Mike Rogers is an extortionist. He is a blackmailer. He is a thug. And today, he is lionized on the pages of the Washington Post.
It should be utterly uncontroversial that Rogers is nothing more than a political shakedown artist. He makes this quite clear in the Post article, eschewing the usual indirectness of the professional blackmailer for the shockingly direct threat:
“I write about closeted people whose records are anti-gay,” he says. “If you’re a closeted Democrat or Republican and you don’t bash gays or vote against gay rights to gain political points, I won’t out you.”
Of course, to Rogers, any vote against gay rights is cast “to gain political points” — because he can’t conceive of such a vote being cast on principle.
And so, Rogers’s message to politicians is simple and straightforward: if he doesn’t like the way you vote, he will expose embarrassing information about you. If you toe the line, however, he will protect you.
That is the classic position of the extortionist.
Rogers is trying to influence politicians’ votes with threats. I can’t put it any more plainly.
But Rogers attempts to gain respectability for his bullying by dressing up his threats as a mere attempt to expose hypocrisy — and the Post today gives him the cover he seeks. The Post‘s article asks: is Rogers The Most Feared Man on the Hill? The reporter describes Rogers as “basking in the attention” generated by the recent resignation of Larry Craig, who was outed by Rogers on his blog. In paragraph after paragraph, Rogers is given space to deliver his Sermon on Hypocrisy:
Rogers reasons that there’s justice behind his tactics — “odious,” “outrageous” and “over-the-line” as they might seem to his detractors.
In Rogers’s mind, if you’re against gay rights in your public life and you live a secret homosexual life, all bets are off.
. . . .
[L]ast October, he says, he targeted Craig — months before an undercover sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s room, and before the Idaho Statesman started its months-long investigation. Two years earlier, Rogers notes, the three-term senator had voted for the failed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“Hypocrisy,” Rogers sneers, “plain, hate-filled hypocrisy.”
The opportunities for self-justification go on and on:
A little volume titled “The Book of Questions: Business, Politics and Ethics” is tucked under his coffee table. There, on Page 193, is the question: “How much right do we have to know about the private lives of elected officials?”
Rogers says, “When those private lives are in direct conflict with the public policy that these officials espouse, I think it’s fair game that their private lives be brought into this. And I have to blog to do that with. Here’s the question: What community is expected to protect its own enemies? Don’t beat up the gay community, and then expect us to protect your secrets and your double life. It’s just not right.”
The article seems to agree, providing a soft focus through which we may view Rogers’s tactics. A journalist (who is also a 20-year friend of Rogers’s) praises him merely as an involved gay activist. A Poynter ethics expert helpfully tells us that Big Media is no longer the gatekeeper of information. (The ethics expert was apparently not asked about the ethical issues involved when a blogger attempts to manipulate politicians’ votes with threats regarding their personal lives.) And we see Rogers praised by other bloggers:
To some, Rogers is a hero, which is what BlogPac, a political action committee that funds progressive blogs, called him in July when presenting him with an award. His supporters say he’s been more effective than the established gay press and gay organizations in exposing the GOP’s “image problem.”
“He’s a sort of a muckraker, and he’s sharing good information that other people don’t,” says Matt Stoller, the liberal blogger who heads BlogPac.
Opposing viewpoints are muted, or come from sources the reporter expects you to find discreditable — such as one of those damned gay Republican hypocrites that Rogers so righteously outed.
So is Rogers morally justified as a crusader against hypocrisy, as the piece portrays him?
Of course not. Any blackmailer can justify his actions with similar arguments. After all, if someone is blackmailing you, you have something you don’t want exposed. Which means you’re hiding it, which means you’re being dishonest, which means you’re a hypocrite. That doesn’t morally acquit the extortionist.
Let me turn the tables on you for a moment with a hypothetical.
Imagine that a conservative Republican senator from Idaho typically votes according to the views of his conservative constituents — with one notable exception: he supports a wide range of proposals endorsed by homosexual activists. He supports gay marriage, allowing gays to serve openly in the military, and laws that confer “protected class” status upon homosexuals for purposes of filing discrimination lawsuits. His constituents are puzzled by this one uncharacteristic breach in his conservative facade, but accept his explanation that he is motivated by principle.
But he doesn’t tell constituents that he, personally, is gay.
Now imagine that an anti-homosexual activist has learned that the senator is gay, and tells the senator that he will expose the senator’s secret homosexual life . . . unless the senator decides to start voting against the gay rights agenda, in which case the activist will remain silent.
That would be extortion. But the activist could justify it with arguments similar to those advanced by Rogers. The revelation of the senator’s secret life would expose as a half-truth his lofty principled reasons for supporting the gay agenda. Instead of concerns about equality, maybe his votes were cast to keep his lover(s) happy. By revealing this, the activist could argue that he was simply exposing dishonesty. And there are all sorts of other possible conflicts lurking under the surface in such a situation. For example, the activist could even argue that the senator voted for the gay agenda out of fear of being exposed by someone like Mike Rogers!
Somehow, if a conservative thug threatened to out a Congressman unless he voted against the homosexual agenda, I don’t think the extortionist would be the subject of a puff piece in the Washington Post. Do you?
Nor should he be. And neither should Rogers.
P.S. Let’s get away from hypotheticals. Where is the hypocrisy in this real-life situation?
I haven’t followed this story over the last couple of weeks, but it seems to me that an important component is sorely lacking from the stories about Craig: namely, evidence that he has made public statements espousing hatred towards homosexuals, or describing their lifestyle as deviant, or something along those lines. I’m open to correction if I’m wrong about this, but even Rogers cites no such examples in the Post story. The best Rogers can do is to point to Craig’s votes, arguing that Craig has opposed gays in the military, and has voted against gay marriage.
Rogers’s message appears to be that a gay man cannot oppose pro-gay legislation as a matter of principle. But that’s demonstrably wrong. There’s a local conservative radio talk-show host named Al Rantel who is openly gay and opposes gay marriage. And Rantel is not alone. Conversely, I am not gay (and unlike Larry Craig, I’m telling the truth when I say that!), but I support gay marriage and gays in the military. The plain fact is that one’s views on gay marriage, or gay issues generally, need not be dictated by their personal sexual preference.
Last October, I said:
I understand the Rick Ellensburgs of this world are saying that it’s all about the hypocrisy. This is just a dishonest hook on which they can hang their glee at what they perceive as an embarrassment to a Republican.
If you can show me where Larry Craig has denounced homosexuality as deviant or immoral, and you can prove he is homosexual, you’ve got a good hypocrisy charge. But if the only thing you’ve got is his votes against gay marriage or special rights for homosexuals, then you’ve got nothing. Plenty of homosexuals oppose both.
Glenn Greenwald and company are using the hypocrisy charge as a phony justification for thuggery on private matters. They should be ashamed.
So should the Washington Post for providing political cover to a rank extortionist.
P.P.S. This is not a defense of Craig, who has pled guilty to a criminal charge. This is a post about whether an extortionist should be treated as a hero. Other posts in the past few days have discussed Craig’s culpability, and those arguments should be held in the appropriate thread.