Photo Ethics: Kagan at the Bat

The Wall Street Journal is being assailed by some gay and lesbian advocates for running an old photo of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, bat raised, waiting for a pitch in a softball game. “It clearly is an allusion to her being gay. It’s just too easy a punch line,” said Cathy Renna, a former spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation who is now a consultant. “The question from a journalistic perspective is whether it’s a descriptive representation of who she might be as a judge.”


1. Since when is playing softball any indication that a woman is gay? I thought Title 9 had obliterated such silly stereotypes. But even before Title 9, softball was never a considered a gay pursuit or even an unfeminine one. In fact, until it gained popularity a few decades ago as a male and co-ed sport, softball was often thought of the female alternative to baseball.

2. Kagan has never declared herself to be gay, and the White House has explicitly said that she isn’t gay.

3. Who cares whether she’s gay or not?

What this episode demonstrates is the tendency to attribute unethical motives to political adversaries, when underlying  circumstances would never suggest such motives to a fair or objective observer. Would any gay groups find the publication of such a photo sinister or inappropriate if the newspaper was the New York Times? The San Francisco Chronicle? Never.

Those who have made this absurd accusation revealed themselves to be unfair and disrespectful of a distinguished and journalistically responsible publication, in addition to being paranoid and inept. The accusation has done far more to raise questions about Kagan’s sexual orientation than the photograph could have ever done.

“If you turn the photo upside down, reverse the pixilation and simultaneously listen to Abbey Road backwards, while reading Roland Barthes, you will indeed find a very subtle hidden message,” said Journal spokeswoman Ashley Huston.

Excellent response.

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