ABC's 2-Day 'Coming Out' Party for Clay Aiken

During a two-day “exclusive” interview, ABC's Good Morning America devoted nearly fourteen minutes of air time to discussing former American Idol runner up Clay Aiken's decision, now that he is a father, to tell the world he is gay.

The interview aired for a cumulative 13 minutes and 55 seconds on the September 25 and 26 broadcasts.  Next to presidential candidates it is hard to think of any other people who have been given so much valuable broadcast real estate on GMA.

Aiken announced to GMA's Diane Sawyer that it's easier to raise a child when you're friends but not married, and within the next decade “most people” will change their opinions and beliefs about homosexuality.  For her part, Sawyer described the world as “judgmental.”

GMA frequently provides a bully pulpit for proponents of non-traditional sexual lifestyles.  The show gave more coverage than any other to pregnant “man” Thomas Beattie, and has done stories on the “gay gene” and features on transgendered people.  GMA asks very few, if any, critical questions during these stories. The two-day Clay is Gay feature fit that mold.

Sawyer asked Aiken nothing but softball questions, providing him an unchallenged platform to promote his lifestyle.  In fact, ABC contributed to Aiken's efforts by playing video footage of Aiken holding and singing to his six-week-old son Parker during much of the interview. Sawyer's interview was more coddling than journalism. 

DIANE SAWYER: Despite all the rumors and speculation, he's always tried to hold on to a private life. Today, that changes. He came by yesterday, the exuberant, young man. And if you're expecting somebody brooding and tormented, you just don't know Clay Aiken.

VIDEO (Aiken sings to his son)

SAWYER: A father sings a lullaby to his 6-week-old son, the baby that has brought him to this day, the new chapter in his life. Remember five years ago, the special ed teacher from North Carolina? Clay Aiken, on "American Idol." … His story became a triumph. He sold 6 million albums and has a rapt, middle-aged female following. But he says a little boy who knows nothing yet about a judgmental world is the reason he came to talk to us. He began, by telling me about the mother of the baby, Jaymes Foster, music producer and long-time friend.

CLAY AIKEN: She was ending a relationship, a marriage that she had been in for over 20 years. She had always wanted kids. I always wanted kids. Being a gay man, it wasn't something for me that was going to be an option anyway.

SAWYER: You kinda' buried a lead there.

AIKEN (laughing):  Did I?

SAWYER: You decided to speak out now.

While Sawyer called the interview an “exclusive,” Aiken's announcement that he is homosexual is also the cover story for People magazine.

On Day One of Aiken's GMA-sponsored coming out party, Sawyer seemed concerned about the “suffering” Aiken must have endured as he came to terms with being gay.  She didn't believe the answer he gave.

SAWYER: There must have been suffering in the beginning, when you are grappling with it.

AIKEN: For me?

SAWYER:  Yeah because no kid deals easily with something they know is charged.

AIKEN: Well, I've always been pretty stubborn. And I've always thought that um, uh I could handle more than most people could. But I think, for the first --

SAWYER:  I don't believe you. Again, I don't believe you.

Sawyer also asked about the difficulty in telling his parents and whether he was concerned about his fans. It was here that Aiken said he believed America will have a different attitude about gay people within the next ten years and that it is just the older generation that has problems with homosexuality.

AIKEN: …it was probably harder for me to tell my younger brother than anybody in the world. I cried and cried and cried. And when I was done, he said, “Okay. Is that really it?” And then, we walked out of the room and it was it. I look at people, like my brother and his friends, who are really -- they're really, I get the stereotypical, you know, tough guy marines, who all know. And none of them care. And it gives me a lot of hope for the next several years, the next decade. My son's lifetime, where, you know, I think most people will be in a different place, with their opinions and their beliefs. But at the same time, you know, my grandmother, my mother, my people who are of an older generation, you know, it's not my place to tell them that they're wrong. I wouldn't want them telling me I'm wrong. At the same time, I'm not going to tell them they're wrong.

Aiken is an extremely sympathetic and unassuming character.  In fact he came across so likeably in his appearance on GMA that he probably advanced the ball considerably down the liberal “everybody should be ok with homosexuality” field.  And given GMA's proclivity toward this particular worldview, it isn't hard to see why they gave Aiken such a spotlight.

Day Two of the Aiken interview focused on his new role as dad.  Again Sawyer lobbed softballs despite the unconventional parenting relationship (his son was conceived through artificial insemination) and the fact that Aiken marginalized the importance of marriage during the interview. 

SAWYER: How did you decide to do this?

AIKEN: It was something we discussed, kind of as a joke, initially. But over the course of a year, we really just decided.  It's unconventional, of course. We're not crazy enough to think it's not unconventional. I grew up in a situation where my mother, and my birth father, you know, there was no relationship there. And grew up with a stepfather, who I've talked about having having some -- a more strange relationship with. And grew up perfectly fine. And there are kids who have much worse situations. So, two parents who love each other, as Jaymes and I do love each other. And who love their son. We think that's just about as healthy as it can get.

SAWYER:  Do you think it's almost easier because you are friends who love each other…

AIKEN: I think it is. I think it is easier.

SAWYER: …rather than being married.

AIKEN: The truth is, eventually somebody gives in. Just like any relationship. There's nothing different about it, in my opinion, except for the fact we're not married. … If we ever do disagree, we don't have that heart string tug thing going on.

Aiken told Sawyer that he and Foster live together and their son is their priority.  He wants to raise Parker in the same North Carolina environment in which he was raised.  Aiken talked about religious stereotyping and again intimated that he believes people will stop viewing homosexuality as wrong or sinful.

AIKEN: … it's interesting because I grew up Southern Baptist. And I still consider myself one. But there's a stereotype that Christians and people who are religious, are completely anti-gay, anti-this, anti-that. And I hate that. I hate that stereotype because I know so many people who are Christians. I still am myself, who are that and don't represent -- and are not representative of that stereotype.  … But I still love it where I'm from. And I love the people in North Carolina. And I'm not leaving. I want my son to be raised in the same place. Because I think, like I said, I have an inordinate amount of hope. And I have an amazing amount of faith in Americans and society, and the people who I grew up with and everywhere.

The argument can be made that Aiken's celebrity status and decision to come out of the closet and his status as a new father make his story “newsworthy” for a morning show.  But GMA's decision to give Aiken's tale such a strong and sympathetic spotlight shows an unmistakable liberal bias.  It is hard to imagine the producers giving the same amount of deferential coverage to the defense of traditional marriage, research on the effects of children whose parents are gay, critics of the homosexual lifestyle or “ex-gays,” those who have left homosexuality. 

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.