The surprisingly sad McGreevey story

When I first read this profile of James McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey, I thought it was a pretty puffy piece. McGreevey, you'll recall, resigned after a former aide accused him of sexual harassment. In one of the most exciting press conferences I can recall, McGreevey announced his resignation by saying "My truth is that I am a gay American." Reporters live for this kind of stuff. I love a good sex scandal and I remember sitting in my newsroom with my mouth ajar, thinking "this will never be topped." And then just five years later we had that press conference with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. Anyway, Paul Vitello of the New York Times looks at McGreevey's pursuit of ordination. And like I said, at first I thought it was oddly favorable. As I read it a second time, though, I realized it's actually not. The gist of the piece is that McGreevey has this goal, which we've discussed before, and why he's having some trouble achieving that goal. And then the last half of the piece is how he's this awesome counselor.

Here's how it begins:

NEWARK -- The man once known as "robo-candidate" still acts like a campaigner in the thick of a close race. He does not enter rooms of people so much as plunge into them, hugging and hand-clasping his way from wall to wall. His smile is outsize, and almost as indelible as a campaign poster.

In one sense, James E. McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor, is again campaigning for office: He hopes to be accepted as a candidate for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, which has begun ordaining openly gay men and women. He has already earned a divinity degree, but his application to proceed with the next step, to become a postulant, was rejected in May 2010. He says he plans to keep trying, and his current work is a kind of test ground of his commitment.

Mr. McGreevey is the newest recovery specialist at a residential drug treatment center in Newark called Integrity House, and one recent morning he zigzagged buoyantly down the street, like the perennial political office-seeker he used to be. Everyone he saw received a holler, a handshake or a lingering moment of schmoozing.

OK, I guess we should point out that the Episcopal Church hasn't just "begun" ordaining openly gay men and women. They've been doing it since I was three years old. Since 1977.

And if you keep reading the piece, you'll probably agree that this is about as favorable of coverage as McGreevey could hope for. We only get three words from his resignation speech ("a gay American") and his side of the story about what went down with the former staffer. There are many positive comments about what he's working on and all the good he's doing. There are no critical, or even suspicious, voices. McGreevey partially blames the Catholic Church for his previous woes and the allegation just stands there.

In the middle of the story, though, we get this intriguing graph:

He had what he calls a "nervous breakdown." He entered rehab. He began to tally the cruelties he had committed against his wives and others. He penned a tell-all autobiography, "The Confession," in which he confessed to many things, including a lifelong addiction to "having a public," and described his new ambition as attaining "a life organized in harmony with my heart."

And it sort of hits you that the reporter did a really good job of framing the story as McGreevey's latest campaign. And it hits you that this man who is supposed to be recovering from a lifelong addiction to "having a public" has been returning the calls of a New York Times reporter and inviting him to hang out and highlight his work. In the New York Times. And then the story doesn't seem puffy at all. It takes on a certain sadness, even.

Anyway, there's a reasonable explanation of what's probably holding up his application:

Neither he nor the Episcopal Diocese of Newark would discuss the status of his application for the priesthood. But two people told about the process said that a diocesan committee, after reviewing his qualifications, concluded that too little time had passed since Mr. McGreevey's dramatic life changes -- from secretly to openly gay, from Roman Catholic to Episcopalian, from politician to aspiring clergyman -- for anyone, including him, to know if he was ready to be a priest.

The piece also included some interesting quotes about how McGreevey hopes to "bring Christian doctrine to a postmodern world."

And there's lots more on the campaign for ordination. And even more about that thirst for a public, such as how he "accomodates" every request for a photograph. It's nice to see a reporter take some more time on this intriguing story and include some good religious details, too.

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