The firestorm over “Stalking Gary Bauer”

Salon readers lash Dan Savage -- or laugh with him.

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Last week Salon sent writer Dan Savage to Iowa to cover the presidential primary caucuses. While there, he came down with the flu. The story he filed — a feverish, compelling and disturbing account of how candidate Gary Bauer’s crusade against gays drove him to try to infect Bauer with his flu — was not what we had in mind.

Nevertheless, after reviewing the story carefully we decided to run it. It was savage (no pun intended), powerful writing, Swiftian in its desperate, satiric outrage at anti-gay discrimination. Perhaps predictably, it engendered a comparable outrage in our readers — as the selected letters below show.

We still believe publishing the article was the right choice, but
we also feel compelled to say: We didn’t assign Savage to infect Bauer. We don’t condone or endorse what he says he did.

But every day Salon prints good writing that describes ideas, points of view, even actions we don’t endorse or condone. We’ve published a defense of David Koresh by a former Branch Davidian; the vaguely fictionalized diary of a Manhattan call girl; and unapologetic first-person accounts of drug addiction, sex addiction and other extreme behavior. Our own staff at Salon harbors a wide range of opinion on Savage’s article and his actions — but we defend his right to write about them.

Here’s a sample of what our readers are saying about “Stalking Gary Bauer.” You can also follow the controversy in Table Talk.

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I assume that Savage’s story about trying to give Gary Bauer the flu is a
put-on. Right? Otherwise, he’s accomplished something that I thought
impossible: He’s made Bauer a sympathetic figure.

– David P. Graf

I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to be more outrageous in their
views than Gary Bauer, but Dan Savage has managed to make Bauer look
normal.

If Savage’s “sick” reporting is Salon’s idea of a new kind of witty
journalism, they should remember that wit requires humor and I’m not
laughing.

– Bill Stanley

I’m sure all of you compassionate liberals are just snickering away at
this cute little article. But I’m sure you would be OUTRAGED if some mean-spirited conservative used biological warfare against Al Gore or Mr.
Charisma. BTW, Savage, you might have exceeded your own expectations — you
might have infected them with AIDS as well. Have you had a blood draw
recently?

– Russ Starrett

Dan Savage — you rock!

That is the most brilliant, inspiring and damn funny story of political
sabotage I’ve ever heard. Thank you for having the courage to lick
doorknobs!

– Stephanie Marracco

I was appalled to read the article about the “reporter” that thought it
would be a good idea to sabotage the Bauer campaign. I love the militant
gay Democrats who think that if you have a difference of opinion, they
have a right to do whatever they think necessary. What ever happened to
freedom of speech? I suppose that is only for the Democrats. How many
laws and moral codes did this reporter break getting close to the campaign
to spread germs and actually voting? I guess perjury and germ warfare are
OK if you are a Democrat.

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– Katie Balem

If Mr. Savage’s article is a riff on every would-be politically motivated
undercover saboteur’s fantasy, then it is hugely amusing and creative.

If his story is true, however, then it violates my definition of media
ethics. The only adequate penance Salon could perform would be to publish
an apology to Mr. Bauer on the front page of your Politics 2000 site, and
to discontinue publishing articles from Mr. Savage.

Please inform me of the truth, or lack thereof, of the story. If I do not
hear from you, then I will discontinue visiting your site.

– Jeff Friedman

I’m very disappointed that Salon would endorse the type of activity Dan
Savage engaged in.

I’m no fan of Gary Bauer and will suffer no remorse as his candidacy comes
to an untimely end, which it undoubtedly will. But to deliberately try to
make other people sick is, in itself, sick.

As long as Salon continues to endorse this by continuing to publish
anything by Dan Savage, I will no longer be a patron.

Deliberately passing influenza virus germs is a chilling prospect. I’m
sure your advertisers will be very interested in the type of antisocial,
pathological behaviors you apparently endorse.

– B Fritz

I couldn’t keep from laughing as I read Dan’s column. Although I was a
little disgusted at his biowar campaign, his insight into the hard right
of the Republican Party and the Bauer campaign was wickedly on target. It
was an exceptionally well-written column.

–Chris Tharrington

OK, first I laughed about Dan Savage’s attempt to give Gary Bauer the
flu. Then I thought about it for two seconds and was ashamed of myself.
Just what does Savage think he accomplished? First of all, when the Bauer
people find out about this, it will, no doubt, only make them more
homophobic. Second, for all Savage knows, Bauer’s had a flu shot. But
there’s no guarantee that more vulnerable folks who come into contact with
doorknobs in Bauer’s office have had their vaccines.

How is Savage going to feel if someone from the custodial staff –
possibly someone with a suppressed immune system — comes down with this
rather serious illness because of his reckless, violent prank?

– John Gamache

I am amazed that, through publication, you endorsed Dan Savage’s article
“Stalking Gary Bauer.” That’s exactly what we need today: Irresponsible
media encouraging violence against politicians who don’t agree with their
views. What’s next, the chronicle of an HIV-positive gay activist who
tries to infect Bauer with AIDS? But then, why stick with biological
warfare: There are plenty of left-wing fanatics out there who would be
happy to just gun Bauer down if it would get them a headline.

And this is all done in the name of “freedom.” Freedom of speech, open
debate of ideas — these are all fine with liberal fanatics so long as the
speech and debate agree with their politically correct views. Now it’s
open season on conservative politicians — but don’t you dare touch old
growth forests!

– Larry Waters

I read with interest this article by Dan Savage. It was well-written and
interesting.

According to the article, he does his best to infect Gary Bauer and his
staff members with the flu and lies on several occasions.

If Mr. Savage is so willing to lie to achieve his ends, how can I believe
this article? What kind of ethic allows someone to infect others with
disease?

– Mike G. McDermott

It’s no secret that Dan Savage is a fearless maverick, and his wonderfully
malicious revenge on the evil politics of Republican Gary Bauer made me
laugh out loud.

Of course, I figured right off that some tight-assed p.c. readers would
liken Savage’s viral generosity with the spreading of another such virus,
but that view is as damning and claustrophobic as Bauer’s moldy views on
gays, single parents and abortion.

Besides, anyone who’s been knocked flat by this damned flu bug can tell
you that it raises your temperature and your dander; a well-deserved
doorknob-licking was not only called for in this case, but it would have
been grossly negligent of Dan to not “share the wealth.”

– Trish Gushue

If we find Dan Savage tied to a fence and beaten to death there will be no
candlelight vigils.

Perhaps someone can stick a doorknob in his mouth for decoration.

– Ken Ward

If you loved Dick Nixon and gang for the sheer venom and cruelty of the
’72 dirty tricks campaign, then you must be tickled pink with Dan Savage
for his current attempt to sabotage the Bauer candidacy.

I’m no supporter of any of the right-wing, religious zealots (or any other
Republican — ever), but purposely infecting someone with influenza seems,
at the very least, to be a gross violation of ordinary civility. Far
worse, I would suggest to Savage, is that in spreading his slobber of
disease around Bauer’s nexus with the expressed purpose of harming the
candidate, Savage has done something approaching criminality. After all,
people have been known to die of complications related to the flu.

Mr. Savage would most certainly oppose the actions of anyone who would
purposely infect another with HIV, and I fail to see any subtle
distinction between that and his attempt to infect Bauer.

– Ron Ackerman

Are you crazy? You are condoning and publishing the attempted spreading of
disease to the Bauer campaign by a columnist? Does the immorality of such
an action escape you? Are you so devoid of honesty and compassion for
people that you would applaud actions such as these? Shame, shame, shame.

Where is your respect for the Constitution, and for the voting process and
your justification of press freedom when you condone the attempted
elimination of Bauer from the New Hampshire? Is this what you teach your
children and grandchildren? Unbelievable!

– John Hagan

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