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CNBC Panel Gets Awkward When Host Refers To Apple CEO Tim Cook As Gay (VIDEO)

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AP Photo / Jeff Chiu

The panel welcomed New York Times columnist James R. Stewart to discuss his piece on former BP CEO John Browne, who described his "tortured life" as a closeted gay executive of a major company.

In so doing, Browne had become the "first person ever at a Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 company to publicly acknowledge that he is gay," Stewart recounted.

"And after all these advances in gay civil rights, you would think CEOs especially are measured by objective criteria, which is financial performance," Stewart said.

Stewart said that "of course" there are other gay CEOs at major companies, but he received a "cool" reaction from them when he reached out for comment on his story.

But co-host Simon Hobbs wondered why Stewart was overlooking an obvious example.

"Well, I think Tim Cook is fairly open about the fact that he's gay at the head of Apple, isn't he?" Hobbs asked.

The panel fell silent before Stewart finally responded.

"Uh, no," Stewart said.

"Oh, dear," Hobbs said sheepishly. "Was that an error?"

Stewart added that he doesn't "want to comment about anybody who might or might not be."

"I'm not going to out anybody," he said.

It's been widely known for years that Cook is gay, although he's never publicly confirmed it. Cook seemed to acknowledge it obliquely late last year during a speech on human rights, using the address at Auburn University (his alma mater) to describe the discrimination he's faced.

"Since these early days, I have seen and have experienced many types of discrimination and all of them were rooted in the fear of people that were different than the majority," Cook said.

Watch video, via Mediaite: