Welcome to the club, Anderson Cooper. Now repeat after me: We’re here. We’re queer. We’re on deadline.
In case you just regained consciousness, CNN’s star anchor came out of the closet yesterday, via a public email sent to his longtime friend, Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast. That makes Cooper the most prominent gay TV newsman in America, if not the world.
It’s about time. Cooper’s sexuality had been an open secret for decades. Though out-and-proud in virtually all other aspects of his life—including at CNN—he had repeatedly tiptoed around media questions concerning his relationship status.
While many argue that a person’s sexual orientation is nobody’s business, the disconnect between Cooper’s public and private personas had reached critical mass. Simply put, he had run out of excuses.
For a journalist who demands transparency from others—the tagline for his show is “Keeping them honest”—Cooper came to realize he could no longer justify a double standard for himself. Even mainstream critics like Alessandra Stanley at the New York Times were subtly taking him to task.
It was only a matter of time. Over the past year, for example, Cooper had devoted enormous coverage to the issue of bullying against gay youth.
Coming out would allow him to be a role model, and what was wrong with that? A role model, not a crusader. An anchor, not an activist.
Even in a post-modern culture in which celebrities coming out barely triggers a ripple, it still matters. Cooper is a universally respected journalist who has distinguished himself in the field. Being publicly gay will not change that. And, let’s face it, it doesn’t hurt that he is movie-star handsome and a Yalie.
Viewers forgave Cooper long ago for having hosted The Mole, and his occasional fit of girly giggles on Anderson Cooper 360 is seen as endearing. No one disputes his work ethic: In addition to reporting for 60 Minutes, he launched a daytime talk show in the fall.
It’s no coincidence that Cooper was on assignment for 60 Minutes and unreachable yesterday. He’s never been comfortable publicly discussing any part of his personal life, let alone his sexuality. In a sense, he let someone else do the talking for him.
Regardless, it was a cause for celebration among fellow queer anchors.
“This is a fantastic thing,” says MSNBC daytimer Thomas Roberts. “This allows the success and happiness in his personal life to catch up with the success and happiness in his professional life. The two should not be mutually exclusive. I’m glad he can have that balance.”
Roberts came out publicly in 2006, when he worked at CNN. He and his partner of 12 years, Patrick Abner, a community liaison for a pharmaceutical company, plan to be married in September in New York. Cooper is invited.
So is Cooper’s CNN colleague, weekend anchor Don Lemon, an NBC 10 alum and partner with CNN producer Ben Tinker. Lemon came out last year, prior to publication of his memoir. He predicts Cooper won’t face much backlash. “For someone as accomplished as he is, his actions speak for themselves.”
In Roberts’s view, Cooper’s move may have a ripple effect on closeted talent.
“It’s a lofty goal. I’ve said for a long time that the waters are safe. Maybe this will inspire more people.”
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, an open lesbian since college, was on vacation and not available for comment, a network rep says.
As for me, I said it before and I’ll say it again. Welcome to the club, Anderson Cooper. Welcome home.