Learning lesson on media policy hard in politics

Posted on 21 Jun 2007 at 6:52pm
By David Webb – The Rare Reporter


David Webb – The Rare Reporter

Ed Oakley and his supporters learned a couple of hard lessons during his failed campaign for mayor.

Those lessons are: Once someone is out of the closet in the media, there’s no turning back; and: The LGBT community can’t have it both ways.

In an interview this week, Oakley said his only regret about his campaign was agreeing to meet with a Time Magazine writer prior to the runoff election. The result of their discussion was, “The Lavender Heart of Texas,” an article by John Cloud about Oakley’s candidacy in the context of the city’s changing political climate and its thriving LGBT community.

Oakley, who said he pleaded with Cloud not to write the type of story he did, blames his loss to retired straight businessman Tom Leppert on his sexual orientation becoming the “talk of the town.” Oakley said he warned Cloud that such a story would destroy the Ed Oakley for Dallas Mayor campaign.

Oakley said the Time Magazine article, published on May 28, led to over-the-top attention to him being gay in the national and local media and his subsequent loss at the polls.

This is a tough one to weigh in on, but I know without having to think about it very long at all how I would have proceeded as a journalist who had just interviewed Oakley. I would have gone with it too, except that I would not have been laboring under the false impression that the sexual orientation of the four gay Dallas County officials currently in office was widely known before their election. They slipped into office under the radar, and Oakley was unable to follow suit.

At this LGBT publication, we make our publishing decisions based on our commitment to providing information to our readers. We do not think about the impact it will have on political campaigns, local businesses or the LGBT community for that matter it would be contrary to the principles of journalism if we did. Obviously, mainstream media outlets work the same way.

Having a gay candidate in a runoff election for mayor of the country’s ninth largest city especially one that is located in the heart of the Bible Belt is news.

There’s simply no getting around that. It hasn’t even happened in San Francisco yet, so that makes it not only a story but a pretty big story.

After talking to Oakley this week, it seems pretty clear he tried to go back into the closet with the Time Magazine writer. He and his campaign advisors had already been refusing to answer questions from reporters about his sexual orientation.

Oakley decided to talk to the Time Magazine writer because the journalist had identified himself as openly gay. He apparently did this against the advice of his campaign advisors because he thought the writer would go along with him for the good of the greater LGBT community.

There’s a big problem with that proposition. First of all, Oakley has been out way out as a public official for 15 years. Secondly, he was endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which only endorses openly gay candidates.

Simply put, a candidate can’t choose when they are going to be out and when they aren’t.

As Oakley himself has said, his life is an “open book” easily read in past issues of the Dallas Voice. The other gay candidates now in office had a much lower profile than Oakley prior to their elections.

As far as the LGBT community is concerned, it can’t expect to gain equal recognition from the media on one hand and be ignored on the other. Sometimes, it works to our benefit, and other times it doesn’t. The mayor’s race is obviously one of the times it didn’t work so well. But again, the LGBT community can’t choose when it wants an issue covered or ignored. It’s just not how it works.

To me, it was sort of refreshing to see members of the local media addressing the gay issue in its hard news coverage head-on, rather than tip-toeing around it the way they usually do. And no, I do not believe the conspiracy theories circulating in town that The Dallas Morning News’ editorial department purposely sabotaged Oakley’s campaign with a front page story about him being gay in order to help get Leppert elected.

The good news from all of this is as Oakley himself pointed out this week the next time a gay or lesbian person runs for mayor of Dallas, it won’t be such a big deal. It will already have happened once before.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 22, 2007.

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