How do gay employees of the New York Post feel about working at an institution that portrays homos-xuals as a bunch of whiny, effeminate sodomites? Is the newsroom as uncomfortable a place for them as the paper’s frequent gay-baiting might suggest?
After some more inquiries, I learned that the Post does, in fact, have a handful of gay staffers, some of whom have voiced objections to the paper’s coverage to colleagues and higher-ups. (A Post spokesman was unaware of any complaints.) Still, gays are seriously underrepresented there, especially in the ranks of upper management and in the 10th floor newsroom, where the hard news is reported and edited, and where they’re all but nonexistent.
The question is: Why?
The consensus among the Posties I spoke with is that the paper doesn’t discriminate in its hiring. Rather, the paucity of gay employees results from the Post‘s stridently anti-P.C. editorial tone and frathouse office atmosphere. “It’s not a culturally welcoming environment,” says one former longtime editor. “It’s a locker-room environment — raucous, sexist, quite misogynist.”
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Some of it flows from editor-in-chief Col Allan, whom the ex-editor describes as an equal-opportunity offender: “He makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Any weakness or perceived difference he dumps on. He’s the kind of guy who can make racist and sexist jokes and get away with it.”
“It’s not a place for anybody who’s particularly sensitive about anything,” agrees former reporter Ian Spiegelman. “For most people, you have to turn off a part of your brain when you work there.”
Spiegelman worked at Page Six, the paper’s second most anti-gay section, after the editorial pages. Although the gossip column officially has a policy against outing closeted homosexuals, it delights in taunting them as “swishy” and, more recently, “toe-tappers”. It’s also home to cartoonist Sean Delonas, whose drawings of sheep are meant to suggest a link between homos-xuality and bestiality.
Though I struggle to believe it, Spiegelman insists, “I know the people who write Page Six and there’s not a homophobe among them.” (It should be noted here that Spiegelman was fired in part for using the word “faggot” in a threatening email to a heterosexual antagonist.) As for the paper as a whole, he says, “I can’t imagine anybody being turned down for a job there because they seemed to be gay, but it’s also hard to imagine a gay person wanting to work there.”
There’s probably something to this. One gay man I interviewed recalled working at the Post in 2001 when a Manhattan school canceled its celebration of Mother’s Day, citing the number of students with single or same-s-x parents. The Post‘s headline: “SCHOOL KILLS MOTHER’S DAY: Gay parents force principal to ban cards.”
“It was very difficult for me to walk through the front door of the paper that day,” he says.
Every time the Post does something outrageous, I wonder: How are they able to get away with it? Why have they been able to avoid a Don Imus moment? There’s no simple answer, but the staff’s homogeneity is a key part of it. Recall that in the Imus case, it was a black MSNBC employee who blew the whistle on his “nappy-headed hos” remark to the National Association of Black Journalists, whose call for a boycott started the drumbeat for Imus’s firing.
Newsroom diversity doesn’t just happen. Newspapers and other media organizations strive to attain it, in part to make sure they don’t accidentally trample over some group’s sensitivities out of sheer ignorance. They know they need someone on hand to say, “Hey guys, I’m gay/black/Muslim/disabled/etc., and I don’t think you realize how offensive this story we’re about to print really is.”
Of course, for Col Allan and his band of “pirates,” offending right-thinking people is in the mission statement. But to the extent that their ability to keep on offending people without interference from within depends on preserving an environment where gays feel unwanted, they’re guilty of something a whole lot more sinister than journalistic malpractice.
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