Does it matter if Hernandez was gay?

How does a reporter write about an issue he or she hasn’t covered without explaining what the issue is? It’s a conundrum facing many outlets in the aftermath of the suicide of former New England Patriots star and convicted killer Aaron Hernandez last week.

In the days following Hernandez’s death, there was no end to speculation over why the one-time football prodigy would paint a Bible passage on his forehead, jam his cell door shut to slow rescue attempts, and then wrap a bedsheet around his neck to hang himself on the same day his former team was feted at the White House for its most recent Super Bowl victory.

But by Thursday, the elephant in the room began to knock over furniture as word spread that there were three notes left in his cell: one to his fiancé, one to his 4-year-old daughter, and a third to a fellow inmate.

It started last week with an ex-con who calls himself Rabbit, a regular caller to WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan radio show, who told the hosts he spoke with Hernandez before the suicide and the subject of rumors about his homosexuality came up. It made for entertaining listening if not substantive news.

While an anonymous caller to a morning station can be easily dismissed, that was followed by an interview with former Boston Herald crime reporter Michele McPhee, who’s on speed dial with about half the prison guards in the state. McPhee said she was told the third note was to Hernandez’s gay lover and over the weekend, she penned a piece for Newsweek saying some investigators now believe Hernandez killed Odin Lloyd in 2013 because Lloyd knew about Hernandez’s secret bisexual life.

But all of it was relegated to the tabloids and talk shows, untouched by more mainstream media, including the Boston Globe and the Herald. But the whispers became shouts and there was no way to avoid writing about it. The question for many, though, was how to write about something they clearly had no interest and no facts in reporting before.

Anyone who has only read the Globe’s coverage of the suicide and then the story Monday about a court hearing into releasing the suicide notes can be forgiven if they were confused. The headline read, “Lawyer: Notes may help Hernandez kin separate truth from rumor.” The story danced around the rumors until deep into the piece and then attributed it to the lawyer for Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, the dead killer’s fiancé and mother of his daughter.

“This family doesn’t know if he had a gay lover in the prison. Or didn’t have a gay lover in the prison,” attorney George Leontire said in a recording during a courtroom sidebar conversation that the Globe purchased. “Allegedly one of the notes is to a gay lover. They have a right to know that.”

That was immediately followed by a strong denial by Hernandez attorney Jose Baez, who stated “unequivocally” that his client was not gay.

“Rumors of letters to a gay lover in or out of prison are false,” Baez said in a statement. “These are malicious leaks used to tarnish someone who is dead.”

Interesting choice of words, though while you can “tarnish” someone’s image, you can’t libel or defame a dead person or a convicted felon. But it also brings up the specter that being gay was something to hide or even kill yourself for, and that’s what made it difficult for mainstream media to report. The Globe has a story today from gay rights advocates saying the rampant speculation tarred the LGBT community because of the implications.

“This story, and the way it has been portrayed, raised our eyebrows from the first moment we saw the headlines,” wrote the co-founders of Outsports.com, a publication written by and for the gay community. “The story, how it’s been reported, and how it has metastasized, troubles us as both journalists and as gay men.”

It’s also made it uncomfortable for journalists who aren’t gay men, forced to knock down rumors they had no intention of writing about.

–JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

In an excerpt from their new book, Chris Dempsey and Andrew Zimbalist provide the inside story on No Boston Olympics. (CommonWealth)

A judge approves a request from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative requiring a bankrupt internet service provider to keep providing service for another two weeks. (Berkshire Eagle)

The House wraps up debate on the state’s first $40 billion budget. (State House News)

Lawmakers call for broader criminal justice reform. (CommonWealth)

Paul D. Craney and James M. Manley examine the great union loophole in Massachusetts campaign finance. (CommonWealth)

Gov. Charlie Baker files legislation establishing penalties for those who disseminate so-called “revenge porn.” (Boston Globe)

Two state lawmakers from Salem are urging health officials to study the feasibility of a diaper subsidy for low-income parents with children under 2. (Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Jim Braude and among the topics the lifelong Democrat talked about was the possibility of casting a vote for his bromantic partner, Gov. Charlie Baker. (Greater Boston)

A medical marijuana cultivation and processing facility in Holyoke appears headed for approval by the City Council. (MassLive) Holyoke is one of the few communities in Massachusetts opening its arms to pot. (CommonWealth)

Dennis voters will consider a proposal at Town Meeting to petition the state to allow the town to tax medical marijuana at 5 percent. Medical marijuana is exempt from taxation in Massachusetts. (Cape Cod Times)

Brockton officials have put a fence around a downtown park to discourage homeless people from congregating. (The Enterprise)

Hanover has become the first town in Massachusetts licensed by the FAA for a drone program, which will be operated by members of the fire and police department. (Patriot Ledger)

Worcester is cracking down on “advertising pollution” — the practice of nailing flyers on telephone poles and trees. (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A federal court in San Francisco blocks President Trump’s threat to cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities. (NPR) A Trump tweet calls the ruling “ridiculous” and says: “See you in Supreme Court.” Municipal leaders in Massachusetts hail the court ruling. (Boston Globe)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz said former national security advisor Michael Flynn may have broken the law. (Time) US Rep. Stephen Lynch says the probe of Flynn could extend to the White House. (Boston Herald)

Trump’s first 100 days are looking a lot like business as usual in Washington, with very little done. (Boston Globe)

Congressional leaders on both sides are optimistic of coming up with a spending bill to avert a government shutdown after Trump retreated from his demand that the bill include money to build his border wall. (New York Times)

Trump has turned his protectionist sights north, slapping a 20 percent tariff on softwood lumber imported from Canada and threatening similar actions on dairy products because of the impact of north-of-the-border products on Wisconsin dairy farmers “and other border states.” (U.S. News & World Report)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The massive Polartec plant that straddles Methuen and Lawrence is put up for auction. (Eagle-Tribune)

EDUCATION

Central Catholic High School in Lawrence fired Andrew Nikonchuk, its director of curriculum and instruction, for “violating appropriate social boundaries between students and faculty.” (Eagle-Tribune)

The Dartmouth Select Board unanimously rejected a proposal for a zoning change by a developer to build off-campus housing for UMass Dartmouth students in a residential area. (Standard-Times)

Falmouth High School seniors are continuing to push a proposal rejected by the School Committee to move graduation to the school’s football field to honor two classmates who were members of the state championship team just a month before they died in a car crash in December. (Cape Cod Times)

TRANSPORTATION

Boston allows nuTonomy to expand its autonomous vehicle testing to a wider area that includes the Seaport District. (WBUR)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Environmentalists are expressing alarm at President Trump’s plan to review national monument designations made by his three predecessors. (Boston Globe)

CASINOS

Steve Wynn tells financial analysts he was surprised at how expensive it is to build a casino in Everett. The current price tag is $2.4 billion, up $300 million since August. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The state’s maximum security prison in Shirley where Aaron Hernandez killed himself remains in 24 hour lockdown as officials search for contraband in the facility. (Boston Globe)

Law enforcement officials nabbed 30 would-be “johns” between February and early April in their effort to combat sex trafficking. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

Instagram censored images of naked people from the Museum of Fine Arts — and so did the Boston Globe which reported the story.

Gannett reports earnings for the first quarter — and they aren’t good. (Poynter)

Fox News, still roiling from ongoing sexual harassment allegations, was hit with a class action racial discrimination suit by 11 current and former employees. (New York Times)

How you know the days of Chet and Nat are long gone: Channel 5’s new news director wants reporters to move around during live shots, even if that means walking from “nowhere to nowhere,” a directive that one former TV news director says puts “style over substance.”  (Boston Herald)