Alex Blaze

Is Sam Adams's tryst a gay issue or a media issue?

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 24, 2009 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: beau breedlove, David Gregory, Democrats, Gordon Smith, Just Out, LGBT, media, oregon, oregonian, portland, Republicans, Sam Adams

Well, it turns out that a lot of people in Portland are uneasy with the idea of newspapers deciding what's a moral outrage and what's not, especially after Sam Adams won just last November with 58% of the vote. The Stranger (an alternative Seattle paper) estimates that there were over 1000 people at the rally to support Mayor Adams, and it's not often that one sees rallies to support candidates.


I wrote the other day about the editorials by the Oregonian and the Portland Tribune calling for Adams to resign, but another Portland paper did as well: Just Out, Portland's LGBT bi-monthly. They've been taking a lot of heat for their call for resignation, especially since it was a hastily-written several paragraphs that appeared on their site a day after the story broke. They cite the usual excuse - he lied, that erases everything else he's done.

Just Out acknowledges that over his two decades as a public servant Adams has risen to become one of Oregon's most revered openly gay leaders. This publication has long admired Adams' vision, his intelligence and his tenacity. Ultimately we have concluded that these qualities cannot overcome the weakness revealed in Adams' recent admission.

In other words, the paper is putting their moral vision for the city above the needs of their constituents, since they acknowledge the fact that Adams is a promising mayor.

Many readers responded with anger to the call for resignation; the editorial itself garnered almost 400 comments. It's easy to understand why - there's a definite silencing effect when the most visible members of the LGBT community in Portland take the side that many are interpreting to be homophobic.

And I don't mean that calling for his resignation is necessarily homophobic. While there are some people who didn't like Mayor Adams in the first place and are using this scandal as an outlet for their homophobia, what I mean is that the idea that one's morality is defined by what one does with one's genitals is the exact reasoning used to deny queer people jobs and legal rights. We hear, day in, day out, from the Religious Right about how LGBT people are causing the moral decay of Western civilization because of what we do in bed, and, yes, there are many LGBT people who are adverse to judging other people by their sex lives because of our experience with the same.

And some LGBT people go off the other end as well, and decide that the solution to being told that they are immoral because of their sex lives is to claim that their sex life is moral and then put down others who don't live up to their standards. This is one comment I received to my earlier entry about Sam Adams (on another site) from one such gay man:

I hold my own people to a higher standard than I hold everyone else. Unfortunately as a minority we have to do so - I see this lame [blog post] as a big, long excuse blaming lots of other factors for what are really Sam's ethical lapses. It's not about bourgeois sexual values - it's about lying, repeatedly. And as I said - this is but the tip of the iceberg. Sam has been serially unfaithful to his partners.

For someone who says that it's all about the lying, it's strange that he would tack on the fact that Adams is "serially unfaithful to his partners." But this story starts and ends with the sex.

This is another comment from the same person, in its entirety:

Of course [this post] ignores the fact that LGBT leaders and newspapers in Portland have asked Sam to resign too.

It's a clear silencing technique - there's no attempt to engage and the authority wielded by the LGBT paper in Portland and by LGBT activists in that city is supposed to make other queer people fall in line. It's an interesting form of tribalism in which we're all supposed to be taking our cues from the tribal leaders, disagreeing opinions be damned.

Which would explain why many people would be even more upset that the LGBT paper asked for him to resign; those calling for his resignation see this as a gay issue and the LGBT paper can always position itself as the non-homophobic side.

Because if this weren't a gay issue, then it wouldn't be within the editorial scope of Just Out to be calling for his resignation, especially since they haven't called for the resignation of other prominent Portland and Oregon politicians who got caught lying. If they didn't see this as a gay issue, then there would be no need to point to Portland's LGBT paper to support their side. If they didn't see this as a gay issue, then these folks wouldn't be making claims about how Adams should be "held to a higher standard" because of his sexuality.

A few days later, the editors of Just Our responded to the disagreeing readers who just don't understand how important this sex scandal is:

Let's be clear: These were not "Who ate the last cookie?" type of lies. These were manipulative lies intended to deceive every citizen of Portland. The desire to be elected mayor was so great that Adams was willing to compromise his integrity and his values in the pursuit of the goal.[...]

Comments on our Web site, and others, consistently threw out statements like: "Politicians lie, they all lie. Get over it, Just Out." So, folks, when did that become acceptable? When did we become people who tolerate or accept being lied to? What's wrong with this picture, Portland?

With stunning lack of self-awareness, a print newspaper asks how citizens came to accept being lied to by politicians.

Gordon Smith, the former Republican Senator from the state of Oregon, lied in a series of campaign ads this past summer saying that his opponent, Jeff Merkley, voted against a bill to increase the statute of limitations for rape. One commercial shows a woman talking about her own rape and pretty much accuses Merkley of being responsible for it, even though it occurred before the bill in question was passed, even though Merkley voted for the increase. The ads were "manipulative lies intended to deceive every citizen of" Oregon, which includes Portland, and it was clearly due to his desire to be re-elected Senator. As a side note, I would say that this lie is much more manipulative, meant to pull on people's heart strings as this woman discusses being raped.

In the same campaign season, Gordon Smith said, "Mr. Merkley is challenging me to go to all of Oregon's counties once a year. Well, I do that." When pressed by the Oregon Democratic Party for proof, a campaign spokesperson claimed it was a mistake, that he doesn't even come close to doing that. That was another lie, and Smith didn't even apologize or acknowledge his lie. And, it was clearly to manipulate voters into thinking that he was a salt-of-the-earth Real American who knows rural Oregon better than his opponent, caused by his "desire to be elected."

In that same campaign season, the NRSC, on behalf of Gordon Smith's campaign, ran an ad that accused Merkley of voting to take away a $1 billion tax refund from the state of Oregon. The claim was false, and the NRSC was forced to pull the ad after the media started discussing its lies. Smith never rebuked the ad, and the NRSC kept it on YouTube. Another lie, intended to manipulate voters (with the real third-rail of politics: increased taxes), in order to try to win an election.

And I'm not even going to get into those shady Gordon Smith ads that make the very strong implication that he was endorsed by Barack Obama, so strong that the Obama campaign had to release a statement reminding Oregonians that he endorsed the Democratic candidate in that race. Or his denials that his food-processing plant employed undocumented workers, even when faced with the fact that many of those plant workers lacked social security numbers.

Gordon Smith was a serial liar in that race, telling lies that were far bigger than "I did not have sex with that man." And yet Just Out managed to overlook all of these lies and never called for Smith to resign from the Senate or quit his campaign. While they at least had the decency not to endorse Smith (The Oregonian, which also called for Adams's resignation because he lied, endorsed Smith, a known serial liar), they didn't even mention Smith's lying in their endorsement of Merkley.

Lying, which is apparently important enough to end the long career of a man most people seem to agree would be great for the city of Portland, didn't even merit a footnote in their coverage of Gordon Smith.

So when Just Out asks us "When did we become people who tolerate or accept being lied to?" I suppose we're expected to ignore reality, accept that up is down, and fall in line and demand Adams's head along with them.

For me personally, I know that I'm upset by the editorials calling for his resignation particularly because American media are so reticent to call a politician out for his or her lies. To them it's an expected part of the game, not worth even mentioning half the time in news articles that reprint those lies. In fact, David Gregory went so far as to say that it's just not a journalist's job to point out when politicians are lying, and he's been promoted to Tim Russert's old spot on Meet the Press as a clear sign that he's toeing the company line when it comes to journalistic integrity.

And I live just fine knowing that the media don't care at all about lying and have accepted it as a part of the reality we live in, but every now and then that reality comes crashing down as major and minor papers rally a mob together for a good, old-fashioned kangaroo court against one politician caught lying. Invariably, the lies are about sex (if they're not accompanied by other wrong-doing). Are we not supposed to notice a trend? Are we supposed to pretend that these papers aren't trying to act as moral magistrates when they petulantly demand resignations lest the masses be led astray by the ruling class's lack of sexual purity?

That's why people are protesting in Adams's favor. They know that this is a non-issue. They know that civic leaders and media figures are merely trying to enforce a nonsense moral code in which lying about sex is an absolute non-starter while lying about policy is fine.

Sam Adams is a human being. We can't expect him to live up to a standard of sexual purity that almost no one lives up to, and when the reaction from media outlets is like what we've seen here, it's no surprise that politicians are going to lie about sexual issues.

But what can stop happening is pundits attempting to overrule democratic elections with whatever issue they want to press. Sure, they can call for resignations in egregious situations, but having a consensual sexual relationship with another adult doesn't rise to that level.

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I think the powers that be in the Portland glbt community/paper are pulling together a fast C.Y.A. because they don't buy Adams' story that he and his little stud-muffin waited until after the candles were blown out on the 18th birthday cake to do the deed.

The corollary to all politicians lie is where there's smoke there's fire. I don't think his supporters believe him either, they're just willing to overlook the details.

I'm torn. Is he being railroaded or is there something to the stories? One thing's for sure, he won't get a fair trial.

You just gotta question his judgement though. And adult male interested in elected office has just got to know that an affair of any stripe with an underaged intern / barely legal intern is like juggling sticks of old dynamite.

I suspect your analysis of what's motivating the LGBT leaders in Portland is true. Although I don't really see why Just Out had to editorialize on the topic at all - if, as their side is arguing, this isn't about homophobia or gay sex, then it's as much in the scope of their work as Gordon Smith was.

As for his judgment, I don't think sex issues are a good guide. Bill Clinton messed around a lot more than we know about Bush, but his judgment on policy issues was far superior. John Edwards had one affair that we know about, which is one more than we know Elizabeth Dole had, and his judgment on policy, even on ethics, is better than hers.

We want politicians to show good judgment, but I think that this isn't the place to be judging their judgment. I do like how certain prominent LGBT commentators will always ask "How could he be so stupid?" when one of these scandals breaks out, but then forget that, by that measure, any politician who is publicly out or introduces his or her same-sex partner to his or her constituents is expressing bad judgment.

lacy panties | January 24, 2009 11:55 PM

When it was clear to everyone that Bill Clinton had received a blow job from a woman who was not his wife, the President gave an explanation that boiled down to "I'm sorry I had sex; you can understand why I had to lie."

Adam's response seems closer to "You can understand why I had sex; I'm sorry I lied." I think that's a far more progressive stance for a politician to take.

beachcomberT | January 25, 2009 6:56 AM

Any middle-aged gay man knows the attraction and excitement involved in hooking up with a young guy. Apparently there was no pressure or coercion involved, other than maybe Adams' charisma. But, realistically, politicians, whether gay or straight, are held to a higher standard of sexual behavior. I think Adams' sins are far less serious than Clinton's or Spitzer's -- there was no wronged spouse, no misuse of public money, etc., as far as we know. But, sadly, his credibility has been greatly damaged. I have no pat answer to "should he resign." Barney Frank toughed it out by wisely going public when his lover turned into a blackmailer. Adams hasn't shown that much forthrightness, but, then, his partner wasn't out to destroy him, either.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 25, 2009 9:58 AM

What is being in the closet if not a lie?

How many GLBT folk are in the closet? Or were? Or hop in and out as circumstances require? For physical and job security and a host of other reasons?

We live in a society that liberals claim is tainted by bigotry. They’re wrong. It’s awash in bigotry; poisoned by bigotry. Who among us hasn’t been slapped or stung by insults or by fists? Who hasn’t been fired? Who hasn’t been assaulted (a little or a lot) by cops and judges? (If you’re that one hustle your ass down to the Smithsonian. You’re an exhibit.)

We live in a society where the incoming and outgoing presidents made a career of bigot pandering with gross scum like Warren and who both oppose same sex marriage equality. We live in a society where federal and local legislators cavalierly dismiss LGBT equality questions. ENDA was gutted, DOMA and DADT passed and the hate crimes bill dropped in the trash can.

Why is anyone conceivably worried about Adams lies? Denouncing him is denouncing gay sex.

Yea Bill, being in the closet is a lie. Closeted folks pay a price for that lie even though it is not a lie completely of their own making. All lies come at a cost sooner or later.

Adams' lies were not born of the closet, they were born of political expediency. He knew he was doing something that he probably shouldn't be doing. He had a choice, fess up and pay the cost or lie and hope he won't get caught. The hubris involved in thinking he wouldn't get caught is probably a bigger character flaw than the lie or having sex with a 17 year old.

I agree with Alex that focusing on sex lies deflects attention from lies about going to war. It is an even bigger deflection when we're talking about gay sex. The mistake is hitching the gay sex is morally neutral bandwagon to Mayor Adams.

The problem isn't that the young man was 18 or even 17. It is that he was under the age of consent. That line is where the boogie-man lives. Cross the line and he's got you. If Adams crossed the line he fuels the fires of distrust of gay men around children. He said as much in his initial denial of an a affair with the young man. To a lot of people he's political poison.

How far above the age of consent and how many year between partners constitutes the dividing line between robbing the cradle and legitimate personal choice?

"How far above the age of consent and how many year between partners constitutes the dividing line between robbing the cradle and legitimate personal choice"?

I don't know but I do know that taking a position based on superstition, aka, religion to condemn gay sex between men is wrong.

It's as unprincipled as voting for a bigot like Obama.

This was my earlier answer to the unwanted injection of sanctimonious christer beliefs into this discussion.

"This raises two questions. First GLBT folks have absolutely no business criticizing gay men having sex with each other. There is nothing scandalous about their relationship. Nothing at all.

Or about lying to protect themselves. I hope Adams can tough it out and avoid resigning.

Secondly their relationship would have been perfectly legal in many states including neighboring Washington and in my home state, Nevada.

We should push for a uniform and probably lower age of consent across the US. I'm not talking lower as in NAMBLA or the archdiocese of Boston’s versions of lower, but a reasonable law that acknowledges puberty. We want to insist that any discussion take into account the views of GLBT teens and youth.

Of course ruthless penalties should be established for forced polygamous marriages and to deter the predations of cult priests, rabbis and ministers.

In Europe the countries that most recently changed their laws are setting the age of consent at 14 with one at 13 and a couple adopted 15. Most are former soviet bloc states or members of the Warsaw Pact. And for some mysterious reason Vatican City's is the lowest at 12. Perhaps it has something to do with the widespread availability of altar boys."

My problem is that he lied. And he should IMO go.

It seems that everyone is blaming Adams for being so dumb to have an affair with an 18yo guy. Many forget that it takes two to tango and unless Breedlove was raped then it was a consensual LEGAL relationship between 2 adults. No law was broken. Also most states feel that a 16 or 17yo is old enough to make a consensual decision on sex. Oregon's consent law is draconian. Hell most of Europe thinks a 14 or 15yo is plenty old enough to make a judgment of whether to have sex or not.

Howcome a 15yo can be tried as an adult for murder but a 17yo (in a few states) isn't mature enough to make a decision who he/she can have sex with? Our legal system is screwed up.

We seem to be a nation filled prudish people basking in their so-called morals based on fictional and unproven religious beliefs. Give me a break!!

I remind you that congressman Vitter from Lousiana cheated on his wife, broke the law by having sex with a whore and is still in office. He refused to resign. Why isn't he being thrown out of office for breaking the law? He admitted to breaking the law. Adams broke no laws.

Why the hell should Adams resign for having consensual sex with an adult and lying about it? He was screwed no matter if he answered the question or not answered it. The question should have never been asked in the first place. If he refused to answer the question then people would think he is hiding something anyway. If he said "none of your business" most prudes would think he is stand-offish and arrogant and wouldn't vote for him. So the guy did the next best thing and lied.