Merv Griffin was gay. There. Is that plain enough for ya? No gossip, no scandal, no snickering behind the back. Just reality. Why should that be so uncomfortable to contemplate? Why is it so difficult to write? Why are we still so jittery even about raising the issue in purportedly liberal-minded Hollywood, in 2007?
That column was taken off Past Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter's website briefly before being restored a few hours later. Reuters, which provides Richmond's column on its wire service, also struck the column, but chose not to restore it, stating "We have dropped the story from our entertainment news feed as it did not meet our standards for news."
In today's Past Deadline ("Setting the Record Straight [So to Speak] on My Merv Griffin Uproar"), Richmond addresses the dustup:
What I continue to wrestle with is the whole question of how such a gentle, respectful utterance could provoke such a severe and polarizing reaction. I naturally acknowledge that there are two ways of looking at this, and one is that I had no right to override Griffin's personal decision to keep his private life his own business. I opted instead to err on the side of truth and candor, with the idea that disclosing Merv's being gay can't personally impact him after death and -- unless we attach shame to it -- ought not to taint his legacy in any way. I still firmly believe that and would retract nothing I wrote in the column.
I spoke to Richmond this morning by phone.
Q. Reuters said that it dropped your story from its newsfeed because it didn’t meet their standard for news. Have any of your other columns not met their standard for news?
Ray Richmond: No. I believe this is the first. My guess is that they got some kind of heat from some high-up source. Who knows what their reasons were. It’s baffling to me, because suddenly their editorial standards 'evolved' over a few hours. But it underscored the point of the column, which is how discussing these things makes everybody in the media squeamish. The mainstream is baffled as to how to handle it.
Q. Did anyone from Reuters contact you about the column?
No. I’ve never spoken to anyone from Reuters. Ever. Period. I still think this was the same respectful tone I used in my other Griffin columns. I don’t think this suddenly became TMZ territory. Even TMZ isn’t writing about this.
Q. Have you heard from Harvey Levin or anyone at TMZ?
I have not.
Q. Did you or any of your editors talk to Reuters about the column being pulled?
I have no information about my people at the Reporter discussing it with them. They did not contact me; I did not contact them after the fact. I would’ve told them: I believe this meets your standards for news. It remains baffling -- and a bit disturbing -- why it suddenly became unfit.
None of the people you just mentioned, no. The only mainstream, quote-unquote, source that seemed to be on top of this was Editor & Publisher, which is a sister publication of The Hollywood Reporter, and a longtime, respected journalistic trade. I applaud Editor & Publisher for covering this.
Q. So Felling wrote his column without contacting you at all? [On August 21, Felling blogged about the flap on Public Eye in an entry titled "Two Bits About Obits," which began with the words "Who has the right to decide what belongs in an obituary?" which not only mischaracterized an opinion column as an obituary, but went on to misidentify Richmond, who had worked on The Merv Griffin Show, as a "long-time friend" of Griffin's. Felling, the former media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs, didn't respond to two emailed requests for comment.]
I never received a phone call or email myself.
Q. Has the Reporter changed its editorial or vetting process on your columns?
I’m not sure. Again, all of this happened while we were between editors. Elizabeth Guider, our new editor, was not starting until August 27, and she was out of town when it happened. She did an admirable job, considering how this descended on her. She made all the right moves and I applaud her. I'm not sure what the feeling was internally -- but I’m proud of the Reporter for standing behind it. I hope this is something of an example for how a touchy issue can be handled in the mainstream media with tact, diplomacy, and candor.
Q. Was your job ever in jeopardy?
I don’t belive it was ever in jeopardy. I was quite concerned, but there were no threats, no rumors, nothing to that effect. Look, I certainly understand you can't work for a newspaper whose bread and butter is working with Hollywood; you can’t alienate too many people and still work for a Hollywood trade. I get that. There was some legitimate heat that the Reporter had to handle and deflect. They did precisely the right thing by not backing down. They remained on solid ground.
Q. Past Deadline has the appearance of a personal blog, so I was surprised to find out that it’s owned by The Hollywood Reporter. Does that bother you or raise any ethical questions to you?
No. I’m simply someone who is hired to maintain Past Deadline. There is another contributor, Barry Garron. It was their creation, and it does belong to the Reporter. They have say over the content. I have never been censored or edited or told what to write or had anything deleted [before this]. I have great freedom.
Q. Have you heard from anyone representing Merv Griffin’s estate or interests?
I have heard from no one connected with Merv Griffin at all.
Q. Is it true, as it’s been reported, that Griffin’s people pulled a planned tribute ad out of The Hollywood Reporter after your column appeared?
I believe that to have been the case. But my superiors were concerned that they didn’t want to alienate the Griffin estate or his heirs, so an in-house tribute was contructed to assure that Griffin’s people that this wasn’t a personal attack or vendetta. [A tribute to Merv Griffin ran in last Monday’s print edition of The Hollywood Reporter.] It was just the opinion of one person, not an editorial policy at the paper. I didn’t want the appearance of any sort of negativity. Again, I had great affection...I have great affection for Merv Griffin.
Q. Ray, if you think this was an important thing to do, why didn’t you do it when Merv Griffin was alive?
I believe that this was his...I think it’s different when someone is deceased. One could maintain that this could’ve impacted his life and business, but once they’re dead, that concern isn’t there [sic]. I don’t believe his legacy has been tainted in the slightest, and I don’t believe this harms his reputation. I didn’t want to embarrass the man with something he didn’t want to discuss, but it’s a legitimate discussion.
Q. You’ve got kids. If one of them was gay, and became a public figure, do you think that a columnist would have the right to 'out' your child?
Um. [Long pause] I would like to think that if I had a child who was gay, they would not keep it a secret. But if they’re a public figure…those are the breaks. I wouldn’t necessarily be happy about it, but I couldn’t dispute it on journalistic grounds. My column was not malicious. The tone would make a huge difference to me. If there was malice, that would be a different issue entirely.
Q. Has anyone criticized the veracity of what you reported in your original column?
No. Some people have said ‘you weren’t there, so how could you know?,’ but no one has specifically said this is untrue or you are making this up. The veracity of it is not an issue.