Friday, April 16, 2010

So What?

CBS News got their head handed to them by the White House for posting a piece that said that Solicitor General Elena Kagan, one of the people being considered for the vacancy on the Supreme Court, is gay.

The White House ripped CBS News on Thursday for publishing an online column by a blogger who made assertions about the sexual orientation of Solicitor General Elena Kagan, widely viewed as a leading candidate for the Supreme Court.

Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer, wrote that President Obama would “please” much of his base by picking the “first openly gay justice.” An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian.

CBS initially refused to pull the posting, prompting Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director who is working with the administration on the high court vacancy, to say: “The fact that they’ve chosen to become enablers of people posting lies on their site tells us where the journalistic standards of CBS are in 2010.” She said the network was giving a platform to a blogger “with a history of plagiarism” who was “applying old stereotypes to single women with successful careers.”

The network deleted the posting Thursday night after Domenech said he was merely repeating a rumor.

Mr. Domenech has a rather problematic career as a journalist. He resigned from the Washington Post‘s blog in 2006 after only three days after being accused of plagiarism, and while passing on rumors is stock in trade for some bloggers, CBS was right in yanking the piece. Mr. Domenech later sent out an e-mail with the non-apology apology and then repeated the rumor: “I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post.” Neener, neener.

But beyond the rumor-mongering and weasel-word excuse, there’s another point: if a nominee for the Supreme Court is gay, so what? Aside from the blatant bigotry of people like Focus on the Family, what is the big deal? I’m disappointed that the White House reacted in such a heavy-handed manner; it makes more of a deal out of it than they ought to. The proper response should have been more along the lines of “we’re not going to rise to the bait of rumors. If CBS News wants to print that sort of thing, it’s their reputation for journalism that’s at stake, not the private life of some possible nominee to the Supreme Court.”

To the larger point, gays and lesbians are a significant segment of our society, and it would be nice if there was someone on the highest court in the land who was, at the least, aware of the issues that face us. Indeed, since the LGBT community is routinely singled out and deprived of equal rights — Florida’s adoption laws come to mind — it’s even more important.

I’m not saying that there has to be a seat on the Court reserved as “gay only,” but as we’ve learned over the years, having a Court that represents more of a cross-section of America than a restricted country club is good for both the law and the people.