A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

Everyone knows that Anderson Cooper is gay. The moments after the CNN anchor officially came out of the closet this morning were like an "over-it" contest on Twitter — a chance to see who could be the least surprised by the news.

But it wasn't always that way.

By the end of last year, even The New York Times was winking and nudging its way through pieces on Cooper. But ten years ago the Vanderbilt scion's sexuality was an "open secret" mostly just in a few New York City gay communities and media circles. The rest of the world didn't really have a clue. Cooper never lied about being gay, and maintained a fairly public romantic life around the city — which is possibly why Metrosource, the gay lifestyle magazine that was, from what I can tell, the first publication to out Cooper, described him as "openly gay" in 2003 — but he also never acknowledged being gay on air or in the press.

But where mainstream print publications feared to tread, gay outlets and gossip blogs were setting up shop. Michael Musto's Village Voice column has been discussing Cooper's sexuality, and urging him out of the closet, since at least 2003 ("I definitely remember being the only one going there," he told me in an email); Gawker, and its sister publications, have been reporting on the anchor and his love life since around the same time. The open acknowledgment online of "secrets" like Cooper's sexuality gave an opening for mainstream publications like the Times and Entertainment Weekly to discuss it — albeit sometimes in indirect ways — until it went from an open secret among some New York gays and journalists to an open secret among most gays and journalists to an open secret that, well, everyone knew.

And it only took a decade! Here are some of the highlights along the way:

A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"I guess NOW he is!"
Metrosource magazine, November 2003
New York gay lifestyle magazine Metrosource becomes by all accounts the first publication to out Cooper, calling him "openly gay." The Village Voice's Michael Musto responds: "I guess NOW he is!"


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

Off the Record
The New York Observer, March 2004
Choire Sicha's 2004 profile of Cooper avoids discussion of the anchor's personal life. Not that he didn't ask. In an email this afternoon, Sicha explained the circumstances:

ugh i kinda don't wanna get into it. but!

my then-Observer factchecker (Elon Green!) just emailed me though and it was pretty funny. ("At the time, I knew nothing about Cooper, beyond the fact of his famous mother. For factchecking purposes, you'd kindly provided a transcript of your interview. It was all pretty standard, nothing terribly probing. But then you asked him something like, How does it feel to be an icon among gay men? To which he replied that he would like to go off the record.")

Pretty sure that's not what i asked him at all (my question was also terrible and not very probing and stuttering, because CNN had told me that I should not ask about his personal life and I got nervous) but yeah we did go to an off the record place.


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"Anderson's Pronoun Problem"
CNN, Wonkette, Gawker, November/December 2004
Wonkette's Ana Marie Cox notes a CNN transcript of a Cooper interview with Jerry Falwell in which Cooper the silver fox seems to out himself:

COOPER: But there are a lot of gay families out there, Reverend Falwell, there are a lot of gay families out there. I think there are like a million kids being raised by gay parents who say that if you want to protect families, you know, civil unions will give inheritance rights, will give Social Security, survivor benefits rights to…
FALWELL: Anderson, that's all a red herring. If you want to leave something to your cat, you can do that in your will…
COOPER: It's not a red herring. That's simply not true. It's not true. You know we pay taxes.

Jess Coen, then at Gawker, follows up with Cooper by email; in reply, he writes, "Regarding your question, the transcript is incorrect. I said, 'you.'" (He also offers to send a copy of the tape.) The transcript is corrected, and Cox's review of the actual video confirms that it was just a transcriber's (Freudian?) error.

Reached by email today, Cox say: "I really don't think that's 'outing,' tho. 'We pay taxes' would have been funny, maybe even funnier, if Wolf Blitzer said it. [...] I won't pretend that the 'open secret' about Cooper being gay doesn't add to the snigger factor, the same way a lot of comedy builds upon what is supposedly conventional wisdom but really is a kind of pool of arguable knowledge [...] Call it 'outing' if you want to, but I say it's a tax."


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"A delicate high-wire dance"
Out Magazine, April 2005
In a long Out piece about Cooper's public persona, Musto calls Cooper "out but in but himself but guarded but definitely gray. I mean gay." The piece gets a big response — Musto devotes a Voice column to the mail it generated, and the New York Daily News' Ben Widdicombe asks Cooper if he has any comment. "No," Cooper responds. Later that month, he appears on Conan O'Brian's talk show and professes his love for My Super Sweet Sixteen. "Oh, poor Andy," Coen writes. "He's so far out of the closet, not even CNN's most iron-fisted publicists will be able to shove him back in."


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"I don't talk about my personal life"
New York, September 2005
Following Musto's Out article, the question apparently becomes fair game, and New York's Jonathan Van Meter asks Cooper directly while writing a profile:

When I bring up the sexuality issue with Cooper, he says, "You know, I understand why people might be interested. But I just don't talk about my personal life. It's a decision I made a long time ago, before I ever even knew anyone would be interested in my personal life. The whole thing about being a reporter is that you're supposed to be an observer and to be able to adapt with any group you're in, and I don't want to do anything that threatens that."

He gives a similar answer to Multi-Channel News' Tom Steinert-Threlkeld in November:

MCN: In that light, one of the things people have been asking about Anderson Cooper is, are you gay?
AC: I don't talk about my personal life.

At this point, Gawker is running around one Anderson Cooper gay joke post a week. An unearthed Details (ahem) column about going gray is fodder for both Alex Pareene and Matt Drudge.


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"I guess that makes Anderson Cooper gay, too."
New York Post, July 2006
The Post reports on a joke cut from an ABC sitcom (for reasons, apparently, of length):

The show, "Help Me Help You," stars Ted Danson as a troubled psychotherapist who has a patient (played by Jim Rash) who is described as a "self-avowed metro-sexual who is in serious denial that he might possibly be gay."

In a tape of the show sent to critics, the character whines, "I'm gay. I'm super gay. And I guess that makes Anderson Cooper gay, too."

"They [producers] just kept saying, 'Just keep improvising names that could be gay,' " Rash told TV critics this week.

Rash, who plays the sexually-ambiguous Dean Pelton on NBC's Community, won an Oscar last year for his screenplay for The Descendants.


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

The Second-Most Powerful Gay Man in America
Out, May 2007
Musto goes back to the well with an Out piece about the "glass closet — that complex but popular contraption that allows public figures to avoid the career repercussions of any personal disclosure while living their lives with a certain degree of integrity." On the cover, a model in a pin-striped suit holds an Anderson Cooper mask in front of his face; inside the issue, Cooper is named the second-most powerful gay man in America (behind David Geffen, natch).


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"Anderson Cooper Is a Giant Homosexual and Everyone Knows It"
Gawker, October 2009
After the Post runs a not-very-thinly-veiled-at-all item about Cooper's vacation, Brian Moylan declares an end to the winky jokes:

Enough: Anderson Cooper is very gay. It's time he said it. [...] Saying Cooper is gay is no longer a scoop. It's not a scandal. Even the humor involved in all the clever winking and nodding is past its expiration date. [...] Cooper's see-through closet is such a joke that it doesn't make sense to call him in the closet anymore. If he won't say it, we will: Anderson Cooper is officially out.

The post gets over 500,000 pageviews, making it Gawker's most popular Cooper post by far. Moylan writes a follow-up about Cooper's boyfriend Benjamin Maisani.


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"Mr. Cooper is opening up about everything, almost."
New York Times, September 2011
In what's the high-water mark for mainstream, respectable acknowledgment of Cooper's sexuality, Alessandra Stanley all but calls him gay while reviewing his new daytime talk show:

Mr. Cooper is opening up about everything, almost. [...] The one thing he hasn't done yet - and the lacuna grows more obvious and awkward with each show - is talk about his love life. It's hard to see how he can continue to leave that out selectively and preserve one particular zone of privacy while building a confessional talk show wrapped around his good looks, high spirits and glamorous adventures. [...] Gossip magazines like Us and People, and Web sites like TMZ.com follow his exploits, but he has so far managed to avoid mainstream prying. [...] The whole thing about being a talk show host is that you stop observing and make a spectacle of yourself, and that usually entails losing control over what you disclose and what you hold back. "Anderson" raises the question of whether Anderson is quite ready for that, and its success may hinge on the answer.

A few months later, Moylan reports that the show is prepping a "coming-out episode" in an attempt to juice ratings. It never comes to fruition.


A History of Anderson Cooper's Open Secret

"By the Way, We're Gay"
Entertainment Weekly, July 2012
Mark Harris' cover story about "casually" out stars like Neil Patrick Harris and Jim Parsons offhandedly mentions Cooper to illustrate the idea of the "glass closet." (A similar, earlier New York Observer article focuses on Cooper in particular.) Andrew Sullivan emails Cooper to "ask him for his feedback on this subject, for reasons that are probably obvious to most," and Cooper responds (in part) "The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud."

And, boom, nine years later, Metrosource is accurate.