The plot to out Ronald Reagan

A few days before the Republican convention in Detroit, the Post team regrouped in Washington. Undoubtedly, gay men had played prominent roles in Reagan’s political career. But with the important possible exception of Peter Hannaford, none were expected to hold a job in a potential Reagan administration that would require a security clearance.

As a rule, Bradlee was hesitant to report on the private lives of public officials unless it had a tangible, direct impact on their work. In 1976, explaining his decision to spike a Jack Anderson column divulging details of congressional adultery, Bradlee wrote, “Public persons’ private lives tend to be their own business unless their personal conduct is alleged to violate the law or interfere with performance of the public job.” Just a few months before McCloskey showed up on his doorstep, he had been approached by another congressman, Democrat William Moorhead of Pittsburgh, whose escapades with a transgender prostitute the Post was investigating. A rattled Moorhead “went to Bradlee and pleaded with him not to print the story,” a journalist working at the Post recalled. “Bradlee suppressed it, saying, rightly, that a man’s private sexual entanglements were his own affair.”

While gay sex might still have been illegal in most American states at the time, and gay people officially remained “security risks,” it was hard to see how any of the alleged activity involving the Reagan aides threatened the public trust. “In the end, I can’t remember anyone postulating a lede that made sense of this,” remembered Patrick Tyler. There was smoke but no fire, as Bradlee would tell McCloskey when he saw him at the Republican convention.

The rumors about Jack Kemp, however, persisted.