I have a bit more sympathy than Andrew Sullivan does for news organizations unsure of the ettiquette of “inning” or “outing” subjects of news stories, flattering or unflattering.
Some time ago, I wrote a blog post that referred to a male friend’s “boyfriend” in passing. The friend in question was casually out at work – he didn’t seem to be feeling people out before letting slip that he was gay, it was just part of who he was, to everybody. So I assumed I wasn’t “outing” him by the reference.
Well, he objected. Not because he had any problem with being known as gay. Nor, in general, was his boyfriend closeted in any strict sense. But his boyfriend had a job where he dealt with people who he wasn’t comfortable being out to. He, too, was out in his community, out to his family, out to his coworkers – but not out to all of his clients. And so he asked me to change to post, just to be sure that he and his boyfriend had control over who they were out to. Which, of course, I did.
It is very difficult for me to see how anyone directly involved in a story is hurt by a general rule that errs on the side of protecting privacy in these matters. People, after all, could want privacy for reasons that have nothing to do with any personal sense of shame, could want privacy even if, in general, they feel that the closet is a bad place that they want everyone to be able to leave. I can, of course, see the potential to set back that larger political cause if a conservative rule on this subject were followed. But whether one finds the balance that the Washington Post struck to be too conservative not, I think it’s quite a leap to go from the facts at hand to an accusation that the decision was in some sense objectively anti-gay or “homophobic.” I think that kind of accusation requires something more substantial by way of evidence than the decision itself.