlying point—this person is gay!—simply isn’t newsworthy unless homosexuality were somehow aberrant or shameful. If it’s not, why report on it in the first place?
The exception here pertains to closet monsters, as neatly laid out by the Barney Frank Rule: If a closeted person actively strives to repress gay rights, it’s open season for outers. But Smith doesn’t fit this category. Despite working at the ultra-conservative Fox news, Smith has criticized Republicans for their anti-gay stance on live TV and never descended to his network’s common pastime of verbal gay-bashing. He’s not a hypocrite or a closet monster; arguably, he’s not even in the closet. Smith’s sexuality isn’t relevant to his job, so he’s never disclosed it. And if Gawker wants to do it for him, they should at least own up to what they’re doing—outing a public figure—rather than hiding their intentions behind a silly gossip story.
This kind of thing, of course, is Gawker’s bread and butter: They write fun stories about juicy rumors, and speculate wildly about the private lives of public people. But Smith’s sexuality isn’t really juicy. It’s just a personal detail, widely thought to be the case, which Gawker has now seemingly confirmed. They can feel free to dress it up as newsworthy, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to pretend that it’s real news.