Outed in a Correction

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Here's a lousy way to be outed in the national media: a newspaper correction. But that's exactly what happened to Virginia Sen. George Allen's campaign communications guy thanks to the Los Angeles Times. Naturally, Allen's team is angry and the LAT says it did nothing wrong.

It all started with an October 18 story headlined "Some Seek 'Pink Purge' in the GOP," which told of how the GOP's "big tent" might be getting too big by including gay political staffers whose views may conflict with the "party's powerful evangelical conservatives." It was a good story until about three quarters through it, where it said that Allen had a gay campaign manager. They never called Allen's guy, Dick Wadhams, about his sexuality–definitely hetero. That was so wrong that it was laughable. The paper ran a correction the next day. But in it, the LAT said Allen's communications director, who was never mentioned in the original story, was gay:

Gay Republicans: An article in Section A on Wednesday about friction in the Republican Party between gays and religious conservatives said Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) had a campaign manager who is gay. The Allen staff member who is gay is his communications director.

Making new news in a correction is rare. In fact, you could argue that the LAT should have just said it got the Wadhams angle wrong and left it at that. So how'd it happen? After getting the first story wrong, the LAT went back to the campaign with some old rumors and obscure reports that the communications aide was gay. He confirmed, but his sexuality was never mentioned in the original story, so it should have been left out of any correction, right?

So is there an LAT policy on outing gays? We asked our old pal Doyle McManus, the very able and respected Washington bureau chief and Washington Week star. McManus said, "Our policy is that we don't out people. If a gay person is out, i.e., if he/she acknowledges it openly, and it's germane to a story, we may mention it–but that's not outing. In this case, we didn't out anybody."