Journalism is ground zero for truth in a free society. So if the journalist is gay does this obligation to truth create a greater responsibility to be “out”? In a culture where the accomplishments of gay people often remain invisible, is answering the simple question on sexual orientation part of a commitment to reveal the world as it is – or is it irrelevant in a profession where “you are not the story”?
In a two-part series, AfterElton.com explores the careers and choices of gay television journalists. First, we highlight the work and experiences of nine of the most high-profile gay on-camera newsmen in the country – with more journalists featured throughout the week on the AE blog. Part II, which will be published on AfterElton.com on May 21, investigates the issues surrounding being out within news organizations and in public, and looks at the impact of those choices on the individual and society. That discussion includes all the newsmen as well as network news executives – both straight and gay.
Over the past seven months AfterElton conducted extensive interviews on and off the record for this series. Here, we spoke with five national news correspondents and four anchors about their work and their choice to be out — some of these journalists discussing this publicly for the first time. They have reported on Washington politics, natural disasters and from the Iraq war zone, many risking their lives to bring facts about our world to the American people. By speaking openly about their careers, these reporters create a fuller picture of who gay people are, and a clearer image of the truth.
Miguel Marquez: It's a weirdly intimate business.
From Baghdad, in a telephone interview with AfterElton.com, ABC News correspondent Miguel Marquez spelled out the main security concern for himself and all the reporters in Iraq . "Dying," said Marquez, pointing to random violence that could come at any moment from an IED en route to an interview, or being ambushed while traveling with the military. Marquez said the challenge becomes "getting the story without getting yourself, or your crew or anybody killed."
During his many trips to Iraq since joining ABC from CNN over two years ago, Marquez has interviewed American military officers, Iranian diplomats and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He has also reported on the deaths of too many American soldiers and Iraqi citizens in a place that he says has gotten more and more complicated.
Marquez said many of the intense situations that correspondents report from — war zones, hurricanes, California wildfires — make news "a weirdly intimate business." In some of those situations, Marquez believes, being frank with colleagues about sexual orientation can be part of what allows you the comfort level you need.
"It makes a big difference," said Marquez. "You're traveling with producers and people in cars, and you've been with them for two or three days, you all stink, and you're calling loved ones on the phone, trying to whisper 'I love you' and having very intimate conversations. … The more comfortable you are personally, I think the better the experience."
And Marquez's experience is that universally within the news agencies, people are open and accepting. It's the next level — being open with outside press and thereby the public — that some of his colleagues won't do.
"It also comes down to a very personal decision," said Marquez of the decision to be out. "It's hard for me to judge anyone else." But his own decision on the issue comes down to this: "I'm in a business that's all about truth and honesty, and to some degree I'm responsible to be honest as well."
John Yang: Why should I pass as being straight?
NBC News Washington correspondent John Yang is one of the most accomplished and respected journalists in television news, often reporting the lead story on NBC Nightly News. A former editor at the Washington Post, Yang spent seven years as an international and Washington correspondent for ABC News.
In this, the first profile where he mentions his sexuality, Yang said that taking on the coveted job of Jerusalem correspondent for ABC in 2003 "was the first time I felt like an adult." This despite the fact Yang had reported for years from the White House and Congress, as well as the Iraq war in 2003.
Regarding the Jerusalem appointment, Yang admitted, "I was extremely flattered because at ABC News, Peter Jennings had veto power over foreign correspondents. And this was an area that Peter cared deeply about. And actually Peter got on the phone … and said 'I'd really love for you to do this.'"
And being gay may have given Yang an edge landing the post. "It's actually something that Peter said to me," Yang recalled. "It's that he thought that — and looking back, you can take what he said a couple of different ways, whether he meant [me] being Asian or being gay — but that he thought that what I would bring to that reporting was an understanding or an insight into … people who are marginalized."
Yang has found that among the politically powerful in Washington, being gay is also accepted, despite public rhetoric that might suggest otherwise. In a follow-up email to AfterElton.com, Yang recalled a 1992 phone call from a conservative Republican senator after a Washingtonian magazine piece on Yang's employer at the time, the Washington Post, alluded to his sexual orientation.
"John, I saw that thing about you in the magazine," the senator told Yang. "I just want to tell you it doesn't make any difference to me. You're still the best damned reporter I've ever dealt with." Yang thanked the legislator, who after a pause asked, "I haven't said anything wrong, have I?" Yang assured him: "No, Senator. You said just the right thing."
And why is Yang one of the few national television journalists choosing to be candid about sexual orientation? He connects it in part to his experience of being perceived as a racial minority. "There are certain things about myself that are immutable, and some of them are obvious," Yang said. "I'm Asian. I mean, anyone who sees me on the air or hears my last name knows that. … And in a way, I felt that I can't pass as not being Asian, so why should I pass as being straight?"