Reporters can be gay?


The news is out. Anderson Cooper is gay.  I guess I should get over
my crush now, huh?

Honestly, I’ve always thought of Anderson Cooper as asexual. I’ve watched him on CNN, and his less serious self when he guest hosted on “Regis & Kelly” or when he hosted the short-lived reality show, “The Mole.” I love how versatile he is and that he’s not afraid to be silly. And, I have a thing for that hair of his.

When I watch the news, read an article, or listen to talk radio, I never think about the gender of whom that person has sex with. Weird, right? I should be judging journalists based on how they use their sexual organs, shouldn’t I? Now that I know Anderson is gay, I should assume he wants to have sex with all the troops he’s embedded with, right? And, of course, when he takes off his suit after a long day of news reporting he drapes himself in a feather boa, yes?

My first job out of college was as a television reporter. I loved all the unique experiences I enjoyed and the access I had to people and situations. I once talked with Alex Trebek about a musk ox he sponsored in Alaska. It was fun. And, I interviewed Phil Donahue (for the youngsters in the group, he was “Oprah” before there was an Oprah). But, the thing I didn’t like about being a reporter was how I couldn’t be myself in my “real” life.

Sometimes, there was a political candidate I wanted to support. Other times I wanted to sign a petition or attend a rally. But, nope. That’s not something you can do as a reporter. You have to be unbiased; without opinion.

Reality check: One can hide their opinion and try to be objective in their reporting, but one can rarely be without an opinion.

When I did my reporting, I made sure to leave words out of my story that would support or reject the facts. Facts stand on their own. However, if someone who watched our newscast had seen me take an action that supported or rejected those facts, that would have affected how my reporting was perceived, wouldn’t it?

It’s more than reporters who can be labelled as biased, though. It’s entire news organizations. The Times is liberal. The Bulletin is conservative. You hear of biases all the time.

Neiman Journalism Lab wrote an interesting piece on this topic, “How do you tell when the news is biased? It depends on how you see yourself,” which explores how people perceive news. The post discusses how two groups of people can watch the exact same story and each group feels as though the story was bias against them. However, the twist is that each story appears to be from a different news source. So, the “bias” is actually against the news organization and has nothing to do with the reporter’s words at all.

The post goes on to discuss that if people actually knew a journalist’s opinions that, perhaps, the readers or viewers would be more apt to embrace that person as “one of them.” And, that maybe the long standing tradition of hiding one’s affiliations might not give the audience the transparency that they’re getting accustomed to these days.

So let’s explore that idea.

Now that we know Anderson Cooper is gay, is that going to affect how people perceive his reporting? What if he’s reporting on gays in the military? If I’m gay, am I more inclined to think Anderson has my back and will produce a pro-gay piece? If I’m not gay, will I assume Anderson’s reporting is biased and self-serving?

Let’s explore it further.

If a story is assigned to a female reporter and a black reporter, will the end product be the same? What about a story from a reporter who was bounced around in the foster care system as a kid versus someone who was brought up in a large Mormon family? Will the stories that are reported look and feel the same? Or should our own unique experiences in life affect our storytelling? Or, do bloggers tell stories and journalists report facts? (For more on the bloggers versus journalist debate, see “Are bloggers different than journalists?”)

Is it possible for a journalist to be completely unbiased? Do you believe that they can, and do, leave everything that makes them unique at the door when they go into work? In this day and age, when the media landscape is changing and we, as consumers, are getting used to greater transparency and authenticity, is it time to start learning more about the personal lives of the people who report the news? And, should I get over my crush on Anderson Cooper now that I know he plays for the other team?

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About Amber Avines

Amber Avines blogs at Words Done Write and runs a successful communications consultancy in Los Angeles. You can connect with Amber on Twitter at @wordsdonewrite.

Comments

  1. wordsdonewrite says:

    @allison_boyer I think my first version was better, but it’s hard to rewrite something once you’re cranky from losing it :-)

  2. MarcEnsign says:

    @allison_boyer I thought he announced that he was gray. This makes a lot more sense. @wordsdonewrite @blogworldexpo

    • wordsdonewrite says:

      @MarcEnsign @allison_boyer How embarrassing! You’re right. It should be GRAY. Total typo. I should fix that. Eventually…

    • @MarcEnsign ANDERSON COOPER IS GREY?? OMG THAT IS TERRIB….Oh, you mean he’s gay. Oh, okay, yeah, I guess that’s news.

  3. One of my favorite Anderson Cooper bits (discovered thanks to my young kids) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmuvPr0BlxE

    •  @danielmclark Oh my gosh, I love that!!!!! Thanks for sharing, I hadn’t seen it before. This is a perfect example of why I’ve always loved Anderson Cooper. He can be a serious news guy or a goofy everyday guy. :-)

  4. JTDabbagian says:

    If absolute lack of bias was enforced in journalism, there wouldn’t be any journalists at all. I agree that reporters should try to keep an objective, clean slate approach to their work, but deep down, we all pick sides. Reporters are no different. Sometimes that bias can subliminally affect the work they write as well, without them knowing it, not so much in opinions, but in what facts get included or excluded, or if something is worthy of being reported in general.
     
    I don’t doubt that the different parts of the media have their biases (Not to the levels that both sides of the political punditry claim though) but again, it’s impossible to remove it.  

    •  @JTDabbagian Good points, JT. Omitting facts definitely can go to bias.

      • Amy Parmenter says:

         @WordsDoneWrite  @JTDabbagian Sometimes the bias can be as unintentional as who you chose from a crowd to interview.  Two or three people are chosen to represent the opinions or feeling of the crowd so it’s kind of up to the reporter to acurately feel or assess the crowd and use sound that is a fair reflection.  And bias can easily come in to play.  Like, let’s take the gay pride parade as an example.  The TV cameras love the ‘more colorful’ paraders…and viewers might be amused…but what about all the people marching who are not ‘colorful’, just normal??  This is the power of the media to influence what we see or how we feel –, except that, more often than not, reporters are just including the most dramatic or entertaining video without giving serious thought or consideration to whether it is a true representation of the crowd.  

  5. jetwhine says:

    Oh if only we could really live up to the ideals of objectivity we all strive for. Kind of like the folks on AMC’s Newsroom eh? Seriously, we don’t want to admit that the reason we even hit on a story idea is that we completely agree with the action … or completely disagree, as in something political.
     
    Then the tough part becomes standing back far enough to at least try and be as objective as we can in that moment. Much more easily said than done on some stories, I think.

  6. Who The F cares- a hole is a hole-

  7. Amy Parmenter says:

    Now you just KNOW I had to weigh in on this one.  Reporters cannot be unbiased.  They can try to be unbiased but their life’s experience – or lack thereof – will always be an influence.  And, in my opinion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – as long as the newsroom is casted to reflect the population in some manner.  Which brings us to the gay thing.  Of course there are gay reporters but – unlike the hiring of blond v brunette, black v white (v asian v latino…)  gay is not often as obvious as the other minorities represented.  That said, it may surprise you to know that gay in the newsroom is not news.  I can think of at least 5 men in my newsroom right off the top of my head who are gay, and I’ve worked with many more.  It’s just not a big deal but I would have to believe it does affect their reporting on issues specific to that topic – as for instance, someone who has had breast cancer will cover breast cancer stories differently.   To me, it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.  There are times when objectivity is highly overrated. 
     
    Amy Parmenter

    •  @Amy Parmenter Good example with the breast cancer reference. So true. There’s no way a person who has overcome breast cancer will produce the same story as a woman who has never been affected. Or, a man who doesn’t even have breasts!

      • Amy Parmenter says:

         @WordsDoneWrite but just to clarify…that’s not to say that a woman who has not had breast cancer,  or a man, couldn’t do a touching, sympathetic or revealing story …it just wouldn’t be as personal.

        •  @Amy Parmenter True, but it might not be as thorough or insightful. For example, I can learn the facts of anything and report it. But, if I’ve LIVED it, I will be able to offer a much more thorough take on it. I wouldn’t have to relay my personal experiences with the subject to offer a better explanation or a more detailed analysis.

        •  @Amy Parmenter P.S. I just read your post that talked about epilepsy meds and that is exactly what I was talking about in my comment above. The difference between learning about something and actually living it ;-)

    • Thank you for weighing in here Amy. It is great to have that insider perspective. I think the think most news consumers want is transparency. We are fine with a reporter bringing their personal experience and views to the table as long as they don’t try to hide it.

  8. NorthwestPRguy says:

    I have to say, this post comes across as completely juvenile.  Of course people have bias – whether they are reporters or not.  Trying to compare someone’s sexuality to their political or religious beliefs is absurd.  Being a Republican or a Democrat is a choice.  Being gay is not.  People are not marginalized, abused, discriminated against and murdered for being a fiscal conservative.  
     
    The simple fact here is Cooper is a national figure.  Not only does he have a duty to report the news in the most unbiased way possible in his role as a reporter, but he also has an opportunity to serve as a role model and example for the gay community when he is not reporting the news.  Seriously, grow up and write about something meaningful.
     
    Matt

    •  @NorthwestPRguy Matt, sorry you think this is juvenile. When it comes to biases, who we are has an impact on how we are perceived. No one’s talking about “choices,” that is totally not the point. The point is whether or not who we are can affect our personal biases or how others may perceive our biases. This issue of biases is amplified when we’re discussing the actions of a journalist versus the actions of a mechanic.

      • Amy Parmenter says:

         @WordsDoneWrite  @NorthwestPRguy with all due respect, this is a blog post.  it is a blog post intended to initiate a conversation.  it’s a blog post that is simply asking a question about whether a reporter who is – in this example – gay can report without bias on a story of – let say – CIVIL UNIONS – not like that hasn’t been in the news right??  Obviously Cooper’s feelings about the subject are going to be more personal and the question simply considers when or if this might come in to play.  
         
        It’s not a hard news story.  It’s a blog post.  It’s a conversation starter.  I can’t help but feel that your personal attack is ‘completely juvenile’, not to mention off base.  Your suggestion that Amber ‘grow up’ comes off as inappropriately angry.
         
        Maybe you should look to Anderson as a role model since he doesn’t really seem to respond to the topic with such offense.
         
        p.s.   PR?  Really?

        • @Amy Parmenter @WordsDoneWrite @NorthwestPRguy

          Saying “this is just a blog post” is kind of not fair. Because it is a blog post means you only talk about what you want on your own terms? I agree about it being a conversation starter, but you should be willing to jump into the conversation you started. I tend to think it is a bit of a silly and old argument. Of course reporters have bias. But I would say the author of this post has her own bias, which PRguy (btw, lulz) was feeding off. Don’t act all innocent like you were not trying to provoke some sort of response. It is a a rather “juvenile” premise.

        •  @Amy You didn’t really ping any of us in your comment so since you’re addressing @Amy Parmenter’s comment, I’ll loop her into the conversation.
           
          How am I not jumping into the conversation I started? As you’ll see, I’ve responded to everyone here. I’m not acting “all innocent” and I’m sorry you find this to be a “juvenile premise.”  We’re talking about biases in journalism and how humans inherently have biases. I don’t think that’s juvenile. If you do, that’s your prerogative–and your bias.  Which is fine by me. :-)

    • People are not marginalized, abused, discriminated against and murdered for being a fiscal conservative.

      Actually all of those things happen for people’s political beliefs all the time. Sorry you missed Amber’s point completely. Funny how in doing so you proved it for her.

  9. Robertwalzz says:

               Of course someone can be gay and be a journalist. Just like they can be a man or a woman and be a journalist or a Catholic, Jew, Mormon, Democrat or Republican. Everyone has a personal life. The role of the journalist is to put their personal bias on the shelf and report the truth so citizens can make up their own minds, at least as best they can. 
               But in reality Anderson Cooper is not a journalist. He is a celebrity. Real journalist don’t guest host with Kelli Rippa, post their iPod song list on-line or make editorial comments about political events. 
              Anderson Cooper embodies what is wrong with journalism today, why people don’t trust what they read and hear. The network executives who manufactured him are only interested in ratings, not informing the public.  Do you think Cooper’s declining ratings at CNN had anything to do with his decision to come out and tell us all about his sexual preference? Is he after attention or is he pushing an agenda? Either answer proves my point.
     

    •  @Robertwalzz NBC anchor and reporter Brian Williams has appeared on Saturday Night Live, so under your rules he wouldn’t be a real journalist either, correct?

      • Robertwalzz says:

        Yes, that is correct. He is the same focus group tested consultant produced ratings driven anchor that all the network stations give us on the evening news. Style over substance is driving the consumer away from television news. Journalists sell trust and doing a guest host on a comedy show dosen’t create it. In the words of Ted Koopel “I have no problem with comedians posing as journalists, what I don’t like is when journalists act like comedians.”

  10. I think a far more interesting study would be that of one of Anderson Cooper’s colleagues at CNN, weekend anchor Don Lemon.  About a year ago he came out of the closet in a big, big way — by writing and promoting a book about his experiences as a gay black man.  I found it surprising, and a little bit off-putting, that CNN provided a major platform for Lemon to vamp about it and promote his book on the air.  For about a week, they allowed him to chat away about it.
     
    The problem I have is not that he’s gay, or that he’s black and gay.  My problem is that he’s a prominent news anchor on one of the major broadcast operations in the entire world.  The whole thing came off as very self-serving and self-important on his part.  He seemed all too eager to broadcast this revelation to the world, and that’s the problem.  Nobody ASKED him if he was gay.  Nobody cared.  Nobody was kicking in his door demanding to know his sexual preferences, or his opinions on the matter.  But he told us anyway. He told us loudly, boldly, repeatedly, and using one of the biggest media groups in the world to do so.  He wrote and promoted a book exploring his feelings and experiences as not just a gay man, but a gay black man.  He’s got a lot to say on the matter.
     
    So, fine.  But all I’m saying is now that he’s decided to do that, don’t expect me to sit there next time he does any kind of a story that involves sexuality or race and expect me to believe that he’s being unbiased in his presentation.  Because he was so vocal and insistent on publicly announcing his status, I’ll never view him the same way again.  He’s the one who made such a production of labeling himself the gay black news anchor.  So he’ll have to accept the consequences…which are that no one will see him as an unbiased journalist ever again. If one accepts that a good journalist should strive to present the news accurately and without showing any bias, I think you’d have to concede that Lemon has done himself a grave disservice.  It was more important for him to use his position to sell books, publicly affirm his sexuality and be congratulated by fawning interviewers than to do his job of simply reporting the news.

    • Funny, I think it all goes to when people KNOW about your biases. Because we all have them, but once people know what they are it can’t help but to have an impact on perception.

      • blogworld says:

         @WordsDoneWrite And that’s the way it should be imo 8). We all have biases and our biases effect the words we choose, the emphasis of any given point and the intensity of our positions. That all comes through in reporting.
         
        As an avid political news consumer I can tell a reporters political leanings 99.9% of the time.

  11. Amy Parmenter says:

    Nick!
     
    I find your commentary very interesting.  You make some interesting points.  But the truth is, before Don’s book, we already knew him to be black and to be a news anchor so the only real difference is that now you know he is gay ‘so you can ‘never view him the same way again’….as an ‘unbiased journalist’.  but that’s just my point.  Gay does not mean more biased…it just means biased in a different way than heterosexual.  I mean really, when it comes to covering stories about ‘sexuality or race’ — are you actually suggesting that white or hetero don’t have biases as well????  And, btw, I’m pretty sure you knew Don’s race before his ‘coming out’.  Everyone is biased based on their life’s experience.  As journalists, the most we can do is make a conscious effort to understand our own biases…and try to shed those judgments in our coverage.  It’s absolutely impossible to have no feelings or thoughts or judgments…so then we just try to frame things in a way that insures all sides are represented fairly. 
     
    That said — to be completely unbiased is overrated.  For instance, would you be uncomfortable if someone covering the Colorado shootings had actually known someone who had been shot??  Probably not because you can only see that their are victims and that is where your sympathies lie.  On the other hand, what if the reporter actually had a brother who suffered from mental illness in such a way as to be similar to the shooter??
     
    I agree that there is a blatant conflict when a news outlet allows its personalities to sell books but that doesn’t make Don any more or less bias – any more or less black, any more or less gay – than he was before the book.

    •  @Amy Parmenter
       Hi Amy –
       
      I fully agree that we’re all biased, yes.  However, I can honestly say that when I was a reporter I took great pains to ensure that everything I did was fair, unbiased and right down the middle.  When I had a story where one viewpoint was voiced, I made it a point to go get the other viewpoint (or multiple others, if it was an issue that required me to go get multiple people to weigh in, if the story called for it).  It actually made things more satisfying, because I knew that I had covered my bases and filed a story that forced listeners to hear all sides.  I worked in a newsroom where the majority of reporters tilted to the left (what a shock!) and looked at me with a skeptical eye because they knew my politics were different, so that only motivated me more to prove that I could do “unbiased” and do it better than them.  And you know what?  I did…while some of them continued to file incredibly slanted stories about the local NAACP chapter complaining about the racial offense du jour, or another piece about how kids were getting shafted due to a “cut’ in education funding.
       
      Of course there are those stories that don’t (or at least shouldn’t) have a bias problem, those that just lend themselves to straight reporting:  “Dog bites man.”  “Fire destroys 10 apartments.”  “Gas prices rose 5 cents this week.”  Others are thornier than that, and require utmost vigilance.
       
      I actually think that being an unbiased reporter is not hard to do, if you’re honest with yourself, and you strive to report the news objectively, without trying to be a cheerleader for one side or another. Of course there’s the age-old debate over whether story selection — what a newsroom decides to cover in the first place — reflects a bias, but that’s too long a topic to get into here.
       
      Which brings me back to Mr. Lemon.  Of course I knew he was black!  Just like I knew that Walter Cronkite was white, or that Lesley Stahl is a woman.  My point is that if you go back and look at Lemon’s media coming out party all over TV, he opined…and chatted….and emoted….and talked….and advocated…and yapped away….for days.  It was Lemon himself who wanted to make sure people heard his perspective as a “gay black man.”  He was the one who self-identified.  He had things he needed to get off his chest, as a gay man who grew up in the black culture.  He said that himself.  What I’m saying is that I don’t care who the anchor or reporter is — I think that when you take a job like that, it’s your duty to clam up about your personal life, shut the hell up, and report the news.  Period.  If you want to send your message to the world about gay rights, or the environment, or the Tea Party, or the Occupy movement, or any other issue…then surrender your reporter job and go be an advocate or a commentator.  Once you cross that bridge, you’ve lost me as a news consumer who can trust you to simply report.  And so it is with Lemon.  As a human being, I hope he finds peace as a gay black man.  As a news consumer, I don’t care about his orientation or his struggles.  I care that he delivers the news, and that’s it. 
       
      To be honest, I haven’t watched CNN much in the last year (and apparently not many other people are, either!) so I don’t know if Lemon has shown a tendency to treat certain stories differently since his big announcment last year.  However, again my point is that I should never have to look at an anchor and know his personal views on issues.  With Lemon, now I do, because he wrote a book and did a big media tour.  By contrast, there is a well-known Fox News anchor who is widely rumored to be gay, but if he is, he certainly keeps it private and does his job…as he should. 
       
      I find it interesting that Cronkite was known as “Uncle Walter,” the straight-shooting and trustworthy guy who delivered the news each night…but after he retired and years after he died, it finally started coming out that he was an avowed liberal.  But see, none of us knew that! That’s because he just picked up the copy, read, and reported without offering the slightest hint of an opinion.  Similarly, I watched Brit Hume on ABC News for decades, without getting the slightest whiff of what he believed.  Now that he has retired from active reporting and is more of a special commentator on Fox, it’s pretty clear that he’s right-of-center.  But he’s earned that right to talk, because he did his time, and Fox clearly announced that Hume’s role had shifted to that of a commentator/analyst.
       
       

      • Amy Parmenter says:

        Nick…
         
        With all due respect…  I cannot take anyone seriously who is arguing for an unbiased news delivery….and uses Fox News as an example.  
         
        And that’s because I’m a reporter – not because I’m a ‘liberal’, which you will immediately assume because of your bias.  And so the world turns…

        •  @Amy Parmenter
           Boy, Amy….that’s really too bad.  And here I thought we were having a good exchange.  You can’t take me seriously because I brought up Fox News?  How interesting that you pretty much scrapped the rest of the discussion and then cheap-shotted and dismissed me because I dare mention Fox News.
           
          Okay, you asked for it.
           
          Are you talking about their news delivery during the day, or their opinion shows at night?  I’ll assume that you’re talking about their news operation, and exclude guys like Hannity and O’Reilly. And I’ll even spot you the “Fox & Friends” morning show, which I dislike, and actually do think has severe bias.  But then again, I could mention all kinds of segments, hosts, reporters and anchors on CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS through the years who have shown extreme bias.  As well as some horriibly biased copy I’ve read on the AP wires.  So let’s go easy with the “I can’t take you seriously” stuff.  There’s a whole mountain of so-called “journalism” I’ve had to hold my nose and endure both as a news consumer and a reporter in the business.
           
          But back to Fox.  Do you watch the product?  Seriously.  Do you?
           
          Do you watch the mid-mornings?  John Scott?  Bill Hemmer (a former CNN guy)?  Their national security, White House and international reporters?  Their reporters stationed around the country? Where’s the bias there?  Which specific news people do you have a hang-up with?  Cavuto?  Dobbs?  Megyn Kelly?  Hume? Shep Smith? Baier? Others? Do you watch their “Fox News Watch” that actually analyzes media coverage?  What’s your take on Chris Wallace?  Are you uncomfortable with the fact that they have a lot of commentary programs like “The Five?”  Is that your issue?
           
          Do I need to offer you more examples? Will you be honest enough to pick one — or a few — and cite for me the specific problems you have that justify your dismissive comment?  Or will you admit that like many in the media, it’s simply fashionable to act snooty and snarky when Fox News is mentioned?
           
          You’re not the first reporter to get all snippety and smarmy with me over Fox News.  When I was in radio news, the rest of the newsroom got their panties in a wad and walked around with hateful sneers when management switched our national news delivery from ABC to Fox.  And it was the same high and mighty ”I’m a REPORTER; I’m mortally offended that I have to be associated with Fox News” attitude as well. 
           
          Really, Amy.  What a shame.  The old “Let’s dismiss the guy’s comments because he’s one of those Fox News mental midgets” trick.  You’re gonna have to do much better than that.

        • Amy Parmenter says:

          Nick!  I was speaking tongue in cheek – sort of – but apparently the tone was lost in delivery.   That said, this started as a discussion of one reporter’s bias – a reporter who you can now never watch again because he used his platform as an anchor to come out as gay.  My point – lost somewhere in the exchange – is that if you can’t watch anyone with a bias…then you can’t watch ANY news because we are all biased …even when we try not to be, that is a bias unto itself.  
           
          I’ve been a reporter 20 years.  I’ve worked with ‘liberals’, rabid republicans and MOSTLY people who know little (and couldn’t care less) about politics – or someone’s sexual orientation for that matter. 
           
          As for Don, and the book – he is hardly alone!!!  I mean come on…  how many Fox guys (or other networks….) have books and promote them on their shows??  Further, how many of those books are about politics or subjects they are called upon to cover??  Can you no longer watch them either?
           
          It’s a rhetorical question.  I’ve made my point and you’ve made yours.  Let’s leave it at that.