Were Michael Grimm’s Threats Against a Gay Reporter Homophobic?

You’ve probably seen the video of Congressman Michael Grimm threatening, among things, to “break” NY1 reporter Michael Scotto “in half ... like a boy.” While the men quickly made up, a pressing question remains: Did Grimm humiliate Scotto because he is gay?

It is well known among people who know and work with him that Scotto is gay. “Within the station community it’s pretty well known,” one colleague told Gawker. The 35-year-old political reporter didn’t ask Grimm about anything pertaining to sexuality, so it’s unclear, based only on the video, why Grimm issued a series of insults aimed at questioning Scotto’s masculinity—a common weapon of homophobes seeking to torment and marginalize gay men.

And the point here was to torment Scotto. “You’re not man enough,” Grimm seethes. “You’re not man enough.” And embarrass him, too. You can’t see it in the video, but his colleagues and other reporters were watching the entire thing from a few feet away.

We don’t know whether Grimm was aware of Scotto’s sexuality, and his office didn’t acknowledge our repeated attempts to contact the congressman. The men know each well enough, though. “He and Congressman Grimm have worked together professionally for a while,” NY1’s Washington bureau chief Jennifer Babich told Gawker. “But this is the first time [Grimm has] said anything like this.” (Babich added that the men “have had several interviews” together.) At the very least, they were known quantities to each other.

People close to Scotto weren’t as sure, though. “It looked to me like old-school assholedom that had nothing to do with Michael being gay,” argued a friend of his. “I’d be surprised if Grimm knew.” Babich, his supervisor, added: “I don’t think that was a factor in the confrontation.” Other reporters who know Scotto, all of whom asked not to be identified, shared a similar sentiment.

Yet it remains undeniably true that Grimm abased Scotto in a manner that’s especially toxic toward gay men. It’s also true that, as a career reporter, Scotto has a professional interest in staying out of the story—and staying in the good graces of politicians such as Grimm, on whom NY1 depends for interviews. Everyone involved has an interest in moving on.

They shouldn’t. Grimm’s rushed apology glossed over the very real words that Grimm deployed to keep people like Scotto in their place. If a 35-year-old gay reporter ensconced in the chambers of Congress remains vulnerable to this grade of verbal abuse, this degree of humiliation, then where, exactly, is he safe?