TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Senator LARRY CRAIG: (Republican, Idaho) Let me be clear. I am not gay. I never have been gay.
GROSS: That's Larry Craig, speaking at a news conference on August 28th, 2007, denying police accusations that he had made sexual advances toward an undercover officer in an airport men's room. Days later, amidst increasing GOP criticism, the Republican senator from Idaho announced his resignation.
The new documentary "Outrage" begins with the case against Craig. The movie is about the outing of allegedly gay politicians who have opposed gay rights. The interviewees included out, outed politicians and people who have outed them, like blogger Mike Rogers.
My guest is the director, Kirby Dick. He also directed the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," an investigation into how the Motion Picture Association of America decides on movie ratings. He says that the real subject of his new documentary, "Outrage," is hypocrisy.
In terms of trying to out closeted politicians, what were your standards of who was worthy, so to speak, of being dragged out of the closet? Like if the basis of the film is hypocrisy, like what raises to the level of hypocrisy that it's worth altering, perhaps ruining, somebody's life and career?
Mr. KIRBY DICK (Director, "Outrage"): Well, I don't view my film as outing closeted politicians. I really view it, the central the thesis of it is reporting on hypocrisy. And so what would make a politician who is closeted also be a hypocrite that would be worthy of me reporting on? I looked at their voting records.
We actually - and if their voting records were substantially anti-gay, I think in the case of all the politicians I had focused on, they were anywhere between zero and 25 percent pro-gay, the rest was anti-gay. And that to me, over oftentimes a two-decade career, was certainly an indication that this was an example of hypocrisy.
I mean, millions of Americans, millions of gays and lesbians, are harmed. Their rights to marry have been taken away, their rights to health care, their rights to adopt, their right to serve in the military.
I mean, there's very serious consequences, and I think the consequences of this kind of hypocrisy and dishonesty affects the American political system as a whole. It contorts it. When you have powerful politicians who are living dishonestly like this, decade after decade, this is something that I think, and practicing this hypocrisy, this is something that needs to be reported on.
GROSS: So how much original reporting did you do on trying to figure out whether allegations and rumors were true or not? You worked closely with Mike Rogers on this, and he's kind of famous for outing or trying to out politicians who he feels have been hypocritical. How much original reporting did you feel like you needed to do to fact-check his reporting?
Mr. DICK: Well, we did a fair amount of original reporting. The gay press has been reporting on this for 20 years, and a lot of this was built on their shoulders. In fact, it is the gay press who has been wanting this information out there because they see the costs of the cause, both politically and personally.
It's the mainstream press that I find that's been very reluctant to report on this. So what I did is I followed what Mike Rogers did, and I should say that Mike Rogers is someone who actually has been very careful on his reporting. He reported the outing of Larry Craig. He outed Larry Craig nine months before the news of his arrest in the Minneapolis bathroom was made public. And at the time that he outed Larry Craig, a lot of people were very reluctant to believe him, and it turned out he was true. But Mike Rogers has been very careful in his reporting.
And we had very high standards. I mean, we would, we would - over the course of two, three years that we made this film, we had a team of researchers and we made sure that all our sourcing was very, very accurate.
GROSS: I have a confession to make. I mean, I find it really awkward to talk about this, and I feel like there's an elephant in the room. Let's just put it on the table and talk about it.
I think, you know, that what you're trying to do is really interesting, is take politicians who you think have been really hypocritical and very harmful to gay people by voting against big - you know, gay marriage, gay adoption, earlier on not having sufficiently, you know, adequately funded the AIDS crisis, you know, to find medications, possibly vaccines and so on.
And so your goal is to out gay people who are voting against the interests of gays because they're in the closet and they're afraid to come out, so - and I think what you're saying is because they're in the closet, they cover up in a way by voting against gay people?
Mr. DICK: That's exactly true. I mean, in many cases I believe these politicians would, if they were out, would vote pro-gay. So this is what the closet is doing. It is causing them to vote against their belief and also against gays and lesbians.
GROSS: Good, so that's not the elephant. Let's get the elephant on the table.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DICK: Okay, fair enough. I was waiting for the elephant.
GROSS: Here comes the elephant. Okay, so the elephant is - like I understand what you're doing, and I understand why you're doing it. The film is very interesting, and at the same time, I'm really reluctant to name the names that you name because, you know, as a journalist and as the host and co-executive producer of the show, I feel uncomfortable taking responsibility for putting these names on the table because I feel like I can't fact-check the work that you've done.
I'm not ready to out these people, and I can't be sure that everything that you have - I'm not accusing you of bad journalism.
Mr. DICK: No, I understand what you're saying.
GROSS: But there's a level of responsibility I feel like I'd be taking when I name the names that you've named.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DICK: I understand. I understand.
GROSS: So it just makes it really awkward to talk about the movie.
Mr. DICK: Well, again, I think the reason for that, I mean the reason that you're concerned, is that the mainstream media itself, as a whole, has not covered this issue. In fact, one of the things that I was very surprised by is that when I started screening this film to small groups of audiences how surprised they were by this information, not only, you know, which people were closeted and hypocrites but the fact that this was an issue at all, because the mainstream media has completely - I wouldn't say completely, but in large part stayed away from this. And that's why the information that you're looking for, that you would like to have as backup, it doesn't exist in the mainstream media.
It does exist in the gay press and in the alternative media. That does exist, but…
GROSS: What does exist?
Mr. DICK: This information, this corroboration that you're looking for, but it does not exist in the mainstream media, and you know, coming, say, somewhat new to this subject here, I understand the discomfort. But that's one of the things I hope that this film does, is I hope that by coming out it will start a discussion about this. It will bring the mainstream media to this, and these issues will be discussed, these issues will be investigated, and it will no longer seem like this subject matter is coming out of the blue.
GROSS: You talked to a few people in the film who were outed for this reason of hypocrisy. They were outed by people who are devoting their lives to outing gay politicians. Did you meet any people who you think their lives were changed for the better by being outed?
Mr. DICK: I think - yeah, absolutely. I mean, I interviewed former Congressman Jim Colby of Arizona, and you know, his story was he was closeted until 1996. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricted the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, and as a result the Advocate, who knew that he was gay, there were discussions that it was going to come forward with an article and out him.
And so he's opposed to outing, but he made the decision I'm going to step forward and I'm going to beat them to the punch and I'm going to come out and, you know, tell the world that I'm gay. And he describes that experience of coming out as one of the most important experiences of his life, almost a near-religious experience. And you can imagine that the weight of this secret that he's kept and had to worry about for so many years is suddenly lifted off of him.
And Jim McGreevey as well has a very similar experience, that finally for the first time he can be honest with the world and honest with a lot of people that are close to him as well. So - and what happens too, as you - you know, with Jim Colby, is when the Federal Marriage Amendment came up, which was an even more restrictive attempt to restrict the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, he was a very vocal opponent to it.
So what happens is once people are out of the closet, they don't have anything to protect in terms of their secret, and then they can vote for gay rights.
GROSS: So with Colby, was he shunned by his party after he came out? Because the party has been so anti-gay in its platform.
Mr. DICK: Right. Well, what happened was actually - I think it was at the 2000 Republican convention. He was invited to speak on - not on gay issues. I think it was on trade.
GROSS: And did we say he's a congressman from Arizona?
Mr. DICK: He's a congressman from Arizona and he was invited to speak, and that a very important moment in the Republican Party, an out gay Republican speaking at the national convention. Well, the Texas delegation stood up and turned their back on him. So - and that, you know, I think in some ways was sort of was - in many ways it was the beginning of what we saw as the George W. Bush legacy of attacking gays and lesbians for their own political gain.
GROSS: You know, I often wonder with closeted gay politicians who are voting against gay rights, whether they're doing it to, like, cover up for the fact that they're gay or whether they're so guilty and conflicted about being gay, and if sometimes the same thing that explains why they're in the closet, that they were brought up, you know, in a way where they truly believe that being gay is evil and so that maybe they actually somehow truly believe that gay marriage is bad, just as they believe they're bad for having this feeling towards people of the same sex.
Mr. DICK: I think that's true for some. I think that some - you know, I've been told stories where…
GROSS: Which doesn't make it any better for gay people who are getting voted against, but I just wonder about that.
Mr. DICK: No. You know, in my interviews I've been told stories where - of people who would have - of a man who would have sex with another man, and then immediately afterward he'd turn to his partner and say, I'm not gay. I mean the denial was quite incredible.
I think there are other politicians, though, who are very skilled at living that double life. I mean Mark Foley, for example, who lived somewhat of an out life personally, although politically he didn't, I think was a person, was and is a person who's very accepting of his own homosexuality.
So it really spans the gamut here. And again, this is what made for such interesting material psychologically, is there was such a range of different kinds of approaches to this.
GROSS: Do you know if any of the closeted gay politicians who were outed changed their voting patterns after being outed?
Mr. DICK: Actually, yes. Certainly Mark Foley did. Mark Foley, there was sort of a small outing of him in the late '90s, and shortly after that he's had - since then he's had a very positive, pro-gay voting record. The same is true with Congressman, former Congressman Jim Colby of Arizona. Once he came out, his voting record, his pro-gay voting record, was very strong.
So it's a very common thing, because again, they no longer need to protect the closet. They can - in fact, I think if they voted anti-gay and were gay, a lot of people would say what's going on here? I mean, I know I would.
I mean why is somebody in power voting against who they are? I mean, there would be something I think almost twisted about that. So - but the real reason they do is because that's what they believe, and they finally have the opportunity to vote the way they believe.
GROSS: So did making this film affect your gaydar?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DICK: It did, it did.
GROSS: Raise your sensitivity level?
Mr. DICK: It did. I think, you know, I had pretty decent gaydar, you know, living in Los Angeles. But no, it's much more refined. It's very funny you say that, because I find myself identifying people as gay that I know two years ago I wouldn't.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: What's the secret?
Mr. DICK: You know, I just - I guess immersion, and you know, it's - I mean, one of the pleasures of making this film was - I mean, these are - many of my interview - all of my interview subjects, you know, were very experienced and very articulate. But this was also a very important personal issue for them. I mean - and they had lived this life, as I said, many of them had been closeted, and many of them had seen the toll of the closet. And they had thought about this. There'd been a meditation. So in many ways the themes of this film were being handed to me by people who had thought about them for 20-plus years.
GROSS: Well, Kirby Dick, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. DICK: Thank you.
GROSS: Kirby Dick is the director of the new documentary "Outrage." It opens Friday. Coming up, Dan Gurley talks about what it was like to be outed. He's the former field director of the Republican National Committee. This is FRESH AIR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.