KQED’s Scott Shafer on Anderson Cooper’s Coming Out
I’d just finished posting a blog item about Anderson Cooper’s coming out on my Facebook page when the phone rang. It was George Osterkamp, a producer in the CBS News Bureau in San Francisco. I’d met George in my previous life as press secretary to then-San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos.
He wanted to know if I was interested in talking about Anderson Cooper for the CBS This Morning show, and what it was like for an out gay journalist (that’s me). He also wanted to know whether there were any inherent career risks to coming out. (My view: There might be in places like Mississippi, Alabama or Utah, but not here. And certainly not at a national network like CNN.)
I agreed to do the interview then wondered, “What the hell am I going to say?” Everyone seemed to know or assume Anderson was gay –- and surely he was out to his friends, family and CNN colleagues. So technically, he was just acknowledging something we all more-or-less knew.
I came out 34 years ago, in college, long before I was a journalist, and I didn’t see any reason to “come out” on the air – what difference would it make? But then in 2004 my partner and I got married at San Francisco City Hall – and while I wasn’t covering the same-sex marriage issue, I was going to interview others about it. So KQED management and I decided that I should disclose my marriage on-air. Which I did, in passing, during a question to a legal scholar.
The reaction was muted. A few emails, almost all positive — “thanks for being honest,” that kind of thing.
During our interview today, CBS correspondent John Blackstone asked what difference Anderson’s disclosure makes. I said journalists have to have credibility to earn the trust of viewers and listeners. Authenticity and personal integrity are part of that credibility. I assume that for Cooper, not being out began to outweigh his desire for privacy. It began to look like he was hiding something or that he was ashamed or worried about how it would affect his career.
Besides, in this era of phone cameras, YouTube and Facebook, privacy is something of a quaint notion.
I also said I think that unlike, say, Ellen Degeneres’s coming out in 1997, this will hardly make a ripple. I’m sure that’s what he’s hoping for, at least.
In terms of being open and out about one’s sexual orientation, the last frontiers are Hollywood, politics and especially pro sports. (That locker room and shower thing, perhaps.) I hope the advent of pro U.S. athletes coming out isn’t far off. (I’m guessing baseball will be first – not a contact sport). And in some small way I’m sure Anderson Cooper’s coming out will hasten that day.