The reluctance of old-line outlets to engage the topic may explain why, while places like Yahoo! News, New York magazine, and plenty of blogs have picked up Smith’s story, major newspapers seem not to have done so. (For his part, Smith said he thought it was “basically appropriate that it hasn’t been picked up. I hope [the article] served a useful function in debunking what would have been an interesting story—first gay justice—but turned out to be a false one. ‘Another straight justice’ doesn’t strike me as news.”)

But whatever one thinks about the appropriateness of reporting on a public figure’s sexual orientation—and Smith said, reasonably, that there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, at least until a subject indicates he or she doesn’t want to talk about it—this episode demonstrates the oddity of the “walled-garden” approach to information that still exists in many news outlets, and the gulf it creates between the broader “media” world and the journalistic institutions that have the capacity to obtain answers to questions. The persistent speculation about Kagan, whether driven by pro-equality or homophobic motivations, was, by all appearances, based on some blend of rumor, hearsay, misperception, and stereotype. But it wasn’t going to go away on its own, and it wasn’t going to go away because of some on-background remarks from White House flacks.

It probably won’t, for that matter, go away entirely now. But Smith and Politico have done us a favor by shifting the issue away from abstract terrain and addressing the topic in a straightforward, declarative way. Let’s find something else to obsess about.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.