Why Is Gawker Stalking Shepard Smith’s Alleged Boyfriend?

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Oct. 25 2013 5:44 PM

Why Is Gawker Stalking Shepard Smith’s Alleged Boyfriend?

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Shepard Smith, Gay Puppetmaster ( ... according to Gawker).

Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Not being a closet-gossip detective by constitution, I’m loath to draw further attention to Gawker’s current obsession with Fox News anchor Shepard Smith and the widely held understanding that he is gay. But today’s entry in the saga by J.K Trotter is so misguided (not to mention creepy, stalkerish, and almost uniformly unpopular even with Gawker commenters) that a response is necessary.

If you missed the beginning of this crusade, check out Mark Joseph Stern’s response to Trotter’s original weird, apropos-of-nothing, pseudo-outing from earlier this week: The short version is that a waitress claims that last March Smith was rude to her in a bar while sitting with a younger man who she and others claim is his boyfriend. Fascinating and surprising stuff, right? Like Mark, I’m unsure what purpose this story was intended to serve, but regardless, one left the post wondering why Trotter held so much disdain (decorated cutely, of course, in dry journalese) for a man who is pretty much the only person at Fox News who isn’t homophobic and actually tries to counter the network’s hate speech from time to time.

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But catching Smith in an admittedly nasty moment appears not to have been enough for Trotter. His post today is a trenchant investigation of the alleged boyfriend, 26-year-old Giovanni Graziano, and the circumstances of his involvement with Smith. After cleverly summoning the specter of INCEST (because Fox News is said to be like a “family”), Trotter details how Smith met Graziano while the latter was a production assistant on his show, Fox Report With Shepard Smith. According to Trotter’s sources, the two started dating sometime in early 2012, and, due to the possible conflict of interest, Graziano eventually transferred to the Fox Business Network. The rest of the post contains breathless speculation about Graziano’s current state of employment, as well as a thrilling account of Trotter’s failed attempts to contact Smith or the no doubt freaked-out Graziano for comment via telephone, fax, email, text, and every other technology known to man.

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

The way I just presented the story, it reads like a standard office romance, those perhaps ill-advised relationships that nevertheless are handled professionally by countless HR departments every day. But in Trotter’s telling—rife with sleazy, authority-conveying words like “courted,” “arranged,” and “installed”—one is left with the sense that Smith gradually coerced this grown man into a relationship and has since been moving him around like a hunky marionette.

Of course, if some kind of abuse of authority really is at play, this situation might well be worth reporting on. But as Trotter himself repeatedly points out, he cannot confirm any such thing. It is equally (if not more) likely that Graziano and Smith’s relationship is totally consensual and, until the onset of this harassment at least, a joy for both of them.

Now, some people, like Gawker editor John Cook, might argue that the real reason this qualifies as news—even on a self-righteous gossip site—is that intergenerational (office) dating is tsk-tskable. That’s a matter of opinion, but both people here are legal adults, and it’s not clear that Smith, as an anchor, had any direct professional authority over this guy in the first place. And even if he did, by Trotter’s own accounting, the pair did the right, totally typical thing in Graziano’s moving to another department. As to moral judgments of their relationship itself, I couldn’t care less whether Graziano loves Smith for his wicked smile or is taking part in that ancient gay-male institution, sugar-daddy star-fucking. Both are legitimate ways of being in the world.

Until actual evidence of malfeasance comes to light, I say let’s grant this man a little agency in the matter and assume that maybe he wanted to date a rich, powerful dude—for whatever reason—instead of acting like he was whisked into a limo against his will.

And as for the larger exposé, what’s the endgame? Having Smith quit the network? I understand that Trotter may be trying to critique Fox’s homophobia or what he sees as Smith’s hypocritical complicity with it, but I’d rather have Smith there pushing back a little than not there at all. The kind of ideological purity Trotter is implicitly advocating for is exactly the problem with Fox as it is; the departure of Smith is the opposite of what that network needs.