A Gawker ethic

Remember Chris Lee, the congressman who resigned after a woman he met on Craigslist sent a suggestive photo to Gawker that he had sent to her? The allegations and the resignation happened so quickly that it fell out of the news cycle fairly quickly.

Two D.C.-area transgender women have contacted Gawker with stories about making connections with the lawmaker through Craigslist. Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman had suggested there was more to the story when he tweeted, "Back story on Chris Lee is gonna be juicy. Lots of reporters were chasing it this fall. None of us could break it."

Since the resignation, I have held an interesting piece from Steve Kornacki of Salon in my "guilt file," something I meant to highlight that week but ran out of time. Since new allegations have surfaced, it's worth looking back at this piece for a look at a section of Gawker's piece.

Yesterday, we reached out to Rep. Lee, whose support for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and vote to reject federal abortion funding suggests a certain comfort with publicly scrutinizing others' sex lives.

That's Gawker's justification for running the story, apparently. Salon's Kornacki responds:

Really? A congressman's apparent use of Craigslist to seek an extramarital sex partner is only news because he also voted against taxpayer-financed abortions and for continuing DADT? It's not news because ... he's a member of Congress stupidly using a gmail account in his own name to send shirtless images of himself to complete strangers? Would Gawker have not run this story if it involved, say, Rep. John Tierney, a married Massachusetts Democrat who supports public money for abortions and who opposed DADT? (To be clear: I'm not implying anything about Tierney; I picked his name because, geographically, he's the closest married male congressman to my hometown who holds both of those issue positions.)

Kornacki notes that ironically, a a New Yorker profile reported that Nick Denton once announced that while he is in favor of gay marriage, he is against abortion: "if you've got to draw a line somewhere, it might as well be at conception."

It's unclear whether there are any religion angles in former Rep. Lee's particular case. It seems difficult to find any details on his faith, as his profile listed him as Protestant, Religion does come up in Kornacki's column when he points out that Gawker uses a similar rationalization when writing about John Travolta's love life.

There's nothing wrong with hooking up with guys in bathhouses; we firmly believe that consenting adults should have as much sex as humanly possible. But Travolta's salacious trips to steam rooms are a little unusual considering the circumstances. Not only has he been married to Kelly Preston since 1991 (and fathered three children with her, including one that died and one that's about to be born any day now), he's also a prominent member of the Church of Scientology, which believes in "curing" people of their homosexuality. Critics of the church claim that information culled during "auditing sessions"--a process in which members clear themselves of "negative influences" and occasionally brings up details of sexual liaisons--is used to keep celebrities in the closet and in the church. Scientology's position on homosexuality, needless to say, is controversial. Indeed the church's hard-line stance has lost them a number of prominent members in recent years.

It's interesting see religion become the scapegoat here. So guess what guys: if you are a member of a religious body that takes certain views on sexuality, it gives Gawker an excuse to dig into your own sex life. Kornacki suggests that the site is merely rationalizing its stories for the mega hits. Welcome to a Gawker ethic in religion reporting.

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