At the Crossroads of Media, Culture and Technology

MCDM’s Toast to a Bully

Watching Dan Savage graciously accept the MCDM “Make the Change” award for digital disruption, I did my best to applaud through the plate of hors d’oeuvres in my hands. Looking around the room, I even spotted some in attendance getting misty-eyed watching Savage who, along with his husband Terry Miller, received the award on behalf of anyone who had ever so much as encouraged a bullied LGBT youth.

Starbucks executive Adam Brotman also was recognized that night, but it was Savage’s pre-recorded acceptance speech that stole the show at a late spring event hosted by the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) program. After the speech, I found myself anxious to get home and learn even more about this gentleman whose universally embraced It Gets Better project gives so much hope to LGBT youth who might otherwise commit suicide to escape torment and ridicule. I had seen Dan’s name in print, but never paid much attention until I saw him as a guest on a non-descript cable TV show. On television, Savage came off as witty–possibly a bit crass– but comfortable enough in his own skin to say exactly what he felt and why. In short, Savage struck me as the kind of guy you would share a beer and some good conversation with.

As he is a widely read columnist for The Stranger, over time I had run across Savage’s name and through my research I became even more aware of Savage’s notoriety and his De facto leadership in Seattle’s gay community. He was nobody with whom I’d ever consistently agree, but he appeared to believe everything that came out of his mouth and as a radio personality and journalist, I respected that.

Until I did some research on Savage, I was unaware of what I consider Savage’s most notorious and offensive publicity stunt. The same fellow responsible for the groundbreaking “It Gets Better” campaign is also responsible for taunting former United States Senator Rick Santorum with a vicious, intensely dishonest and undeserved campaign of culture-hacking.

How can a guy who saved the lives of bullied kids possibly be the same guy who orchestrated a despicable Google campaign designed to bully a fellow human being whose biggest sin appears to be the honest expression of his feelings toward gay sex? In a 2003 Associated Press interview, Santorum argued that only marriages between one man and one woman stabilize societies. In a poorly worded, yet grossly misreported afterthought misconstrued as a direct analogy, Santorum awkwardly acknowledged that homosexual sex is not “man on child, man on dog, or whatever…” Santorum, currently a presidential candidate with at least one openly gay campaign aide, told the reporter he has “nothing, absolutely nothing” against homosexuals or those of any other sexual orientation. “[Y]ou have to separate the person from their actions,” Santorum said – echoing the same polarizing opinion he has trumpeted throughout his political career.

Despite the unreported nuances to Santorum’s views, Savage took the low road on the digital media map by encouraging followers to memorialize what he called the “Santorum scandal” by synonymizing the senator’s last name with a “sex act that would make his big white teeth fall out of his big, empty head.”

This same Savage, who did everything imaginable to destroy a human being’s reputation, went on to co-produce with Miller a series of videos promising hope to LGBT youth and rebuking bullies who – irony of ironies– taunt and tease others online.

Much is made these days in both business and journalism about the values of authenticity and transparency. These have become watchwords in pressrooms and boardrooms alike. But in Savage’s case, as both a community leader and a journalist, we see how easy it is to be incredibly inauthentic while seeming to be authentic.

Lately Savage has offered to take down the offensive website in exchange for Santorum donating $5 million to a gay marriage advocacy group. Santorum keeps dismissing Savage’s ransom demands out of hand, renewing his request of Google to delete the vulgar site from its search engine index. Google keeps refusing, saying such censorship would “compromise the integrity” of its search results. In a similar incident Google recently did restore an offensive image of Michelle Obama over White House objections.

Before exiting that elegant event on that beautiful June evening, I overheard wisecracks about how “fun” it would be to see Santorum watch Savage’s video and witness the award presentation. Those were the last moments of my naivete. I now knew what most of you had long since known about Senator Santorum’s “Google problem.” Later, I finally found out what all the fuss was about: My graduate program was honoring Savage despite the fact that Savage had executed the digitally disruptive equivalent of a cruel junior high prank. It certainly hasn’t taken four months since that June 10 event in South Lake Union to draw the obvious conclusion only a few of you would ever be willing to voice:

Dan Savage is a bully.

Whether our nationally respected MCDM program is a little less prestigious because we hoisted a glass to a bully is above my pay grade.

But don’t worry, Rick. It gets better.

Or so I’m told.

Thor Tolo is an Emmy winner and longtime radio host accepted into MCDM Cohort 10 last autumn. He expects to graduate this spring – long after Senator Santorum figures to be but a footnote to the 2012 U.S. presidential race.
Dan Savage photo is from his video acceptance speech for the MCDM Giffard Make the Change Award. Rick Santorum photo by Gage Skidmore.

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30 Responses to MCDM’s Toast to a Bully

  1. Thor,

    I’d like to point out that Rick Santorum is a public figure who by the nature of his seeking office is open to any and all criticism–no matter how distasteful that criticism might appear to some. The young LGBT youth that the It Gets Better project target are anonymous, everyday young adults who are routinely ridiculed, bullied and attacked for just being who they are.

    Furthermore, if Santorum’s statements, policies or allegiances give comfort to those bullies, then he should be held responsible publicly for his positions.

  2. If it were possible for me to do to Rick Santorum’s name what Dan Savage has done, I wouldn’t. In this I agree with you. But other than that, I think you are way off base. The old saying about sticks and stones applies.

    Rick Santorum is a public figure, which puts him in a different class of legal protection against libel and slander than private citizens. He is a politician promoting what amounts to social policies and experiencing peoples’ reactions to what he says. To overtly draw the parallel that you did between his being lampooned, however crude it may be, and the emotional and physical bullying that youth who don’t fit into a stereotyped norm often undergo (whether on the basis of sexuality or not) strikes me as completely dishonest.

    As a straight teenager who listened to the wrong music and wore the wrong clothes for the time and place where I grew up, I got my nose broken for not conforming. Many of the actual gay people I hung out with put up with far worse. That’s bullying. Sullying politicians’ names is American tradition.

  3. Dan, you post faster than I do.

  4. Peter Luyckx says:

    I agree with Dan and Brook that the two kinds of “bullying” aren’t morally equivalent and that politicians are held to different standards, but while I disagree with the merits of your argument, I appreciate your point of view.

    Ad hominem attacks are a rhetorically pathetic way to gain the upper hand in an argument. I can see why anger and desperation inspire people take this approach, but it’s never what wins people over to your side.

    (It’s also intellectually dishonest to approve of this when it’s someone at the opposite side of the political spectrum, but to condemn it when it’s leveraged against someone you support.)

  5. One thing that occurs to me is that in reasoned discussion I think it’s essential to make a clear distinction between people and their actions. In fact, Thor quotes Rick Santorum saying this same thing, although I’m not sure what the exact context of the quote is.

    So the point that disagreeing with Rick Santorum’s views and actions doesn’t justify libeling him as a person does resonate with me. But disagreeing with Dan Savage’s views and actions then libeling him as a “bully” doesn’t. They are both ad hominem attacks that only differ in degree.

  6. Thor Tolo says:

    Thanks to the 3 of you for reading and weighing in on my commentary. Unlike Dan and Brook, Peter chooses (correctly) to focus on the actual subject of today’s post – Mr. Savage. It is, as Peter says, intellectually dishonest to react to bullying based on one’s political persuasion. So I shall dutifully point out that I wouldn’t dream of voting for Sen. Santorum for president. Nor did I mind his landslide loss in 2006 after he’d actively campaigned two years earlier for incumbent PA Senator Arlen Specter.

    But by saying so, I’ve missed the same boat Brook and Dan missed by focusing on the “victim” of Savage’s bullying instead of the bullier. To point out the painstakingly obvious (that Santorum is a public figure and Savage’s speech is legally protected) is not only a waste of time; worse, it’s not the point.

    Savage’s relentless taunting of Santorum actually belies Brook’s sticks-&-stones theory, as the pain from a stick or a stone subsides after a few minutes or hours – much like a hard tackle in football. Name-calling and reputation-sullying speak to the same sort of bullying always associated with those too frightened or insecure to know better.

    But here’s the rub: Savage certainly does know better which makes his bullying even worse, despite its being absolutely legally protected. Especially this week – on the 13th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death – we need leadership from people in positions of great influence.

    What we got from Mr. Savage is strong evidence that even those like him who engage in vicious bullying will have apologists way too quick to equate one victim (Santorum) to others (anonymous LGBT kids) instead of equating an unapologetic bully to others of his regrettable ilk.

  7. Thor, I know we will eventually agree to disgree on this, but when I was talking about sticks and stones, I didn’t mean the ones that cause bruises, but the ones that cause death. That you bring up Matthew Shepard right after downplaying my analogy is strange.

    And I disagree that the topic of your post is Dan Savage. The topic is the appropriateness of overheated rhetoric and name calling from all quarters. Personalizing it into an attack on Dan Savage is just doing what you say you are condemning.

  8. Thor Tolo says:

    Thanks very much, Brook. Though a couple sentences separate those two thoughts, your impression is understandable and the coincidence regrettable. The potential inference not once crossed my mind.

    As for libeling Mr. Savage, come on. I’ve called my own brother a bully. But never have I likened him (or his name) to body fluid resulting from an act publishable neither here nor anyplace else. We do agree to disagree.

    And that’s not only fine; it’s healthy.

  9. Nabil says:

    Here’s a question for you: what actions are acceptable to you when defending against close-minded bullies? What measures do you feel are effective in calling out a bully’s behavior, to make it clear to them that their behavior is not acceptable?

    There’s no dispute that Santorum’s interview was anti-gay (and anti-sexuality in general) — I honestly can’t fathom how you could construe his statements as anything but anti-gay. (How, exactly, do you have nothing against gay people if you have quite a lot against homosexual behavior?)

    Also, your reference to his “afterthought” is completely out of context, and I believe you have a misunderstanding as to what he was saying. Let’s look at the larger quote: “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.”

    Within the larger text, it becomes clear that it isn’t some “afterthought”, but part of his argument that homosexuality is not, should not, and has never been part of marriage, in the same way that you don’t marry children or animals. (This isn’t even getting into his complete lack of awareness of different societal norms regarding both sexuality and monogamy.) He goes on to call homosexual acts deviant.

    This, mind you, from someone who is a policy maker for the country. If it had been some random person on the street, or even a non-political public figure, then yes, I agree, Savage’s response would be too much, too far. But as soon as it comes from a major political figure, in a position to dictate those beliefs as policy, it becomes ESSENTIAL to make it clear that this sort of close-mindedness is not acceptable.

    I’ll freely admit, the line between “crusader” and “bully” can be murky, but I think in this situation, Savage still manages to fall into the former, rather than the latter.

  10. AngeloD says:


    I would give that interview another read. Even though the copy editor places a comma in the transcription, the context of Santorum (capital-s Santorum, I should say) comment should make it clear that he is drawing a form of equivalence between gay unions (unions, not sex) and bestiality and pedophilia as damaging to marriage in the purportedly similar way. After we acknowledge that we can begin with a discussion about the validity of Savage’s culture jamming.

  11. Suna says:

    Thor, I take issue with your assertion that Dan Savage was being “inauthentic” in his Santorum campaign. On the contrary, it was extremely authentic of him and his political and personal belief system. As a gay newspaper columnist with a wide circulation, who frequently comments on current events and politics, and is often in the public eye as a pundit on television news programs, it was authentic of him to attack a nationally-known politician for remarks he found offensive using the tools (newspaper column) he has available. (He even crowd-sourced the new, alternative meaning of “santorum”.)

    It would be inauthentic of him to do something similar to a someone vulnerable and powerless (like a gay teenager). Now that would make him a bully.

  12. Thor Tolo says:

    Genuine thanks to our next three commenters – two of whom leave a little wiggle room for agreement.

    Suna refreshingly focuses entirely on the subject of my commentary – Mr. Savage. The verb “bully” means to intimidate, which is certainly Dan’s intent in light of recent attempts to extort $5 million from Mr. Santorum in the form of a donation to a gay marriage advocacy group. So perhaps I would have been better served in more accurately calling him an extortionist [one who acts to secure money by intimidation or blackmail].

    As for Nabil’s attempt at (hyper) nuance between bully and crusader; fair enough. A crusader engages in a vigorous, aggressive movement for the advancement of a cause(in this case, gay unions). I would argue his engagement is more vicious than “vigorous” – as defined – ergo still a bully.

    Angelod has made practical use of the hyperlink related to exactly what Sen. Santorum said in the spring of 2003. That’s the good news. The bad news is he still misconstrues the context and literalness of Santorum’s words. As always, decide for yourself. It’s the purpose of any hyperlink.

  13. AngeloD says:

    Thanks Thor for the mansplanation of what I meant, but it still appears transparent to me that Santorum is making a direct comparison of gay unions with bestiality and pedophilia which also carries implicit connections that go beyond its purpose in the argument. I’ll read any comments that follow, but unless you can see that or perceive how others might reasonably see that, I’m checking out of this conversation. Perhaps you can point some place where Santorum explicitly states that he does not see gay unions as occupying the same moral plane as bestiality and pedophilia–I’m sure he has plenty of opportunities to do so between now and the spring of 2003.



  14. Politics and commenting on politics is blood sport, as you well know Thor. If Dan Savage is a bully, then so are Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, et al.

    In fact, I think they are bullies, and I don’t care if you call them that. But in the case of Dan Savage, using the term is highly loaded and calculated to provocate while leaving you a claim to innocence and reasonableness that isn’t actually true.

    In my mind Savage’s culture jamming of Santorum’s name is certainly ethically ambiguous at best, and arguably reprehensible at worst. But as I said before, it’s part of how American democracy operates. I may not like it, but vicious smear campaigns go back to the Founding Fathers and show no signs of going away.

    You’re just practicing your stock in trade by choosing a word to describe Savage’s smear campaign against Santorum that slyly and subtly denigrates his “It Gets Better” campaign, which I see as a genuine and remarkable act of good.

    Your point is taken, but the way you go too far and choose provocation and personalization in making it is a case study in how inflamed rhetoric has damaged reasoned discourse and informed democratic decision making in this country. There are other ways to express your disagreement with what Savage has done to Santorum without casting it in term that seem obviously chosen to undercut the “It Gets Better” message. Perhaps I’m wrong and “bullying” is a morally neutral and inoffensive term for what Savage has done, but if that’s the case then “propaganda” is a morally neutral and inoffensive term for what you are doing.

    I’ve now followed the link to Santorum’s interview, which I acknowledged before I hadn’t yet — in truth I should have been working, not commenting on Flip the Media. I’m pretty sure I’ve read the whole thing before, but in any case you can quit taking jabs at me about it now.

    Santorum is doing a couple of rhetorical things in that interview. One is the form of “hate the sin, love the sinner” double talk that you quoted. This is a way to send a message to a receptive constituency while establishing deniability when others try to hold him accountable for that message.

    But the more telling one is the use of the terms “moral equivalency” and “moral relativism.” He makes it clear that he believes allowing certain sexual practices explicitly opens the door to allowing other sexual practices. So when he says homosexuality is not “man on child, man on dog” he’s all but saying “but it’s sure going to take us there.” Even after he says the bit that you cherry picked, he reinforces his slippery slope message: “The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”

    While I may not be comfortable with Savage’s culture jamming, one thing I can say about it is that between him, Rick Santorum and you, he’s the only one who I feel has plainly stated what his real message is.

  15. One thing you can say about Savage’s Google campaign is that it is a brilliant case study in SEO.

  16. Elizabeth Hunter says:

    Thor, are you nuts.

    What in the world compelled you to take up the flag for RIck Santorum?

    Brook makes clear and cohesive arguments above. We are all going to have to agree to disagree.

    But, frankly, I’m just disappointed. Dan Savage bullying Rick Santorum?

    Just a week ago Dan Savage reported about the suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, bullied to death by his classmates. Savage and his partner have dedicated their life’s work to helping and protecting these vulnerable and abused children.

    But Savage can’t make or change the laws. Only the lawmakers can do that. And, if elected, people like Rick Santorum would try enact policies that would drive these already vulnerable youth even further into despair. Policies that would, essentially, criminalize their acts of love.

    He may not come right out and say it in the taunting lashes or pounding fists of a bully, but make no mistake, Thor. Rick Santorum is, was, and always will be the bully in this fight, so long as his campaign dollars represent money given from homophobic, fear-mongering people, and his rhetoric condemns gay and lesbian human beings.

    When it is, quite literally, kids very lives at stake, I withhold judgement on the manner in which Savage attacks Santorum. I simply care more about kids living worthy, abuse-free lives than I do about Rick Santorum’s “reputation.”

  17. Thor Tolo says:

    On a lighter note about an otherwise sobering topic, Elizabeth, any note that begins with “Are you nuts?” probably won’t end well for the writer.

    You and I agree on the most important issue of Dan’s work. It is abhorrent behavior to taunt and tease ANYONE for any reason. Of course I share your support for any bullied LGBT youth and am truly repulsed by bullying. I do not and would not associate with anyone defending bullying.

    Where we appear to branch apart is when a distinction is made between an innocent young person and a politician whose status is a public figure. As incredibly intellectually dishonest as it was for Brook [above] to imply my agenda was to “undercut” Mr. Savage’s It Gets Better campaign, it is every bit as intellectually dishonest to assert that anyone who opposed gay marriage is a homophobe.

    Two of my gay neighbors who live together in a committed relationship here in Belltown adamantly and unapologetically oppose the legalization of gay marriages. It is doubtful they are homophobes, but after reading so much of the off-topic analyses of my plainly worded commentary, I suppose anything is possible.

    To Brook’s final thought re: my lack of plainspokenness, one of the last paragraphs of my article reads: “Dan Savage is a bully.” The headline itself boldly underscores “MCDM’s Toast to a Bully.”

    Please be in touch if you’d like me to dumb that down for you.

  18. Thor, if you weren’t attempting to undercut the “It Gets Better” campaign, you wouldn’t be taking MCDM to task for honoring Dan Savage for coming up with it. You also wouldn’t have repeatedly hammered on the contextually very significant word “bully” in your copy. If that was not your intent, then you are a less skilled rhetorician than I believe you to be. But I think you’re a good enough writer to know that there’s a message in your literal words and another message in your choice of words.

    There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance in the way you communicate your stance, as there is in much of what passes for commentary these days. You promoted this post on Twitter as proof that reasoned debate doesn’t get censored on college campuses — a position I agree with — but you have been very quick to go to personal comments instead. Throughout this discussion I have never said anything that impugns you as a human being. I’ve restricted my comments to my interpretation of what you have written. You, on the other hand, keep coming up with implied insults ending with your last offer to “dumb down” your post. I don’t see much difference between “bullying” and several things you’ve said. I’d appreciate it if you’d stick with reasoned debate and avoid escalating to personal disparagement. However I’m not sure there’s much point in continuing this, since we seem to be at a total impasse.

  19. Thor Tolo says:

    Your first sentence above wonders why I am “taking MCDM to task” for honoring Dan Savage for the It Gets Better campaign. I’m doing no such thing. I am taking to task the decision to honor a person who persists in savaging the reputation of a fellow human being (with no end in sight).

    Actually I do not object – as many students have in my presence – to such a decision being made without full input from cohorts. I disagree. Our $30,000 of tuition payments are for the fabulous education we receive; not an investment in executive or administrative decisions.

    That $30,000, however, does purchase the right to offer reasoned dissent on an independent site related to MCDM issues. It is in this spirit I wrote a commentary better received by many who have chosen not to post for reasons both political and personal. I don’t blame them.

  20. Thor, don’t worry, you will get the last word. But your first paragraph in your last comment is a false dichotomy and frankly doesn’t make any sense. Dan Savage was honored for “It Get Better.” The fact that he has also does something you find distasteful does not in any way change what it was that he was honored for.

    You may not believe it but you’ve said a number of things that I actually agree with. I probably share a world view much closer to Dan Savage’s than yours, but I have no patience with petty games that come from any point in the political spectrum, and Google bombing Rick Santorum’s name is a very petty game indeed.

    What I disagree with is your insistence that you aren’t yourself engaged in a petty game here. Your tone in your earlier comments betrays that you are approaching this less as a reasonable discussion between graduate level students of media than as a familiar opportunity to score cheap points with emotional appeals. And your insistence that your only point in your post is to discuss Dan Savage when you spend the better part of two paragraphs attempting to defend Rick Santorum even though the very article you link to doesn’t support your defense shows that you are up to more than you are willing to admit to.

    What you’ve done is push my buttons for what I think is wrong with many media pundits of all types and all political positions. This kind of stuff may please a receptive audience looking to get their adrenaline flowing over a hot button issue, but it’s not what I would consider graduate-level work and it doesn’t impress me any more when you do it than it impresses me when Dan Savage does it. Our country needs better from all sides, because the petty attacks aren’t accomplishing anything constructive.

    I’m off the soapbox now. It’s yours if you want it.

  21. Jonathan Cunningham says:

    Here’s what I’ll say…and I love that this is still going on the blog…
    A) Ya gotta love Freedom of Speech. Thor isn’t nuts Liz… he’s just opinionated and saying something that most people in passive aggressive Seattle wouldn’t.

    B) Dan Savage became very popular this year for taking up the cause of gay youth and cyber bullying with his brilliant “It Gets Better” campaign.
    However…when he gets the gumption to take somebody on, Savage can actually be quite the cyber bully himself. His words hold WEIGHT and when he wants to tear someone down, he does it masterfully. But isn’t tearing someone down a form of bullying? Yes it is.

    C) If Thor made a mistake here, it’s using Rick Santorum as his evidence. Because Rick isn’t exactly a sympathetic chap. You can go through the Slog and find various examples of Savage being a cyber asshole to people like, well, Andrew Meyer for being a bad tipper. When Savage goes “in” on someone, he goes IN. And that too is cyber bullying.

  22. Elizabeth Hunter says:

    Ohhh Jonathan, just when I thought I was out, you puuuuuull me back in.

    So, it’s funny that you capitalize “WEIGHT,” Jonathan, because more than a few fat-positive and feminist voices in the blogosphere have criticized Savage’s insensitivity to issues pertaining to obesity, particularly in reference to his “fat shaming,” which is, let’s all hear it now, a form of bullying. If you just google “Dan Savage Fat” you will find all sorts of evidence of Savage’s fat controversy.

    Like I said in an email to Thornton, I think there was a lot of possibility in this post–exploring the enduring repercussions of negative SEO, a more profound examination of cyber-bullying with a discourse on how the oppressed can become the oppressor, even just a piece focusing on Santorum’s political woes as a result of Savage’s smear campaign. None of these potential venues for exploration include the It Gets Better Project.

    To use someone like Rick Santorum as a vehicle for exposing Savage’s bullying tendencies is a little lazy (like I said before, check out his fat-shaming!) and inappropriate in the context of this post.

    Thor, all great leaders, whether we like it or not, have their own skeletons, faults, and failures. That Savage’s (admittedly crass) smear campaign against Rick Santorum is gravely affecting Santorum’s success in politics does not, in any way, measure up to the great work Savage and Terry Miller are doing with the It Gets Better Project. If you want to slam Savage for online bullying, get to it. But leave his project out of it.

    I’d rather see a million disgraced Santorums than one dead child.

    Aside to Jonathan: Jezebel called out Dan Savage for not weighing in on the Andrew Meyer situation. No young gay lives were at stake. ;)

  23. Thor Tolo says:

    A highlight of these many comments is the gaggle of Elizabeth’s suggestions for ARTICLE ideas. They are worth pursuing. My piece, however, is a COMMENTARY reflecting an honest, plainly stated opinion about the decision to honor Savage despite his ridiculously vicious and sustained online bullying of another human being.

    Any claim that Santorum’s career has been “gravely affected” is also dubious. He has used Savage’s petty attacks (mischaracterized by an earlier contributor as a Google bomb) to raise more money than ever.

    Santorum lost his U.S. Senate seat in 2006 for two reasons: (1) His victorious opponent was Bob Casey, whose dad was a popular former governor; and (2) Santorum used Pennsylvania’s cyber charter school for his children while he held an out-of-state residence.

    It was Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” on Comedy Central that earlier this year “gave legs” once more to Savage’s cyberbullying still not resonant with most older voters in America. (I do not support Santorum for Prez.)

    Brook will forgive me for saying his perception of my prose as subpar graduate-level work is not among the things keeping me up at night. Truth is, nothing keeps me up at night.

    Well, maybe Craig Ferguson.

  24. Suna says:

    I think this is depending on what your own definition of “bullying” means. Is being ‘mean’ to someone the same as being a bully?

  25. I really am trying to bow out, but I want to just say that my use of the term “Google bomb” is not a mischaracterization — it’s a commonly used term for skewing Google’s search results with strategic linking. Maybe that’s just a part of the total “culture jamming” here, buts it is the main digital media aspect of this story.

    Your objection to my use of the term is a example of using the voice of authority without backing it up with solid research and turning to emotional appeals instead. That’s what I find not up to the standards I expect — not your prose, but the evidence of your thinking. You have a good point, but you present it in a fashion that works better on a bar stool than an academic program.

    Show your work and your position will be better defended and more persuasive. Instead of pissing people off by choosing a term that seems loaded to bring down something good Savage has done, you could have really ripped into the ethics of other things he’s done and not muddied your argument. Yeah, you got a rise out people, but you generated much more heat than light by doing it the way you did it. If you’re trying to entertain that may be okay, but if you’re really trying to persuade, then there are better ways to do it.

    I’m glad you wrote a commentary. I’ve long advocated for Flip the Media to have more opinion and analysis. I hope you write more commentaries, whether you pay any attention to my critique or not. And I’m looking forward to shaking your hand and buying you a beer soon.

  26. Thor Tolo says:

    Thanks, Brook. I’d also appreciate the chance to “pay it forward” by, in turn, buying Mr. Savage a beer. Should I ever bump into him, I shall.

    As for your description of Savage’s cyberbullying as a “Google bomb,” here is the difference (as explained by Danny Sullivan September 21):

    With a Google bomb, you are causing someone else’s site to rank. With SEO, you are promoting your own site. is promoting itself for “santorum”, which is SEO. A Google bomb is when you are trying to cause someone else’s site to rank for phrases.

    Speading Santorum isn’t ranking just because there are links pointing at it that say “santorum” in it. It’s ranking because, in addition to this, it is indeed relevant to Santorum in terms of its content.

    It’s not positive about him, but it’s still relevant in the same way that, if you search for Coke, you get the “Killer Coke” anti-Coca Cola web site.

    There you go. Thanks in advance for the beer!

  27. Dan Drost says:

    I think you are ugly…otherwise I would be attracted to you. Love ya!

  28. Bart Carroll says:

    In response to the feedback, that Rick Santorum is subject to criticism because he is a public figure: this somewhat misses the point. Not only is Santorum a public figure—and thus it can be argued, subject to public scrutiny, parody, and ridicule—but as an elected official, he is in a position to act upon his personal views. The protests waged against him are due to his opposition to fundamental human freedoms. I don’t believe that is overstating things. That Santorum’s “biggest sin appears to be the honest expression of his feelings toward…” is grossly understating things.

    I believe your point concerns Dan Savage’s hypocrisy, speaking out against cyber bullying while engaging in his own. In this case, I see Dan Savage’s campaign as far more a form of modern protest, making use of online tolls and communities to organize and empower an opposition. Whether we agree or disagree with Rick Santorum’s views, opposition against them is crucial for those people who would be impacted by his views—in Dan Savage’s case, impacted as a citizen, a husband, and a father.

  29. John says:

    In response to the original article, I agree with many of you that, morally speaking, the way in which Dan Savage responded to Santorum’s comments was wrong and perhaps a bit ironic, but as Daniel, Brook, and Peter have all pointed out, there is not a level playing field here in terms of what is “acceptable” forms of bullying. I’m certainly not saying bullying in any capacity is permitted, whether it’s online or in the school parking lot, but when you’re talking about someone’s life versus whether or not a public figure gets elected to office because of some stupid comments he made, I’m going to be “pro-life” on this one.

    Yes, Santorum’s job is to be a voice for the people, and he has made his career on being a recognized public figure, however likening homosexuality to beastility, which is precisely what he did, whether or not he did it on purpose, is an act that deserves criticism from the general public. Broadcasting such close-minded beliefs over the airways and radioways not only reaches far more people than, say, the initial stage of the “It Gets Better” project, but people have a right to know what Santorum is really thinking, and voice their opinions. Enter Dan Savage.

    Although fundamentally I believe the way in which Dan Savage responded to Santorum may have been a little juvenile, I will continue to support his efforts to oust these political “bullies”, and bring attention to the fact that people similar to Santorum may be the very reason LGBT kids are committing suicide.

    One political career is worth a countless number of human lives, no question. Another politician will always manifest themselves in place of a colleague, whereas a human life cannot be replaced. Vote Dan Savage.

  30. Aleah Debord says:

    Enjoyed every bit of your article.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

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