Exposure vs. Empathy

A recent poll in on About.com asked whether or not gay politicians who promote or support anti-gay legislature should be outed. The poll results as of today show that 61% of people polled said, "Yes. They are being hypocrites and people should be aware of what they are doing" and 33% said " No. It's a violation of their privacy and doesn't really matter, anyway."

A similar poll on About.com asks, "Should the Gay Relatives of Anti-Gay Politicians Be Mentioned?" The results of this poll were as follows: 15% said, "No, it's a question of privacy for the gay person - the fact that their relative is homophobic doesn't change this at all." 35% said, "Yes, even if this person isn't already public about their homosexuality. It's a problem for their privacy, but ultimately allowing their relative to continue will do them more harm." And the highest percentage, 46% said, "Not if the person isn't out and public about their homosexuality. If they are already public about it, then mentioning it doesn't violate their privacy. It should be done carefully, though."

The discrepancies in these surveys suggest that people deem it less acceptable to reveal personal information on non-public figures than for people who chose careers in the public eye.

As a subscriber to the school of situational ethics, I don't know if, as a journalist, I could make a blanket statement on how I would address this type of situation. I believe that I would proceed on the path that would provide the public with the most pertinent information. In regard to the first poll question, I don't think I would hesitate to out a politician that had supported anti-gay legislature in the past. I would however, make the person aware that such information was about to be made public, allow them an opportunity to comment on or refute the allegations, perhaps granting them the opportunity to first come out on their own to family and friends.

However, in terms of outing the relatives of anti-gay politicians, I am torn between the concern for an individual's right to privacy and the drive to thwart the perpetuation on homophobia in politics. Journalists have a commitment to the truth. However, they also have a commitment to the people they write about.

I don’t think that there can be a cardinal rule when it comes to the conflict between the commitment to truth and protecting the subject. This case creates a decision based on the lesser of two evils. However, by being honest with your subject, offering them a voice, I think a journalist can reveal the truth while causing minimal harm. That, in itself, is what I believe to be the definition of journalistic integrity.

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