"Being open and honest about who I am is part of who I am. It reflects the work that I try to do, which tries to look at the way the world really is."
That is how ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman explained to AfterElton.com his choice to be an out gay journalist. In the first part of this two-part series, we spoke with gay television journalists; news correspondents and anchors from across the country who, like Kofman, connected a journalist's responsibility to reveal the world as it is with their own personal decision to be out.
Here, in Part II, we broaden that conversation to include network news executives–both straight and gay–along with the reporters, exploring what being "out" means in a profession that depends on transparency and truth. Why are some gay on-camera journalists still unable to come out? Is there a distinction between being out in the newsroom, and being out to the public? And what do choices that gay journalists make about being out say about the larger impact a more complete image of who gay people are might have for the gay community, and for society at large?
The more honest I am, the more honest my stories are
Alexandra Wallace, vice president of NBC News and executive producer of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, told AfterElton.com that NBC is a "very welcoming" place for its gay and lesbian journalists, and she finds it natural that journalists might choose to be frank about being gay. "Honest, open people are usually drawn to journalism," Wallace offered. "I mean that's what we do; we ask other people to be open."
Then why does she believe so many gay on-camera journalists aren't forthcoming on the issue of sexual orientation? Wallace said those choices are personal and individual and probably stem from "a variety of reasons." She also pointed out that "the other thing about journalism is that there is a natural tendency to not be the story yourself. … I don't think it's right to lie. But I do still believe that people are allowed to have a private life."
When it is pointed out to Wallace that she revealed she is straight within the first three sentences of our conversation without being asked — and without revealing anything about her private life — she acknowledged, "I totally get your point."
And she can see the decision to be out as part of journalistic integrity: "I just kind of believe in being open and honest in general, because as journalists I think you want to have a transparency with the audience." But Wallace added, "I have to tell you I also completely believe it's people's choice."
ABC News senior vice president Jeffrey Schneider, like Wallace, revealed his sexual orientation right up front, the difference being that Schneider is gay. Schneider thinks one reason ABC reporters were more likely than gay reporters from other networks to participate in this article may be the examples set by himself and fellow ABC News senior vice president, Bob Murphy, both of whom are gay and out.
But asked if being out is linked in any way to responsibility or transparency for a journalist, Schneider said flatly, "I do not. … I don't draw that connection." His ABC reporters speaking here, however, do.
ABC's Kofman explained that his decision to be frank in interviews about being gay stems directly from the fact that as journalists "we spend a lot of our time asking people to be honest and straightforward with us," and he feels a responsibility to do the same. ABC News' Miguel Marquez told AfterElton.com that "of course" being honest about sexuality is part of a reporter's larger commitment to the truth, and added, "the more honest I am, the more honest my stories are."
Schneider, however, feels "that the important test is if there's any hypocrisy that exists. If somebody is actively doing or saying something that belies some actual truth about themselves, I think that that's harmful and sad."
Yet CBS correspondent Manuel Gallegus pointed directly to avoiding hypocrisy as the reason he gave his coming-out interview for this series of articles. And many of the gay reporters who spoke to AfterElton.com felt that in a business that is all about "truth and honesty," it was disingenuous for them to conceal their own sexual orientation.