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In the Rush to Declare Pete Buttigieg a Historic Appointment the Media Trip All Over Ric Grenell

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file

The problem with identity politics is that when you look at people as only a category to be checked off you fail to be objective in your measurements. The added problem is that those resorting to this tactic often fall into the paradox of looking at people as only a member of a classification, a subgroup from which you are not supposed to make intolerant generalizations, but then they generalize by assuming only one party is capable of recognizing those groups.

The press fell into this very trap when the news came out that former candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg was confirmed as Transportation Secretary. Many in the media could not wait to rush forward with a bold pronouncement -- that Buttigieg has become the first openly gay member of a presidential cabinet! The excitement in the press was palpable.

The interesting thing about all the hyperventilating reactions we saw is that, in praising the appointment of a gay individual with such vigor, you would think if journalists were so consumed with the event they would have relied upon the vast wealth of research at their disposal. Soon a number of journos and outlets began backtracking, when some inconvenient details emerged. After all, in looking into the statistics of gays who served in a cabinet position they would have had to look all the way back to...a few weeks ago.

The industry’s record keepers and fact-checkers had somehow overlooked a particular element in their storylines -- Ric Grenell, who is openly gay, had served under President Trump as acting Director of National Intelligence. Once this niggling detail became spread about suddenly we saw a change in the semantics being used in the press -- but little change in the enthusiasm. Now, Pete Buttigieg was the first openly gay member of a cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate. It is still historical!

Things became so difficult that journalists were contorting themselves to both justify their errors and maintain the historical claims. When Joyce Karem was shown her error on the matter instead of correcting her claim she declared those pointing out the inaccuracy were trolling her account. When Megyn Kelly noted the error in an NBC News announcement of Buttigieg being the first, Susan Hennesy defended the news outlet, declaring Grenell invalid, in a fashion, because he was "never confirmed, nor was he even nominated."

Even a major LGBT+ news outlet fell prey to the excitement, erasing Ric Grenell’s service in the process. The site manages to even contradict themselves, as they had previously reported on Grenell and his stature as the first openly gay to serve, at the time.

This detail becomes the revealing aspect in all of this furor. There was a prior recognition of what Grenell represented when he was placed in the cabinet by President Trump. This means it becomes a harsh erasing of the career of a gay individual. Even NBC News had acknowledged Grenell’s historical import, not just as a checkmarked figurehead, but actually doing significant work on behalf of gay rights, on an international stage. But today that is entirely discounted, as he is seeing his career reduced to little more than bearing an asterisk. 

It is rather evident why this is the case. Republicans -- and especially Donald Trump -- cannot be regarded as being supportive, or even tolerant of gay individuals. We need to ignore that Grenell served in the cabinet, that President Trump was the reason he was there, and that Grenell has been a regular on Fox News. All of those details interfere with the narrative, so they need to be bypassed as we celebrate Mayor Pete’s ascendancy.

The message being sent out by the press today is astounding, really. To sell this story they need to sell us on the importance of a gay man working in a domestic department, then essentially erase the service of a gay man and discount the work he did for gay rights on an international stage. Seems almost intolerant and homophobic, if we were to judge their actions based on the accusations these same wise minds delivered over the years.

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