Is this Andrew Sullivan's ass?
May 29, 2001 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Is this Andrew Sullivan's ass? This morning, Jim Romenesko made a questionable publishing decision. He ran a link to an article in last Friday's edition of the newspaper LGNY, in which Michelangelo Signorile makes a very serious allegation: That Andrew Sullivan has been advertising for "bareback" sex online (anal sex w/o condoms). Such actions on Sullivan's part would be seen by many as exceedingly hypocritical given his voluminous writings of a moral conservative bent and his "arrogance toward the ghettoized gay scene" (as Signorile puts it), if not downright dangerous given his HIV+ status.

If true, this brings up plenty of ideological and moral issues, which I'm sure will be discussed in this thread. But that's not why I'm bringing it up here. I'm posting because of the vaguely Kayceeish nature of the whole thing. If you look at Signorile's article, you'll see that all the evidence is circumstantial. Several people who Signorile really really trust say they answered the ads and Sullivan was the guy that showed up when they met. The photos in the ads look like what most people expect Sullivan's body to look like (minus his head, of course). Also, Sullivan hasn't responded to anyone's questions about this, and after all, if the accusations were false wouldn't Sullivan be loudly denying them (wink wink)?

Complicating the whole mess is Signorile's own journalistic history - he made his name during the late '80s-early '90s running gossipy columns outing famous people against their will - and that Romenesko decided to publicize this article in the first place, thus ensuring that every single person in the national media is fully aware of the allegations, true or not. Is this actual proof that Sullivan is guilty of barebacking, or is he being Borked (Kayceed?)? Should it have been publicized like this in the first place, since a mention in Romenesko is the best way to start up a classic pack journalism action short of running a front-page story in The New York Times? Will other media outlets jump on this now and sully Sullivan's reputation, whether the allegations are true or not?
posted by aaron (41 comments total)

(Sorry for the length of the front page post, but it's a complicated story.)
posted by aaron at 2:44 PM on May 29, 2001

1. Signorile is only runnning with something the gay press has been talking about for (some period of time greater than a couple weeks, but less than months, if memory serves).

2. Signorile is a subhuman slimebag. He should be ashamed of himself, but he has no scruples, no conscience and a stupid haircut.

3. #2 is a personal opinion, but hey, to know him is to loathe him...

4. There's nothing in Sullivan's general philosophy that this behavior contradicts. He's always said that sex is a private affair between two consenting adults. He's also very publically HIV+ as well as recognizable by face so unless he's deliberately lying to people who've never seen him before and who are HIV- (which I find extraordinarily difficult to believe about him), no one's at risk.

5. It's nobody's business but Sullivan's and his partners'. But there are people (they'd like to call themselves "journalists," but I have trouble considering them so) who will make hay out of this - Signorile is unfortunately not the lowest slag on the heap, there are slimier, nastier creatures out there who will make very,very sure that this opportunity to beat up on the politically unpopular Sullivan doesn't pass unexploited.

6. Stuff like this makes me really, really, really mad. These are the same people who say "It's my body! It's my sexlife! You can't tell me what to do! I can be a big queen if I want to and you still have to like me!" - and will viciously turn on a gay man who doesn't follow their politik-thought when the mood strikes them.

7. I should really stop and think about this before I post this, but that's never stopped me before and god-damn I'm mad at Signorile for giving this wider play.
posted by m.polo at 3:07 PM on May 29, 2001

I thought the earlier "Kayceeian" was a much better attempt at a neologism, despite the quadruple vowel string. Also, the Kaycee debunking turned out to be true, or false, as it were. If the Andrew Sullivan advertising turns out to have actually occured, then it would be Kayceeian. If not, it's just a twist on the old outed-against-your-will thing, in which case a whole new word is probably required. Sullivaned doesn't have the same ring to it, though. Novelty Pundited, perhaps? Flavor of the Neo-Conservative Monthed?
posted by raysmj at 3:13 PM on May 29, 2001

"Sullivan even discusses having had unprotected sex with another HIV-positive individual."

Wow...that is so dangerous. HIV+ shouldn't have unprotected sex with others because they could be infected with different strains of the virus -- and could become doubly infected.

I would have thought that an intelligent man like Sullivan would know better. I don't know whether the "barebacking" claim is true, but the quote from his book is scary enough indeed.
posted by jennak at 3:22 PM on May 29, 2001

I think your post is a little too long. I realize it's complicated, but if Romenesko could summarize it in a paragraph, why can't you? You could even add a your thoughts/opinions on it as the first post in the thread. Just a suggestion (for helping those of us who scan the front page).
posted by timothompson at 3:24 PM on May 29, 2001

There's an interesting point of contact here with the case of Nigel Wrench, a BBC news journalist, who wrote a piece for the Pink Paper on being both HIV-positive, and an active barebacker. The point being that in that case, it was Wrench who wrote the piece, knowing that the tabloids (or rather, the middle-market moral-bloids) were looking for a scandal. The result: well, he's still presenting PM and writing a column in the Pink Paper.

The verb: Barred? Flynted?

And the judgement? Sam Johnson's: that "the teachers of morality speak like angels, but live like men."
posted by holgate at 3:29 PM on May 29, 2001

I think the term "bareback" can mean any kind of intercourse without condoms not just anal.. although in this case it may be assumed.
posted by stbalbach at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2001

that is the longest damn post i have ever seen.
posted by o2b at 4:02 PM on May 29, 2001

Romanesko has linked to numerous positive stories about Sullivan over the last year. Why should he avoid linking to this one, when Michelangelo Signorile is a well-known journalist who has covered gay issues for many years?

(Besides, you just linked to what might be nude photos of the guy in a forum that reaches thousands of people. Are you in the best position to be pointing fingers at other webloggers?)

If you read Signorile's story, he's not reporting it as a rumor, he's quoting sources and reporting it as a fact. It's certainly better sourced than the Jeb Bush affair rumors that bounced around the press for a couple months before Bush felt like he had to address them publicly.

I think Signorile makes a good case in his article for why this is newsworthy.
posted by rcade at 4:13 PM on May 29, 2001

The length of this post on the home page was out of proportion with the importance of the topic or the lucidity of the commentary. If you're going to put over 300 words on the home page, please have a good reason for doing so. (Especially in these bandwidth-constrained times.) Discuss further here.

Most of Signorile's evidence is not circumstantial, but rather hearsay -- which, while not admissible in court, is not at all uncommon in journalism. Of course, it would have been preferable for even one of Signorile's sources to go on the record, but such reluctance is understandable given the sensitive nature of the subject matter.

As for the question of Jim Romenesko's editorial judgment, I think you have misunderstood the nature of his site. Recall that it was originally called MediaGossip -- reporting unsubstantiated rumors and airing cases of name-calling and backbiting among journalists has always been part of its mission. In fact, it's almost certainly the reason why the site is so widely read in the news industry.

The connection you attempt to draw between this case and the Kaycee situation completely escapes me.

For the verb hunters: If you want to emphasize the "non-mainstream sexual proclivities publicly revealed" angle, the case that springs to mind first is Marv Albert. If you prefer the "do as I say, not as I do" aspect, Jimmy Swaggart is your guy.
posted by jjg at 4:14 PM on May 29, 2001

In his webpage, the guy clearly states that he's HIV +
so we're not talking about someone trying to deceive and infect other people. Consenting adults, remember? I don't really see what the problem is.
Is that really Sullivan? Who cares? Nobody should, I think: it's a private matter between the personal ad guy and the people who e-mail him. And anyway, if it's really him in the ad (the supposed evidence is terribly thin, by the way), I'd say Sullivan's in great shape, good for him.
Maybe we should all stop judging other people's personal choices and go to the gym, lift some weights instead.
posted by matteo at 4:22 PM on May 29, 2001

One of the risks of HIV+ people getting together is that it may result in "super-strains" of the virus that are resistant to the current drugs, which has the potential to kill millions. Isn't that reason enough to discuss this, when Sullivan's the mainstream media's favorite gay moralist?
posted by rcade at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2001

While it is a "personal choice" to have unprotected sex, the consequences of the behavior will fall on society as well. For example: An uninsured person seroconverts and seeks treatment/antiretroviral medications. Who pays for them? Mostly, the taxpayers whose dollars go to keep not only federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and SSI Disability, but the state programs for public or county hospitals that treat the indigent and uninsured as well.

While I believe in freedom of choice, I have difficulty with those who think it is their right to participate in the barebacking trend and that the only one harmed is themselves.
posted by sillygit at 4:54 PM on May 29, 2001

Signorile's own journalistic history - he made his name during the late '80s-early '90s running gossipy columns outing famous people against their will
This is the popular wisdom, but is entirely untrue. The only people Signorile outed were dead, like Malcolm Forbes. But what do I know? He was a columnist at OutWeek during the time I freelanced for it, and vice-versa. I still have nearly every single issue and read absolutely all his columns and features. I even met him at a bar once!

BTW, outing public figures is OK. Just so you'll know.
posted by joeclark at 5:24 PM on May 29, 2001

The only people Signorile outed were dead

Probably not true, though I agree the Legend of Mike has probably been exaggerated. But here's a quote from the man himself:
The highly publicized outing of Assistant Secretary of Defense Pete Williams in 1991, a story I wrote for The Advocate, perhaps gave much of the media the first clear-cut example of the so-called hypocrisy argument for outing (my emphasis)
Then there was the David Geffen thing. Was it not Signorile who outed him, in a famously ugly brawl, in Outweek in 1989?
posted by rodii at 6:04 PM on May 29, 2001

how is outing a public figure okay? by whose standard? I think people get to decide what personal information about themselves is broadcast.

posted by rebeccablood at 7:05 PM on May 29, 2001

Run, rcb, run for your life!

They brook no dissension, Signore Signorille and Co., theirs is the only discretion that counts when determining if someone "should" be outed or not... What's that you say? "Private life"?! Private life be damned, we say! We have circulation numbers to make!

It's a practice that's morally questionable at best, and irreversibly invasive no matter how you look at it. The whole "outing" craze never got much more than negative attention and arguably did no good for a better public image for gays. The slower, more natural climate created by a slow but steady stream of high profile entertainers and other public figures discussing their homosexuality has been far better.
posted by m.polo at 7:18 PM on May 29, 2001

Outing public figures... hard call.

I am not a proponent of the "what they do in private is their business" school of thought... people can't compartmentalize themselves like that. There is no such thing as a "public self" and a "private self" unless the whole self is simply duplicitous. And let's face it: public figures forego so much of their privacy in return for the power they garner...

The question (for me at least) is what is the appropriateness of such an outing (or anything done to these folks in the name of public welfare) when their public status is thrust on them, and not sought after?

In the end, rebecca, I must say that I think that outing public figures is, at worst (and I think it's no small allegation...), in extremely bad taste. I just wish that doing something that was in bad taste was frowned upon as thoroughly as it was once.

On a different issue, I'd like to hear a little of the science behind the super virus comments.
posted by silusGROK at 7:29 PM on May 29, 2001

Vis10n: I don't see how your sexuality is an issue re being a public figure unless -- and a very big unless -- you made it one. That is, did you play your sexuality up in a way that harmed other people? Did you keep little to yourself anyway? In the Andrew Sullivan case, or at least this thread, his trumpeting of his contempt for the morality of others is said to be part of the issue. But I'd have to disagree on the moral scold part. As annoying as he is, Sullivan's not William Bennett by a long shot. Or at least he hasn't been when I've seen him. (He wrote an anti-romance-and-long-term-relationships piece earlier this year that struck me as a rather cold and thoughtless, actually.)

On the other hand, his aligning himself with (and trumpeting of) moral scolds is just plain weird. Why does he say that Ronald Reagan changed his life? Conservative economics? I thought Reagan's whole cultural thing, outside of wanting to return life to a "small scale" (which didn't happen in large part due to his economic policies) was the call for a return to traditional morality. It's for the latter reason that Sullivan strikes me as being a novelty figure. He's a Republican, it seems to me, because it wins him a niche.

But, you know, all one has to do to tear Sullivan down here is to look at his actual columns and start deconstructing them. I imagine the effect would be devastating. He could be caught in fragrante delicto via his high-profile writing and punditry, a product of his public self, rather than any alleged personal ad .
posted by raysmj at 8:10 PM on May 29, 2001

Vis10n: Not necessarily a super virus, but an intelligent one.

Although I am unable to recall exactly which conference (ICAC, CROI or WAC), a presentation was given that showed a case of multiple drug resistant HIV being transmitted from one person to another - the latter had been HIV negative whereupon seroconverting, he was then resistant to most, if not all, antiviral medications even though he had no history of ever taking any.

So, even if both are HIV+ if person A is resistant to three drugs and person B is resistant to two completely different drugs, unprotected sex could transmit A's specific resistance to B, etc.
posted by sillygit at 8:14 PM on May 29, 2001

For me, Sullivan's role as a gay moralist is not necessary to justify the treatment of this story. The guy's a well-known pundit and writer, and he allegedly posted nude photos of himself on the Web in search of new sex partners.

Any celebrity who does that and gets caught can count on lots of publicity, regardless of whether he's been a hypocritical moral scold or a refreshingly blunt horndog.
posted by rcade at 8:41 PM on May 29, 2001

rcade: Yes, whoever has the pictured hairy ass could have just asked around in order to satisfy the particular want or need, seems to me. Networked, as it were. But having your mug all over the Net (even having it be used as, say, sort of a logo on your weblog) is increasingly seen as a normal, private thing in certain bizarre Web circles. As in, "How dare you criticize (or come as being even remotely critical of) or question me, even though I put up 800 pics of myself on my site, as well as some of my most private thoughts and stories, on my site and generally attempted to start a cult of personality around myself." The above statement may or may not contain a reference to the subject's publishing of non-artistic nude or semi-nude photos. Those too, in other words, are seen as normal. Heck, a birthright.
posted by raysmj at 9:11 PM on May 29, 2001

Hmm... was it really Signorile who wrote the Pete Williams story? I think it was. I thought for sure Mikey the S had limited himself to the dead (at least during his OutWeek tenure). Oopsy. Maybe I should ask him.
posted by joeclark at 9:53 PM on May 29, 2001

A couple of questions bug me about this story: can anyone confirm that they have seen the Signorile article in print—an actual copy of LGNY newspaper with this article?

I ask because the link Romanesko uses is dotted decimal. I can't find the article linked from at all. Indeed, the website appears to be stale—stories linked from the homepage are from December (Christmas music reviews...).

A server check on and shows completely different server software. Other links off the Signorile article have TITLE's with "Welcome to Adobe GoLive 4." The site is unattributed, but obviously not unbiased. Am I being too suspicious?
posted by continuitynu at 10:12 PM on May 29, 2001

A dynamite deconstruction of Andrew Sullivan -- just not in regards to his statements regarding morality -- was printed at suck earlier this year. Speaking of which, the ones involving Clinton's being reckless were, I presumed, made because he had to sound like an uber Republican in order to remain a favored pundit and talking head. Otherwise, maybe I caught him on contrarian days -- being contrary to himself or other pundits, I don't know.

Sullivan only started greatly irritating me late last year when I saw him on C-SPAN conducting what he thought was a debunking of Al Gore's supposed coolness. The pundit is apparently a paragon of cool himself, despite his mid-'90s goatee, so he could comment. He also broke into spontaneous laughter, only to suddenly roll his eyes after being read a Nietzsche quote Gore used as a rather obviously jocular, cryptic answer to what he thought of Dubya's experience. (This was in a Rolling Stone cover story interview.) Sullivan said, "I don't think I want a president who can quote Nietzsche." The host, Brian Lamb, looking rather baffled, asked, "We're having a program on C-SPAN II about Nietzsche next week. What's the matter with him?" The Sullivan went off about Al's supposed lack of "authenticity." How original.

A.S. struck me as a major a-hole then. He says what people want him to say, or what he thinks those hiring him want him to say, what will garner him the most attention in his particular niche.
posted by raysmj at 11:09 PM on May 29, 2001

> that is the longest damn post i have ever seen

He fancies himself a journalist.
posted by pracowity at 11:10 PM on May 29, 2001

I fancy you an asshole.
posted by aaron at 11:15 PM on May 29, 2001

Oh, dear. I seem to have accidentally touched a nerve with that one. Or is cranky little Aaron just up past his bedtime?
posted by pracowity at 12:06 AM on May 30, 2001

John Lennon buried Paul McCartney. I just felt like pointing that out. The man posing as Paul McCartney who allegedly started the band Wings is secretly Mick Jagger in drag. Notice you never see the two of them together in public.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:17 AM on May 30, 2001

I fancy a cup of tea.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 1:34 AM on May 30, 2001

Yes, it turns out that Mikey the S did write the story outing DoD apologist Pete Williams. How could I ever have forgotten? This false-memory syndrome is so embarrassing.
posted by joeclark at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2001

Oh no! Did Aaron just out pracowity? Does Sullivan know? Did he have sexual realtions with that Pete Williams? Let's ask Signorile.

I agree, Sullivan is a major league ..ahem...shill... to whomever will pay for his expensive debauchery.
posted by nofundy at 5:44 AM on May 30, 2001

Well, I'm coming very late to this discussion, but I fail to see the offense of either Romanesko or Signorile. (Romanesko's site might have once been called Media Gossip, but it links mostly to mainstream news sources, and is hardly a source for scurrilous material.) As for Signorile, you can debate his "outing" practices, but this is a worthwhile story, and a case of the old broken-clock rule. It would be one thing if Sullivan had a job other than as Straight America's Favorite Gay Moralist, but he doesn't; he makes his living passing judgment on others' behavior, including their sex lives (especially their sex lives). Which, sorry to say, makes his private life fair game.

I'd say the fact he hasn't denied this says everything about its veracity.
posted by nance at 6:42 AM on May 30, 2001

He fancies himself a journalist.

I don't agree with how Aaron said it, but pracowity, you just made yourself look like a jerk.
posted by Avogadro at 7:58 AM on May 30, 2001

Thanks sillygit, I thought it would be something like that.

raysmj... as I said, outing a public figure is in bad taste. However, public figures (except maybe for those who didn't ask for the position) can't expect much privacy: it's quid pro quo for the the power they exersize. As for how one's sexual identity has anything to do with one's public identity: they're one and the same. The mind that decides what's right and proper in bed decided what's right and proper everywhere else.

The problem with outing, of course, is that it's seldom about morality/classic virtue as much as it is about titilation, voyeurism, and political posturing. That's why it's in such bad taste.
posted by silusGROK at 8:22 AM on May 30, 2001

> you just made yourself look like a jerk.

For saying someone wants to be a journalist? How so?
posted by pracowity at 8:26 AM on May 30, 2001

I feel the icy void of off-topicness at my heels here, but to say that a person fancies himself something generally means that he imagines or believes it. There might be some confusion, because the difference between saying "I fancied you" and "I fancied you an anarchist" is that the former means the speaker had a crush on the person he's addressing, while the latter means the speaker thought the addressee was an anarchist. That is, you said approximately that Aaron thinks he's a journalist, which could come off as a rather snide remark in context. Here ends my pedantry.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:50 AM on May 30, 2001

I'd say the fact he hasn't denied this says everything about its veracity.

You know, I don't know a thing about Sullivan or any of the other participants in this mini-scandal, and I don't quite understand it enough to be upset by it... but I'd say the fact he hasn't denied it says that he's a cool character who is refusing to acknowledge some silly gossip.

It's the old Pentagon "no comment" trick - better to simply refuse to answer the question than to affirm or deny.

posted by Mars Saxman at 9:13 AM on May 30, 2001

>but I'd say the fact he hasn't denied it says that he's a cool character who is refusing to acknowledge some silly gossip.

That shows how little you know about him. THe fact is, he acknowledges EVERYTHING written about him, in virtually every venue, and comments on it endlessly on his own web site. So his silence on this particular issue is interesting, if nothing else.
posted by nance at 9:44 AM on May 30, 2001

Andrew Sullivan has responded to the story on his website.
posted by turaho at 11:11 AM on May 30, 2001

> That is, you said approximately that Aaron thinks he's
> a journalist,

Yes. Approximately. More like "he wishes he were" a journalist. Which makes me evil, of course.
posted by pracowity at 10:40 PM on May 31, 2001

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