Current and former staff members of the nation's largest gay newspaper chain say the company's top editor thwarted efforts to run a story reporting now-Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman was gay, RAW STORY has learned. The editor denies killing the story.
These staffers assert that the part-owner and chief editor for the company's five newspapers including The Washington Blade, Chris Crain, refused to print an article regarding the sexual orientation of the then-campaign manager for President Bush's reelection campaign.
One staffer said Crain told others that he had confirmed Mehlman was gay, but refused to provide his sources to other reporters.
"Chris would confirm it," the staffer said, "but he wouldn't give out any names."
"He's not going to print anything," another quipped.
Crain--who was Mehlman's supervising editor for a Harvard public policy journal in law school and partnered with him in an organization in the early 1990's--says he has not "credibly" confirmed Mehlman's sexuality. He denied that their previous involvement had any bearing on his editorial decisions.
The Washington editor's statements about outing, and the allegations of those at his company, are sure to prompt new examination of the reporting on the sexuality of public figures who publicly oppose gay rights.
Mehlman has come into particular focus for his use of personal data of voters--including marital status--which he says helped Bush win the election. Though he's used this data himself, and ran a campaign that focused on turning out voters opposed to gay marriage, he's been recalcitrant to those who question his own.
Crain has been a vocal defender of the media's right to question gays who work to undermine gay rights, even going so far as to rebuke the gay lobby Human Rights Campaign for opposing outing.
"It is the antithesis of journalism to hide such hypocrisy when the facts can be clearly ascertained," he penned in an editorial last July.
He maintains, however, that such reporting should not intrude upon individual privacy.
Coverage of Mehlman disputed
Reporters and staff of the Blade's parent company who questioned Crain's decisions on Mehlman spoke with the understanding their names and positions not be printed. One employee said Crain kept sources on Mehlman under wraps.
"He's pretty much kept them [to himself]," the staffer said. "They wouldn't say a thing about it."
The Blade is "certainly a for-profit enterprise and it's also very individual," another staffer stated. Like other small publications "the tone of what's printed is set by a couple of people and everything is editorialized."
Crain refutes charges that he sought to keep Mehlman out of print. He says he has aggressively pursued the story of the RNC chairman's sexuality.
"If you talked to people on my staff," he said, "you know how many times I've brought up in meetings that I wanted to nail this story. And I don't want anyone to get it before me."
The Blade editor said he helped former Blade reporter Adrian Brune get onto a call with Mehlman during the campaign, instructing her to ask him directly about his sexuality, which she did not. Brune asked about campaign aides being gay and Mehlman "completely evaded" the question.
Brune said she repeatedly tried to interview Mehlman.
"The Bush campaign and Ken Mehlman were very restrictive with access," Brune remarked. "I was always denied any sort of access; they largely ignored all of our requests."
The former Blade reporter says she was unable to obtain "empirical evidence" that met Crain’s standards for print.
A secondary source, Brune said, "knew Ken Mehlman at Harvard Law School and everyone knew very well that he was gay, but there was no empirical evidence to back that up."
Mehlman did not respond to a request for comment.
Crain asserts that he wouldn't report on Mehlman even if someone confirmed they had sex with him.
"I would not go with that even if I had it," he said. "I don't think that is justification for printing the story."
Even so, the Blade all-but-outed Mehlman in May of last year when they ran a photograph of him next to an article titled "Bush campaign mum on any openly gay staffers." Crain says the photo was placed next to the article because Mehlman was asked the question, but some took it as a tacit outing.
The Blade's editor notes that the only time he formally outed someone was when staffers for Sen. Mel Martinez's campaign (R-FL) told him personally that they were gay.
"I don't think you can report someone is gay--unless someone says it to you," he said.
'Turned away' Schrock gay sex tapes
Crain also told RAW STORY that he declined an opportunity to hear evidence about an anti-gay congressman's gay liaisons a year before the tapes of the congressman leaving public messages on a gay personals line appeared on the Web.
"I turned it down," Crain said, "because I think that is invading someone's privacy."
This came as a surprise to Brune, who covered the case for the Blade when the congressman, Rep. Ed Schrock (R-VA), resigned.
"I didn't know that he was offered those tapes," Brune said.
Asked why Crain would keep information from her on a story she was assigned, she said, "I have no idea."
Crain says he didn't recall telling Brune, but that he did bring it up in an editorial meeting.
The audio files were released by D.C. blogger Mike Rogers on his website blogACTIVE.com (Rogers is now also editor of RAWSTORYQ.com). Rogers noted that Schrock felt gays weren't fit to serve in the military and favored asking soldiers outright about their sexuality.
''You're in the showers with them," Schrock, a 24-year veteran of the Navy, said.
Seeking to determine whether the phone sex service was private, RAW STORY called the system Schrock used to solicit other men. The service, MegaMates, states that all solicitations are public; Schrock recorded at least seven distinct graphic messages seeking partners.
"Now I'd like to you to record a public message," the announcer urges. "When you record your public message, it will be posted on the system for others to hear."
Crain acknowledged that the messages were public, but noted that they were left without a name. He said he felt they were an inviolate part of the congressman's life.
The Blade did, however, report on a sex party allegedly attended by former White House correspondent James Guckert. The Blade's report also carried a photograph without confirming it was Guckert.
That article included statements from a source who said the party "always turns into an orgy toward the end." It also included a photograph "of a man who appears to be James Guckert" and described in detail a more revealing photograph which was withheld.
Crain admitted the article didn't meet the standards he'd laid out and said that the Blade "took it too far." Guckert declined to comment.
Other gay journalists criticize Crain on outing
Some gay journalists took issue with Crain's decision to limit reporting on gays who aid a homophobic agenda to those who have publicly professed their sexuality.
Michelangelo Signorile, host of the eponymous Sirius OutQ radio show, expressed disappointment at the news about Schrock and Mehlman. Signorile has been an advocate of outing and revealed details about the sexual proclivities of gay pundit Andrew Sullivan.
"I think he should have listened to the tape," Signorile said. "I think that his standards as a journalist certainly might be different from Mike Rogers, but certainly that doesn't mean you shouldn’t investigate it."
Crain says he felt that investigating anything related to Schrock's phone sex personals would be improper.
"It's sort of like in the police context, if you go into a home without a warrant, everything that you obtain… is like the fruit of the poison tree," Crain said.
Signorile criticized Crain for what he said was a purely subjective approach to reporting on sexuality.
"In the end," Signorile asserted, "he's playing God because he decides who's to be outed based on his own idiosyncratic decisions rather than having an objective standard."
Crain said he was taking cases as they came.
"I don't think that there are bright lines here on when to out and when not to out," he said. "That's why I err on the side of not doing it. We do it only when we see evidence that the circumstances justify."
Andy Humm, co-host of the Gay USA television show and a veteran reporter for New York's Gay City News, the most-circulated gay paper in the country, also took umbrage with Crain's decisions and position on outing.
"We'd all like to have an unmolested private life, but these politicians, they're in favor of sodomy laws," he said. "They're for a president who… was in favor of locking you up for things you did privately."
Humm dismisses the idea that outing shouldn't be done.
"It's not outing, it's just reporting," he told RAW STORY. "It's good reporting. Reporting is not a hostile act, reporting is your job.
"A good reporter is always looking for hypocrisy," he added. "I remember writing about a city council member who was anti-abortion and paid for his mistress' abortion. What am I going to say, that's his private life?"
Crain says reporting on public figures' sex lives has given him pause as to whether such reporting should be done at all.
"The whole way this has played out has made me give serious second thought to whether outing should ever be done," Crain remarked. "Some things can make sense in principle but in practice are just too difficult to do right."
"Just because things are difficult to do right in practice, doesn't mean you don't do them," the longtime activist and reporter said. "If you can't take on the responsibilities of journalism or are afraid of reporting what needs to be reported, you should get out of the business."