By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire May 11, 2009 at 3:54AM
Kirby Dick's new documentary, "Outrage," continued to skirt controversy and stir debate in its opening weekend in U.S. theaters, particularly among some media circles. As the film opened, NPR trimmed its review of the film, cutting mentions of the American political figures depicted in the movie. Critic Nathan Lee subsequently removed his byline from the article in protest and lodged a comment on the NPR site, which was also quickly removed by NPR executives.
This came amidst a simmering debate about Dick's decision to pursue and name politicians believed to be closeted homosexuals in the film, specifically those whose public voting record counters the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans. And it seems to support charges by Dick, made in the film, that the mainstream media has a history of handling stories of politicians same-sex orientations with kid gloves.
Citing a policy of protecting the privacy of public figures, an NPR superior cut the names of current Florida governor Charlie Crist and former Senator Larry Craig from the review after writer Nathan Lee and his assigning editor at NPR had agreed on the text of the piece. However, a photo of Larry Craig accompanies the review and says that the former Senator is a subject of the documentary. It also hints strongly at the inclusion of Crist in the doc.
Lee was not told of the NPR policy about public figures when he was assigned to review the new film.
"NPR has a long-held policy of trying to respect the privacy of public figures and of not airing or publishing rumors, allegations and reports about their private lives unless there is a compelling reason to do so," Dick Meyer, NPR's executive director of Digital, told indieWIRE late Sunday night. "This may be considered old-fashioned by some, but it is a policy we value and respect. We neglected to inform the author of the 'Outrage' review about this policy when the piece was commissioned, a simple oversight we regret."
"Only an overriding public need to know can justify intrusion into anyone's privacy," the NPR policy, posted on its website.
"The interesting thing is that all this stuff has been out there," explained Eamonn Bowles, head of the film's distributor, Magnolia Pictures, in a conversation with indieWIRE today. He noted that the gay press has been covering these stories for years, but the mainstream media has refused. He added that, while the movie has generated a lot of attention from the press, some mainstream outlets, including two national networks, have declined to cover the allegations in the film.
"It's not about outing," Bowles noted today, reiterating a point being made continuously by filmmaker Kirby Dick (see related indieWIRE interview), "It's about hypocrisy, people are saying one thing and doing another."
"The entire point of 'Outrage' is that there is an 'overriding public need to know' about the kinds of men profiled in 'Outrage'," film critic Nathan Lee told indieWIRE on Sunday, "Let's say Charlie Crist had a record of voting for vigorous anti-immigration policies, and then it was rumored that he employed illegal immigrants. The press would have absolutely no qualms investigating him to the hilt in the public interest of exposing hypocrisy. Why should it be any different in the case of possibly gay public figures who vote against the civil rights of gay people, or, in the case of HIV/AIDS funding, their very life and death?"
At the end of the revised review, NPR added a disclaimer to the piece, "Given the nature of this film's media critique and the NPR editorial policy described above, the writer has asked that his byline be removed from this review."
Upset that his review of "Outrage" was re-cut after he and his editor had agreed on the text, Lee posted a comment at the end of the article on the NPR website. "I asked that my name be removed in protest of NPR's policy of not 'naming names' of closeted or rumored-about politicians - even those who actively suppress gay rights, and thus whose sexual identities are of significant importance to the press," Lee wrote in his comment, posted on Friday night.
It was subsequently removed by NPR superiors.
"I took my name off the review as a matter of principle both as a journalist and an out gay man," Nathan Lee told indieWIRE on Sunday. "Readers of the review should know the reason WHY the name has been redacted, which NPR is not allowing me to do on the comment section, and has made unclear in the disclaimer emended to the review. It has been suggested by one commenter on the site that the author is, in fact, closeted! I felt it important to clarify why the review stands as it does."
"I personally disagree with NPR's policy - there is no other area of 'privacy' that elicits such extreme tact," Lee continued in his comment that was excised from the NPR website. "And also feel that it is a professional affront to my responsibility as a critic to discuss the content of a work of art, and an impingememnt of my first amendment right to free speech and the press."