Matt Lauer and Celebrity “Outing”

Cross posted from The Faculty Lounge.
So while enjoying the guilty pleasure of watching the Today show at a hotel room yesterday morning, I – along with the rest of the world – heard the public declaration from favorite Family Ties mom, Meredith Baxter, that she is now officially coming out as a lesbian.  Extract from story here.

What intrigued me about this was not that she is gay, nor that she chose to come out publicly (apparently prompted by threats of exposure from the tabloid press).  I was interested in her choice of venue and interviewer for this news.  Why Matt Lauer?  Wouldn’t Ellen or Oprah have been more to the point?  Or even “The View”?  Or am I gender stereotyping by thinking that?

I’m not trying to say that she should talk to female rather than male reporters about being gay, but Matt Lauer as a person just doesn’t strike me as the obvious choice for this kind of story.  I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly why though.  Baxter was obviously happy with her choice of interviewers as she closed the session by saying to him:  “Thank you for being the guy.”

I guess I should end my obsession with pop culture and start thinking about more “legal” issues.  But the pop culture has been interesting me lately because I’ve been thinking so much about personality rights law.  In the context of this kind of interview, one does see an undercurrent of a sense that some celebrities want a right to control their public persona not for commercial gain (as much right of publicity theory suggests), but out of a sense of control of aspects of their personhood and personal dignity.  I have long suspected that the right of publicity, if it should exist at all, should be more than just a commercial property right.

One thought on “Matt Lauer and Celebrity “Outing”

  1. Some of us remember Meredith Baxter from her pre-Family Ties celebrity and still have a difficult time picturing her as a mom. And her sexual orientation has been an open “secret” for many years. It’s just that she’s been out of the public eye for a long time.

    So my guess is that the appearance had virtually nothing to do with the alleged “outing” or “self-outing” — which wasn’t and isn’t newsworthy or worth discussing at all (Today, Oprah, Ellen, The View, Rachel Ray, whatever) — and all about re-introducing Meredith Baxter as a performer. I don’t know where she’s planning to go with this. I just think that it’s a bid for attention from casting directors. The “Today” branding message is “Meredith Baxter is normal” and “acceptable to Middle America,” in a somewhat muddled McLuhan-esque way. (We need an IP/tech angle, right?!)

    It’s interesting to compare her PR strategy to the strategy used this week by Tiger Woods, whose brand is on the line in a much more significant way. Tiger is the brand, the brand is Tiger – a walking, talking paragon of reliability. That’s why he used to endorse Oldsmobile. How did Tiger get the word out about his responsibility for his car crash and what led up to it? With a non-denial denial on his website – no TV appearance, no Twitter statement, no Facebook update. In McLuhan’s framework, Tiger went hot, I think; Baxter went cool. Justly so; he has a lot more riding on this week’s events, and on public reaction.

    My guess is that it won’t hold. Why didn’t Elin just use a key to get Tiger out of the car? Didn’t she have one? My bet is that she aced the window of the Escalade before the vehicle made the turn out of the driveway.

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