Republican leader Ken Mehlman’s announcement that he is gay may have come as a surprise to some of the party faithful, but, in keeping with usual journalistic practices, the mainstream media's coverage has been subdued.
Links to Mr. Mehlman’s past statements about homosexuality are one notable feature of the coverage.
Organized and unfailingly on message, Mehlman served as George W. Bush’s campaign manager in the 2004 election and then was chairman of the Republican National Committee. The Harvard Law School graduate is the highest ranking Republican Party official to say he is gay. He made the disclosure in an interview with Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic and later gave phone interviews to Politico’s Mike Allen and Jake Tapper of ABC News.
The Washington Post, a mainstay of political coverage, devoted one paragraph to the news in the “Reliable Sources” gossip column on an inside page of the Style section. On the Web, the Post covered the announcement in its “Politics and Policy” blog. The New York Times placed a nine-paragraph story on page A-16 of its Washington edition. The Wall Street Journal did not have a story in the print edition but ran a brief item on a blog covering the private equity industry. Mehlman is now executive vice president of KKR, a New York City-based private equity firm. The announcement appeared in RealClearPolitics.com's “More Political News” section, after an item on protests Thursday by a flotilla of New England fisherman off the Obamas' vacation island.
Most major news organizations avoid referring to a person’s sexual orientation unless it has a direct link to the individual’s public policy responsibilities. As The Atlantic story notes, Mehlman’s leadership in the GOP came when President Bush’s strategic adviser, Karl Rove, was working with others in the party to ensure that antigay measures would appear on states' ballots in 2004 and 2006. It was seen at the time as an effort to solidify support from the party’s conservative base.
Mehlman told Politico, “One of the things I regret is that when I was in politics, I hadn’t come to terms with this part of my life.” He decided to disclose his sexual identity, he said, because he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage. Mehlman had helped raise funds for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. The group supports same-sex marriage and is suing to overturn California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage.
On the ABC News “Political Punch” blog, White House correspondent Jake Tapper linked to Mehlman's comments about gay marriage during a June 5, 2005, interview with the late Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” In the interview, Mehlman defended Mr. Bush’s support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. He also denied that the GOP used gays and lesbians as a wedge issue in the 2004 election.
The current Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, issued a statement in support of Mehlman’s coming out. "His announcement, often a very difficult decision which is only compounded when done on the public stage, reaffirms for me why we are friends and why I respect him personally and professionally."
But the gay rights issue is still a controversial one in the Republican Party. Outspoken commentator Ann Coulter was recently dropped from a speaking engagement at the Taking America Back National Conference, sponsored by the WorldNetDaily website. The reason: She had agreed to give a speech at HOMOCON, whose website says it represents “gay conservatives and their allies."
Not all Republicans take such a hard line. Mehlman said he informed Bush of his plan to come out “and he was incredibly supportive.”