I am waiting to see if—no, make it how—the Tea party and other way-right-leaning Republicans react to this week’s barely-qualifies-as-news that TV journalist/personality Anderson Cooper admitted he is gay. (Details here)
Another story from this week also has me worried about the backlash, but first, Cooper:
I have no idea how much courage it takes for a public figure like Cooper to come out. Nor do I have any idea about the extent and tone of the flak that will be fired at him and how he’ll deal with it. He will be abused online by people (a great many of them anonymous) who feel threatened by homosexuality or opposed to it because of personal or religious beliefs. I don’t think I’d be strong enough to shrug off their pounding.
To be fair, many of his potential critics will keep their counsel because they’re aware of advice in the Bible about glass houses and stones, or about biblical admonitions that we need to clean up our own lives before we pass judgment on others’. It’s also fair to say not all of the criticism of Cooper will come from the right. Plenty of people from across the political spectrum won’t be able to resist making smirky little wisecracks.
Setting those not-inconsiderable matters aside, the story about Cooper prompted me to shrug my shoulders and move to other, unrelated stories for several reasons, among them: one, his sexual preference has been what one writer called “an open secret” for years; two, his sexual preference has no influence on my life; and three, his sexual preference doesn’t make him any more or any less of a journalist than a heterosexual reporter is, and it’s journalism I care about. Everything else about Cooper is moot.
So far, the only reaction I’ve seen was found by following a link in Charlie Pierce’s politics blog over at Esquire.com (a daily must-read). Pierce’s blog provided a link to a tweet (Clever? Not.) by Brent Bozell, founder of a group called the Media Research Center (Damned liberal media!), where you can read reports like “How Network News Has Twisted Obama’s War on Religion Into a Conservative War Against Women” or from which you can buy, among other things, a bumper sticker that says, “I don’t trust the liberal media.”
I have to admit that I didn’t know that the word “teabagging” refers to a sexual practice. After I consulted the online Urban Dictionary, I better understood why Bozell’s followers thought his tweet was not only delightfully snarky, but also perfectly justifiable: because they say Cooper himself used the word to describe Tea party practices, so two wrongs make a right. Or maybe it’s three wrongs. There will be plenty more than that in the days to come.
I’m not going to look too hard, but I have a hunch that the blogosphere and tweetland are alive with declarations today that Cooper’s sexuality is either one, proof of a liberal media bias, or two, proof that the liberal media is part of a government-sponsored socialist plot to destroy marriage, the family, values and morals, the Second Amendment, and America as we know it. Those are not outcomes I’m prepared to wager a considerable sum of money on based solely on the fact that Anderson Cooper is gay. But this is why I expect most of the backlash against Cooper to come from the right. You don’t hear liberals complaining about the media’s so-called liberal leanings. I say “so-called” because the concept is as bogus as a “reality” TV show, but that’s a topic for another time.
Moving on: Another story from this week about another television journalist has me a little more concerned. The Huffington Post yesterday included an article titled “Rachel Maddow Talks About Battles With Depression In Rolling Stone” (Here it is). This will be a more difficult story for Tea party members and other right-leaners to attack because unlike homosexuality, mental illness is a darker matter, less discussed and less understood. I may, however, be underestimating the degree of ignorance and meanness people harbor against people with mental health problems; in fact, we may be due for a storm of unparalleled viciousness and stupefying ignorance, particularly because the venom and hate will be directed toward a television journalist who, in addition to having mental health problems, has a life partner who’s a woman (Oh-my-God-another-liberal-and-a-lesbian-serves-her-right!). This has been known for quite some time, and I’m sure she’s been treated like a piñata about this over the years, but her dealing with depression is an issue that will overshadow her sexuality, at least temporarily. Or it may give her critics two bull’s-eyes to aim at.
I am concerned about the Maddow story backlash because I have firsthand experience with clinically diagnosed depression. When my mood swings down, it swings way down, down into a deep blue funk, down to the point where I can’t get anything done, down to the point where mere conversations are an effort, down to the point where I get home from work at, say, 6 p.m., go straight to bed and don’t get out of bed until the alarm clock rings the next morning. Depression is, to use an old blues phrase, down in the bottom, and until my meds finally bring me back to balance, it seems there’s no way out of the pit.
Now, picture being a television journalist who is depressed. Picture being a television journalist whose on-air persona is that of someone calm, rational, even-tempered, smart as hell, and occasionally humorous in an ironic way. Carrying on with depression for an hour a night in front of the cameras must be a hugely draining task. I don’t understand how she has been able to do it.
I hope people of all political leanings will limit their comments about Maddow to expressions of well-wishing. Perhaps that hope is somewhat less realistic than my hope that the hair on my bald head will grow back—in dreadlocks—and again, you don’t have to be a Republican, a Democrat, a Tory or a Whig to be a jerk. Anyway, I say “expressions of well-wishing” because Maddow doesn’t need sympathy. It doesn’t help. Nor do statements like “you’ll get over this,” because the words only show how little people understand about depression. The intent and the remarks are laudable and goodhearted, but the words only make us more frustrated because it doesn’t seem as if we’ll ever clamber out of the pit. They don’t cause hope, but just the opposite.
Maddow’s story, then, is like Cooper’s in that both journalists are perceived as leaning toward the left, and no doubt someone somewhere has cobbled together some sort of Monty Python logic to prove that both of them are subversive liberals because they are made out of wood and therefore float. My reaction to Cooper’s story is a bit detached because I don’t and can’t understand what a gutsy move he made. However, he’s not a journalist I pay particular attention to.
Maddow’s story, though, is something I understand better on a personal level—and I hope she finds the strength she needs to maintain a more even perspective on life so she can continue to deliver smart, incisive journalism that I turn to her for.