There doesn't seem to be much doubt that both Sullivan and Christy have done what they're being accused of doing -- it's an element of any good scandal that the culprit be caught dead to rights.
In each instance, there was a kind of sting operation. Other gay journalists contacted Sullivan through his Web personals to confirm his identity (Sullivan has subsequently admitted to most of the gory details); an ad hoc unit of the Hollywood Reporter staff got the goods on Christy.
The odd thing is that neither man was doing much to hide what he's now been fingered for. For each of them, the problematic behavior was, in some sense, his professional stock-in-trade.
In Sullivan's case, he was exposed for something that he discusses freely. He cruises. He's proud of being well known in gay bars across Washington. Before you know it, when you're with him, he'll be talking about leather stuff. He's written, too, about unprotected sex between HIV-positive partners -- he's in favor of it and has a strenuous point of view about its relative safety. He's not keeping many secrets. Of course, his enemies argue that he's intellectually dishonest -- but that's different from being actually dishonest.
Still, the in flagrante delicto Web pages, which were enterprisingly saved and reposted by his detractors, are a fleshy corpus: "killer muscle ass that loves to milk loads with my power glutes." Not exactly gay pride, but strong porn-writing skills. With pictures too: a fabulously muscled, thick-necked headless torso -- which will make an ideal book cover when the story is told. (We may just be on the verge of understanding what an incredible kink-catcher the Web can be -- a Web page becomes the misdelivered letter in a Restoration comedy.)
As for Christy, he was exposed for doing a low-rent version of what almost every reporter covering the movie business does: get stroked and handled and coddled by the studios (if you don't submit, you get cut off). A Cartier pen? An Armani suit? Christy may be the cheapest date in motion-picture history. Okay, some of what Christy allegedly did may have been illegal. He's accused of taking kickbacks involving no-show acting jobs, which allowed him to receive union health insurance. But how unusual do you think this is in an uninsured freelance town?
Neither scandal was a slam dunk -- it took major strategizing and cunning to get both of them into print. In the Christy case, any reporter would reasonably ask, why now? The man is geriatric (so much so that it's impossible to confirm his exact age) and he's been in the studio pocket for his entire career. In the Sullivan case, the difficulty should have been getting anyone with a lawyer to publish such unconfirmed stuff. (Yes, Sullivan more or less confirmed it, but not until it was all over the place.)
Weeks ago, editors at some of the publications Sullivan worked for received e-mails directing them to Sullivan's bareback Web pages, which created the effect, when those publications didn't fire him or investigate him or censure him, of a cover-up -- which then became the pretext to circulate the e-mail to the media engaged in the business of monitoring the media. (When I first heard about this, the angle was about the Times' malfeasance -- the Times knew but was protecting him.) Within a few days, news of the Sullivan Web pages made it into Michael Musto's Village Voice gossip column. Then a local throwaway gay paper, LGNY, ran a story by Sullivan antagonist Michelangelo Signorile, and also posted it on its Website. Signorile, a name brand in gay controversies (scandals, like everything else, need brand association), was keenly attuned to the process, explaining in a Web interview: "I sort of thought it would get linked and e-mailed around the gay media world. Already, everybody at the New York Times knew about this because it got to gay people there. And now that Andrew has responded, it does give more leeway to some other papers, in terms of maybe covering it from a media angle."
The Christy case broke open when a staffer at The Hollywood Reporter quit (followed by two of the paper's editors) because the paper would not run his investigation of Christy's conflicts (which would be, if you think about it, like a New York Times reporter expecting the Times to run a story investigating, say, Maureen Dowd). The Hollywood Reporter's refusal to print the story promptly became the story. The reporter in question was then hired by Inside.com, a competitor of The Hollywood Reporter, which then published the story not merely as a scandal story but as a media-business story.
Still, up until this moment, you have a gay-press story (such stories seldom make it to the straight press), and a Hollywood business story (most don't leave Hollywood). The transforming element was the linking of each of these stories on Romenesko's MediaNews. Romenesko, because all he does is link, has come to be thought of as the ultimate honest broker. What's more, because his site is targeted at the media industry, it is, effectively, wire-service-like in its reach. Once posted here, the scandals were airborne.
Of course, because we are the media and we understand both the figures in the scandal and the operation of the scandal, nobody is really shocked. It's scandal, but nobody is scandalized. It's ritualized. It's something close to parliamentarian maneuvering. It's procedural. It's blocking, it's checking. It's basic, close-quarter back-stabbing. It's a communist cell, or a college English department. It's backroom stuff carried out in public -- with the public itself being irrelevant to the dispute and uninterested in it. It's a media thing. We're on some meta level of hypocrisy.
Still, the question is whether Andrew Sullivan and George Christy should be punished. And what exactly are they being punished for?
They embarrass us, I suppose is the point.