Anderson Cooper is Gay; It Shouldn't Matter. By Isaac Matson.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper’s admission to being gay is testament to trends in our society and to journalism's meritocracy.

“I’m gay, always have been, always will be,” says the excerpt from an Anderson Cooper email, reprinted in the New York TimesMedia Decoder blog

Despite the bold nature of Cooper’s statement, originally contained in an email sent to The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan, Mr. Cooper has long kept his sexual orientation, along with most other details of his personal life, private. Private, not secret. He had been open with family, friends and CNN colleagues. But Monday’s announcement was the first public admission of his sexual orientation. 

There were a number of reasons Anderson Cooper hesitated to make a public announcement for so long. In the email, published with his permission by Andrew Sullivan, he cities personal reasons, mainly his desire to have some semblance of a private life, a difficult task when you host a prime time news show like CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. 

There were also professional reasons. Cooper is an experienced war reporter, and has made a career out of journeying into, and reporting from, dangerous places (he was the first major news anchor to report from Haiti after the earthquake). He cited a concern for his personal safety and for the safety of coworkers who travel with him, saying “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”. 

However, over time, Cooper began to fear that his silence on the issue was being perceived as cowardice or shame, neither of which applied according to the email. And so he made the decision to publicly come out. 

Enter speculation on Mr. Cooper’s creditability. No doubt right-wing conservatives, particularly Evangelical Christians, will cite Cooper’s admission as evidence of bias or that his rise in the media business was a based on something other than merit. It doesn’t help that CNN already garners a less than enthusiastic following among conservatives.  

However, journalism’s meritocracy is unscathed and Cooper’s career is evidence. In 2005 he provided stellar coverage of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina; in 2007 he moderated the first YouTube presidential debate; in 2010 he covered the BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast, spending more time on the ground than any other national news anchor. Relentless in his pursuit of justice, he kept an on-air count of the number of days BP declined interview, saying, “I think there’s a basic lack of transparecny in their dealings.” 

And in 2011 he and his news crew were attacked by pro-Mubarak protesters in Cairo. Politico quotes Cooper describing the incident, “We were set upon by pro-Mubarak supporters, punching us in the heads, attacking my producer, Mary Anne Fox, my cameraman as well, trying to grab his camera, trying to break his camera.”  

Cooper’s work speaks for itself. His sexuality is irrelevant. To claim, without evidence, that a journalist lacks objectivity because he is gay is itself a lack of objectivity. In his email to Sullivan, Cooper writes,

“I’ve always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love should not be something they have to discuss publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in their work, their private life shouldn’t matter.”

Regardless of profession, one’s career ought to be judged by the quality of their work. Period.

When Barney Frank of Massachusetts announced his retirement after 30 years of service in the House of Representatives, Time magazine’s Joe Klein, having known the representative personally for decades, responded, “I knew Barney Frank before he was gay - at least before he said he was gay.” Klein went on to recount the first time Frank revealed his sexual orientation:  

“A few years later, Barney called Paul Solman - now of the Lehrer News Hour, but my boss back then - and me to meet him at a deli in Brookline. He told us he was gay. Our reaction what? He was such a brilliant, hilarious, enormously ramshackle character [that] his sexual preferences seemed a very small part of the Barney Frank portfolio.”

Joe Klein’s response embodies what it means to place meritocracy first; to put one’s personal life in context when weighing their professional achievements. When a public figure reveals that he or she is gay, there is a strong temptation to let their sexual preference envelop the rest of their lives, for better or for worse. Further in his column, Klein acknowledges this:

“In the end, his [Barney Frank’s] attempts to closet himself were irrelevant - as with all my gay friends, he was, and is, so much more than the sum of sexual preferences.”

Public attitudes toward homosexuals and gay marriage have shifted toward acceptance in the last few years, particularly among the youngest generation, as this chart from Pew Forum shows:

According to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in 2001 Americans opposed same sex marriage by a margin of 57% to 35%. In 2012, that margin showed approval, with 47% approving and 43% opposing. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama, who is locked in a tie with challenger Mitt Romney, became the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage, telling an interviewer from ABC News, “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” The fact that President Obama chose to make this announcement during his reelection bid shows just how much the nation’s opinion on gay issues has changed. 

Regardless of how future generations will view homosexuals, whether with acceptance, ambivalence or indifference, meritocracy - progress based on ability and talent - must be the only avenue through which professional success comes. Too much is at stake to base progress on anything else, whether it be race, religion, sex, sexual preference, political affiliation, or wealth.

Let meritocracy reign.