Anderson Cooper (finally) exits the closet [updated]

The CNN anchor announces he's gay in a published email to Andrew Sullivan

Anderson Cooper’s sexual orientation has been something of an open secret for some time. But Monday morning, he finally came out publicly.

The news broke shortly after 11 a.m., when Cooper’s old friend Andrew Sullivan, who has been out for decades, posted an email from Cooper on his blog at The Daily Beast. In the email, Cooper declares:

The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

Why did Cooper decide to come out now? We may never know. Sullivan, likely out of respect for his friend, declined to comment on the record. But Cooper’s email provides some hints about why he’s waited so long.

I started as a reporter in war zones 20 years ago, I’ve often found myself in some very dangerous places. For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people’s stories, and not my own. I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist.

Cooper frequently reports from dangerous regions of the world, areas that are even more dangerous for gays and lesbians. Last February, Cooper and his camera crew were attacked by protesters in Egypt. Shortly thereafter, the National Enquirer reported that Cooper had been threatened by religious fundamentalists due to his homosexuality, breaking the unwritten rule in the mainstream media not to “out” celebrities before they do so themselves. Whether that report had any truth to it, it’s pretty clear that Cooper’s public declaration of sexuality could add a new level of danger to his foreign reporting.

Cooper’s journalism could also be affected by his coming out. Although Cooper made clear that “[he’s] not an activist,” it’s possible that anti-gay politicians and organizations will see him as biased and refuse to talk to him. For better or worse, it’s still unusual for journalists to publicly discuss their sexuality and the default assumption is that all journalists are heterosexual. As a result, Cooper will be seen by many not just as a journalist, but as a “gay journalist.”

It remains difficult for journalists to discuss their sexuality. As context for Cooper’s announcement, Sullivan pointed to a recent story in Entertainment Weekly that discussed how it has become almost routine for actors to come out. But journalists, even celebrity journalists like Cooper, are not actors. Actors have the luxury of being able to voice their opinions on controversial political issues such as gay rights. Journalists are prevented from doing so by norms of professional practice and ethics. And they must remain unbiased, even when reporting on subjects who believe that, because of their sexuality, they do not deserve to exist.

Update: Though Cooper’s work could be affected negatively by his disclosure, in other ways, it could be a boon to his career—gay journalists in urban centers have formed supportive, close-knit networks with one another. Marc Ambinder, an openly gay GQ reporter, described these networks in a Bloggingheads interview.

“There is an enormous benefit to being a political reporter, or a reporter, who happens to be gay,” Ambinder explained, “because there is, and I say this term with affection, a bit of a ‘gay mafia’ in [Washington, D.C.], as there are, I assume, in most urban cities.”

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Peter Sterne is an editorial intern at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @petersterne. Tags: , , ,