The former Atlantic journalist Marc Ambinder, who is openly gay, tells Robert Wright that being part of the “gay mafia” in Washington helped him break stories. Why? Because, he says, influential gay people in the “brotherhood” in DC passed information on to him, simply because he was a trusted part of their network.

The only thing interesting about this is that we have gone rather quickly from a culture in which being gay could have destroyed, or at least greatly hindered, your career as a Washington journalist to one in which it is a positive benefit. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, it’s completely normal for information and privileges to travel throughout networks. When I worked for National Review and the New York Post, I was at times privy to information that came to me because I was known as a conservative Catholic. When I was an employee of NR, a prominent conservative writer — a non-Catholic — complained to me at a social gathering that my secular magazine had a “Catholic mafia” air about it. I thought he was more wrong than right, but he wasn’t entirely wrong about that. It is also true that Jews are disproportionately (relative to the general population) in positions of power in the film business. I don’t have a problem with that, either. I agree with Time columnist Joel Stein, who wrote:

As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment. Yes, we control Hollywood. Without us, you’d be flipping between “The 700 Club” and “Davey and Goliath” on TV all day.

What’s interesting — and this is a delicate point Stein’s column touched on — is how sensitive people can be about recognizing facts like this in public. As ADL chief Abe Foxman told Stein:

… he is proud of the accomplishments of American Jews. “I think Jews are disproportionately represented in the creative industry. They’re disproportionate as lawyers and probably medicine here as well,” he said. He argues that this does not mean that Jews make pro-Jewish movies any more than they do pro-Jewish surgery.

Agreed. Who cares if Jews are disproportionately represented, as long as they play fair? Congratulations to them! But it’s interesting how people are willing to take pride in their group (Jews, gays, blacks, Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Hindus, whoever) having acquired a certain degree of power, but then wish to deny that that power means anything. I knew nothing about any sort of DC gay mafia until Ambinder brought it up, but again, it’s not surprising. The question is not “does such a group exist?”, but rather “how does it exercise its power and influence?” Within the Catholic priesthood, the so-called “lavender mafia” — the phrase was coined by the liberal priest-sociologist Father Andrew Greeley — certainly exists, and is powerful. It arguably has not used its influence for the good of the Church.

But this is not an argument it’s possible to have, because people sympathetic to gays in the priesthood worry that talking about it at all would only cause gay priests to be stigmatized. One result: conservatives who are willing to talk about it have their biases confirmed by liberals’ taboo on discussing it. Similarly, the US media are afraid that writing honestly and thoroughly about radical thought within the US Muslim community will inspire some redneck somewhere to think ill of Muslims. So coverage is dishonest, and people are left with their biases — both pro-Muslim and anti-Muslim — unexamined.

In the American public square, we are permitted to talk about minority group influence if it reflects well upon those minority groups — and if not, not. Unless those minority groups are Mormons or members of some other socially conservative demographic, in which case their “stealth takeover” of this or that office, institution, etc., must be examined and deplored. Oh, and unless they are white males, in which case their overrepresentation in corporate leadership, among the ranks of firefighters, and so forth, is an enduring social problem. For example, NASCAR’s overwhelming whiteness is a problem; the NBA’s overwhelming blackness is not.

It’s important to keep all of this straight. So to speak.

Of course, one man’s hegemony is another man’s normal order of things. I remember talking once to a white voter in a particular constituency I was writing about. He complained that “the blacks around here will only vote for one of their own.” The idea being that blacks were unthinking robots. When I asked him if he would ever vote for a black candidate, he got all fumbly with his words, and said that, um, yes, he would consider it, but that so far, there had never been a black candidate worth voting for. Possibly so, but I thought it far more likely that this guy was every bit as closed-minded as the blacks he criticized; it’s just that his closed-mindedness and rally-round-the-tribe behavior was normative in his mind.

Hey commenters, let’s talk about this topic, but if anybody wants to engage in malign conspiracy theorizing or racism, it won’t be published.