On Sept. 29, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso received a tweet many politicians likely dread. Michael Rogers, managing director of D.C. blog Raw Story, nudged Barrasso with this, after he panned single-payer healthcare on Fox News:
Rogers is the main player in Kirby Dick’s 2009 documentary Outrage, which centered around Rogers’s outing of Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Ed Schrock, among others. He also runs BlogActive, an investigative forum and tip line, aimed at closeted lawmakers living a life of hypocrisy. Rogers often outed politicians weeks or months before other news outlets got to the story. This talent led the Washington Post to label him “the most feared man on the Hill” in 2007.
From his home base in D.C., a few days into the government shutdown, Rogers said he’s scaled back his work on closeted lawmakers somewhat. Tweets are now his medium for muckraking. They’re “like jabs.”
But he’s not out of the game. In June, he hinted that he knew of three “anti-gay” members of the House of Representatives, which was meant as a warning shot. Rogers had heard rumors about Sen. Barrasso “for years,” he said, and mentions his friendship with NBC News correspondent Pete Williams.
He’s also got his eye on Tea Party Congressman Adrian Smith, who voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and against repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as did Barrasso. Rogers tweeted at him on Sept. 30:
Surprising that we have not heard from @RepAdrianSmith during the health care debate. Is he hiding in a closet somewhere?— Michael Rogers (@MichaelRogersDC) September 30, 2013
You could see Rogers’s approach as obsessive, even morally wrong. Who is he to out another gay man? But there’s the matter of his track record, which has been 100 percent correct and backed up by multiple sources. His goal isn’t purely personal glory. His welcome note on BlogActive sums up his stance:
“People are entitled to privacy and the exposure of someone's sexual orientation without their permission is unacceptable to me. Reporting on the hypocrisy of those who represent us in government? That's an entirely different matter.”
Rogers started his crusade in February of 2004, deep into George W. Bush’s first term.
“The reason I started was because I was mad at [Karl] Rove and [Ken] Mehlman for running marriage amendments to get Bush into office. That was my motivation.”
But in the last decade, the Internet has changed the political landscape. Gay marriage is now legal in 14 states, and out politicians have more of a profile, thanks in part to Twitter and Facebook. Social media has changed how we report too.
“The explosion of social media as a primary form of communication has been a double-edged sword,” Rogers said. “On one hand, it's a wonderful tool for people to reach out, make connections, share news, and conduct research. On the other hand, we have seen the damage that misinformation on the Web can cause. Stock market plummets and unfairly ruined reputations are just two of the consequences of this shift.”
His personal viewpoint has also changed somewhat in the last decade. He said that often, he “sees the journey” of these men and women attempting to live truthfully.
“I’m no longer angry; I just feel a lot of pity,” he said. “I almost understand those guys in the closet back then. But when they do come out… Look at [former New Jersey Governor Jim] McGreevey. He’s a hero, but what did he do? He taught us a very important lesson. Years ago, you’d get in front of the microphone and say you’re corrupt, to deflect from that fact that you’re gay. Now you step up and say ‘I’m gay’ to deflect from the fact that you’re corrupt.”
Rogers has a kindred spirit in Elena Kostyuchenko, a Russian journalist who vowed to out closeted Russian politicians who vote for anti-gay legislation. In the current Russian crusade against LGBT citizens, Rogers sees a shift and hints at a new campaign that he’s collaborating on.
“I can’t say much more, but you’ve heard of culture-jamming, right? That’s all I’ll say. The left owns the Internet. The right owns radio, but the left owns the Internet.”
Talk then turns to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Putin looks gay, doesn’t he? I’m not saying he is, but he looks it.”
Would Rogers attempt to out Putin, if he had proof?
“I would go after him, if I had the info.”
Illustration by Jason Reed