It’s déjà vu all over again.
A mainstream news organization has published a story identifying as gay a prominent public official who has never identified as such.
The subject of the story this month is U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who is reportedly one of President Obama’s leading contenders to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Kagan, who turns 50 later this month and is unmarried, has never publicly identified herself as gay.
But in a blog entry published Thursday by CBS News on its website, conservative gadfly Ben Domenech wrote that, if chosen for Stevens’ seat, Kagan would make history as the “first openly gay justice.”
An unidentified White House spokesperson informed CBS that the claim was inaccurate and Domenech posted an apology of sorts.
He said he offered his “sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post.”
CBS at first kept the blog entry up, while Dan Farber, its editor in chief, took the unusual tack of acknowledging to the Washington Post that the blog entry was “nothing but pure and irresponsible speculation.”
The Post reported, however, that White House pressure continued. Its point person on Supreme Court nominees, Anita Dunn, criticized the network for becoming “enablers of people posting lies on their site” and she criticized Domenech as a blogger with a “history of plagiarism.” Another White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt, accused CBS of making “false charges” against Kagan.
According to the Post, the website deleted the blog entry by Thursday night.
But the controversy may not be over. Paul Sousa, founder of a gay web-organizing group, issued a press release Friday saying he was organizing a national petition campaign to extract an apology from White House officials for their “extremely insensitive and homophobic remarks.”
He criticized White House spokesman LaBolt for characterizing the label of “gay” as being a false “charge.”
“’Charges’ is an extremely loaded word that implies something very negative,” said Sousa in his press release. “Diversity characteristics, including one’s sexual orientation, are and should be deemed positive factors in a candidate’s nomination to the Supreme Court and not a negative characteristic as White House officials have strongly implied.”
It was just two months ago that the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story reporting that it is an “open secret” that Proposition 8 trial judge Vaughn Walker is gay.
It’s not clear yet whether the unsubstantiated statement about Kagan will have any impact on the White House selection of a nominee.