Video of the Day: Dan Savage vs. the Bible (and Some High Schoolers)

While making a somewhat inflammatory point about bullying, the gay activist and journalist inadvertently teaches a lesson about journalism, too.

Well, who could have predicted this would happen?

A couple weeks ago, Dan Savage, the sex columnist, activist, and editorial director of Seattle alt weekly The Stranger, was invited to speak at the National High School Journalism Convention in Seattle. Savage is the force behind the "It Gets Better" videos, a series of messages from gay adults -- and, later, straight ones including President Obama -- to bullied gay teens, which were intended to discourage suicide. Somewhat more mischievously, and less G-ratedly, he also led the charge to propagate a rather filthy sexual meaning for "Santorum" as punishment for Rick Santorum's anti-gay politics.

In the course of his talk about bullying, Savage pointed out anti-gay activists sometimes cite the Bible to justify their beliefs and behavior. He then went on to point out that the Bible sanctions any number of activities we don't allow today, including slavery and the stoning of women who are not virgins when married (the full text, if you don't want to watch the video, is here), strictures he referred to as "bullshit." In protest, some (presumably) Christian members of the audience walked out. As he wrapped up the inflammatory section of his remarks, Savage apologized for offending anyone, but undercut that apology somewhat by adding, "It's funny, as someone who's on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react when you push back."

Now video of the incident has surfaced, and it has set the right-wing Internet journalism world afire. Savage has apologized again, this time for the "pansy-assed" comment, while standing by the rest.

First things first: There's plenty of manufactured outrage here. It's not as though Savage is delivering a novel critique of the Bible, and it's not as if high-school students have never heard someone use mild swear words. With that said, Savage could perhaps have been less deliberately inflammatory -- but surely the organizers have read his rather explicit column and know his style. Moreover, if these teenagers wish to become journalists, they will have to get very comfortable with listening to views they do not agree with, or even object to passionately. Savage may have set out to make a point about bullying, but he seems to have unwittingly taught a more important lesson about journalism.

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David A. Graham is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers political and global news. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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