Who Among Us Would Cast the First Stone? This Guy
From high atop his Adams Morgan apartment building, Michael Rogers decides who is living a lie and who may be turning toward righteousness.
Then, with a few words sprayed onto the uneven ground between gossip and journalism, he turns a life upside down. Or he offers absolution, remaining silent if he believes the person in question has a good heart.
A year ago, Rogers, having decided that Sen. Larry Craig was a hypocrite, reported on his blog that the Idaho Republican, who publicly opposed gay marriage, secretly had sex with men. Craig has denied the allegations.
As The Post's Jose Antonio Vargas reported in his profile of Rogers this week, the blogger views his posts about Craig and congressmen Ed Schrock and Mark Foley -- conservative Republicans who resigned even as they denied Rogers's claims that they had had same-sex encounters -- as neither titillations nor violations of privacy.
Rather, Rogers, a 43-year-old gay man who worked as a fundraiser for gay and environmental lobbies before turning to full-time Internet activism, considers himself an investigative reporter, "someone who has been able to sway a lot of people from my living room." He sees his work as quintessentially moral, a modern truth-telling that bares political hypocrisy.
But who elected him moral arbiter? Do his readers at blogactive.com even know how he makes his choices about whom to out?
Rogers sees his outings -- a word he says he doesn't like, although he uses it more than a dozen times over a single lunch -- as part of his engagement with the world, no different from his neighborhood activism. He's a gregarious guy, the kind who gets involved. He was head of his building's residents association. At the falafel joint down the street, everybody knows him. Listing a member of Congress as a hypocritical, secret homosexual is, by Rogers's measure, a public service akin to his successful agitation to get McDonald's to remove a giant vending machine from a corner on 18th Street NW or his campaign to persuade the D.C. parks department to right a tilting flagpole in the park across from his apartment.
Some outing is immoral, Rogers says, such as the so-called D.C. madam's wholesale release of phone numbers of purported customers, many of whom had no role in public life. "Your wife sees that, and what have you done to deserve that?" Rogers says. "I'm not taking pictures of everyone who goes to have sex in Union Station. There has to be hypocrisy."
As proof of his morality, Rogers offers Paul Koering, a conservative Republican state senator in Minnesota. When someone sent Rogers video of Koering at a gay bar, the blogger called him up, ready to out the hypocrite.
Koering convinced Rogers that he was, as the blogger puts it, "on a journey to a different place." Rogers agreed not to name the senator on his blog. Koering later announced he is gay, said he appreciated Rogers's restraint and won reelection.
"Koering is anti-everything I stand for," Rogers says, "but I realized he was trying to work out the conflict between his personal and political lives. I realized that when this guy comes out of the closet, he does me more good in office than out."
Rogers is frank enough to admit that talking to him can win a target a reprieve. "If people call me back, the chances I won't write about them go through the roof," he says.
But for all his earnest honesty, Rogers has a blind spot. His work requires him to play God. He boasts that "there will be more Larry Craigs -- this year." And he declares, "When I say someone is gay, they are gay, because if I'm wrong, the only person in the world who won't believe me is the guy himself."
Journalists, too, are known for our arrogance, but what appears in a newspaper such as this one remains quite different from what Rogers does. We are more reserved -- timid, if you wish -- more likely to wait for a crime and a legal record before we report on the private lives of public people.
Rogers says he follows his own rules, which he says are similar to those that govern a newspaper reporter, "except that you have a lot more people who trust you. I never report on a case until I've spoken to two independent people who've told me they had sex with an individual. Then it's up to me to decide when I look into their eyes whether they're telling me the truth."
Trust does play a role in what journalists choose to believe, but news decisions ought not be based on what's glistening in a source's eyes. In the American tradition, different kinds of messengers win varying degrees of credibility according to the standards they follow. I don't want Rogers deciding which politicians remain in office, but if he gets his facts straight, there's a place for him in the information marketplace. The Founders figured that the people could discern what's right, what's sleazy and what's outrageous.
At this early hour of a new information era, old notions of credibility and authority are fading in a blur of smaller voices. A Rogers can rise from the babble, then slip right back in.
I ask Rogers if his aim is to be famous. "No," he says, "I want to influence the debate."
Whatever his motive, Rogers's vigilante reporting turns his targets' closets into even darker, scarier places. Do Rogers's outings really liberate anyone, or do the public figures he names just add another bolt and chain to the closet door?