In reference to the question posed by Andrew Sullivan about Elena Kagan, "So is She Gay?" Benjamin Sarlin asks another set of questions, about whether it is right for a journalist working for an institution that prides itself on careful journalism to float rumors about a public figure's sexual orientation:
In an e-mail interview with The Daily Beast, Sullivan said that as a blogger, "my job is to think out loud. It is not my job to report stories." As for information on Kagan's orientation, "one need have no 'evidence' beside the fact that she is single and seems to be lacking in any emotional or relationship history to ask a question not about her private life but about her public identity."
But Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, told The Daily Beast that Sullivan's failure to provide any clear evidence that Kagan's sexuality was in question raised major ethical concerns by pushing unsourced rumors into the mainstream press.
"It's slimy locution here in that he writes 'We have been told by many that she is gay,'" Gitlin said. "And what would constitute evidence? If someone shows up and says 'I slept with Elena Kagan when we were in college,' so what? I see nothing but slime down the slippery slope because accusers are a dime a dozen."
Kathleen Culver, a journalism professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in ethics and new media, added that Sullivan's explanation of his role as a blogger is problematic, given that he is also a member of a widely read mainstream publication.
"Yes, we can be true to ourselves and get our thoughts out," Culver said, "but when you're that widely read and your words can be picked up in other publications, there are larger questions you need to ask beyond just 'Am I being honest to myself?'"
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