Steamy gay tell-all, or fodder for political historians? Americans can debate that to their hearts' content Tuesday, when former New Jersey governor James McGreevey goes on "Oprah" to talk about the straight-gay double life he said he led since he was a boy. The show was pretaped, and Oprah had audience members sign pledges to keep mum. But McGreevery's "Oprah" appearance may signal a new level of political confession in a nation that bares more of its soul all the time, and it might help sell books too.
"The McGreevey story is a tale of personal destruction that unfortunately played out in an extremely public stage," Robert A. Mintz, a lawyer who knew McGreevey during New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean's administration, told ABC News.
This Oprah appearance is carefully timed to the release of McGreevey's detail-laden memoir, "The Confession," which recounts years of furtive gay encounters at truck stops and in curtained rooms, and of the emotional liberation gained at the cost of greatly compromised responsibility in high public office.
Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey stunned the nation in a 2004 televised press conference. Appearing ashen-faced with his wife at his side, he declared, "My truth is I am a gay American." He said he'd had a long-running affair with an Israeli national, Golan Cipel, a poet and public relations specialist he'd hired as New Jersey's homeland security adviser. Cipel's apparent lack of credentials had raised many eyebrows.
Cipel, said McGreevey's advisers, had blackmailed the governor, which precipitated his resignation.
McGreevey now says his first encounter with Cipel, which occurred while McGreevey's wife was recovering from the birth of their first child, "was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean" and that "but for Golan, I would never have confronted my own truth."
But with enough he-said/he-said to keep the tabloids busy for weeks, the story now includes Cipel, who soon returned to Israel, telling reporters that he never kissed McGreevey, much less sustained a two-year affair with him. He said that McGreevey sexually harassed him.
McGreevey's book lays out many details to the contrary, woven together with accounts of his sometimes controversial political and executive actions as governor.
Critics of the former governor's political record include gay activists, who, while they support what one calls McGreevey's "journey to self-discovery," don't hesitate to criticize some of his actions as governor.
"I don't think he resigned because he was gay, but because he did some crummy things as governor," said Steven Goldstein, who heads Garden State Equality, a gay rights organization in New Jersey.
"But he's saying, 'I want to be forgiven,' and we're supporting his wanting to be accepted as a member of the gay community, as we would any of the 30 million gay Americans," Goldstein told ABC News.
Adding that he'd read the excerpts released so far, Goldstein said, "I'm gay, and I blushed like everyone else, but I expect there's more to the book than that."
In addition to the merely salacious elements of this story -- and there are many -- McGreevey offers observations about psychological pressures and feints of American politics, apparently hoping to draw a convincing parallel between sexual and political deceptions.