CNBC Anchor Accused of Outing Apple CEO, But Did He? (Video)

On-air assumption contributes to a debate about what it means to be out in 2014

A CNBC host was accused of outing Apple CEO Tim Cook as gay — but whether he did may actually depend on your definition of “out.”

Cook doesn’t confirm or deny details of his personal life. But he was named the most powerful LGBT person on Out’s 2013 power list, and in December delivered a rare public speech at the U.N. in which he talked about experiencing discrimination since growing up in Alabama.

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Nonetheless, “Squawk on the Street” co-anchor Simon Hobbs received an icy response when he stated something than many Apple watchers take as a given.

“I think Tim Cook is fairly open about the fact he’s gay at the head of Apple, isn’t he?” Hobbs asked.

The room fell silent. 

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Hobbs was chiming in on a discussion about openly gay CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and was under the impression Cook was part of that group.

New York Times columnist James R. Stewart, who was heading up the panel, looked disappointed and responded, “Hmm, no.”

“Oh, dear, was that an error?” said the co-anchor. “I thought he was open about it.”

To which Stewart replied, “I don’t want to comment about anybody who might or might not be. I’m not going to out anybody.”

 The “Squawk on the Street” panel was profiling former BP CEO John Browne, whose is openly gay.

“There are gay CEOs in major companies, and I reached out to many of them,” Stewart said. “I got an extremely cool reception, not one would allow to be named at all.”

The definition of “out” may be changing as more and more gay public figures choose not to discuss their sexuality on the grounds that it is irrelevant to their job performance — just like heterosexuals do. They simply go about their lives.

Meanwhile, some heterosexual public figures perceived to be gay may do nothing to change that perception — because there’s nothing wrong with being gay. The last thing they want is to be perceived as homophobic by strenuously objecting.

Neither Apple nor CNBC has immediately returned TheWrap’s request for comment.