Ethics Dunces: The Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association

Savage being Savage.

Now some of you will wonder, when a speaker addressing a national conference of high school journalists on the topic of anti-bullying measures starts a hateful rant against the Bible, religion, and any students in the audience who believe in either, why the speaker wouldn’t be the designated dunce. The speaker in this sorry case, however, was Dan Savage. Savage is a talented writer, a gay rights advocate, and a gifted humorist; he is also a very angry, self-righteous, arrogant gay man with a tendency to be unapologetically vicious. While it is true that angry, “take-no-prisoner” activists have their uses on the road to social change, lecturing about the evils of bullying is not one of them, because these people are themselves prone to bullying. No, the ethics dunces are the organizations that inflict such individuals on young, idealistic student journalists who didn’t travel to a conference to have a speaker call them “pansy-assed.”

That’s what the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association did when they irresponsibly invited Dan Savage to speak to the students, about 100 of whom walked out as Savage launched into an angry, but thoroughly Savage-like diatribe against Christians and Christianity.

Savage, has legitimate anti-bullying credentials, at least when the bullying involves gay kids. He is the founder of the “It Gets Better” project. He is also, not to mince words, a self-satisfied and and often mean-spirited jerk. He may hate people who bully gays, and many of those bullies may be motivated by a warped reading of the Bible, but in no way does that justify his hijacking what is supposed to be an inspirational and educational speaking invitation to vent his hatred, which is what he did to the unsuspecting students at the conference. At one point, Savage mocked the students who, quite appropriately, had left the auditorium under his barrage of anti-Bible vulgarity, saying, “You can tell the Bible guys in the hall they can come back now because I’m done beating up the Bible. It’s funny as someone who is on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible how pansy-assed people react when you push back.”

Only massive incompetence and failure to do basic vetting of their invited speaker could explain the two associations subjecting their young conference-goers to Savage’s inappropriate ravings. What they should have done in response was to issue a sincere expression of regret, apology and responsibility. But in the fine tradition of ethics dunces throughout recorded history, what was issued as a response to criticism was this mealy-mouthed gibberish:

“We appreciate the level of thoughtfulness and deliberation regarding Dan Savage’s keynote address,” the NSPA wrote. “Some audience members who felt hurt by his words and tone decided to leave in the middle of his speech, and to this, we want to make our point very clear: While as a journalist it’s important to be able to listen to speech that offends you, these students and advisers had simply reached their tolerance level for what they were willing to hear.”

What? So are you apologizing for the disgraceful conduct of your self-absorbed and hateful speaker, or aren’t you, NSPA?

“While some of his earlier comments were so strongly worded that they shook some of our audience members, it is never the intent of JEA or NSPA to let students get hurt during their time at our conventions.”

Wait…huh? Is the NSPA blaming the students for being too sensitive when their speaker on anti-bullying began using the language of bullies on them and their colleagues? Is the last sentence some kind of half-baked apology, or is the NSPA just saying “this wasn’t our fault”?  Still, it is remarkable to see a weasel draft PR releases, since most of them are, you know, hunting rabbits.

As for Savage’s culpability, it is one of those frog and scorpion situations. Dan Savage is a wretched choice to have address students on anti-bullying issues, his laudable project notwithstanding. Like so many advocates for traditionally marginalized minority groups, his enmity for those who abused him throughout his life has left him eager for payback: he doesn’t oppose bullying; he only opposes bullying of people like him. If you hire Dan Savage to speak, you get Dan Savage. You shouldn’t depend on Dan Savage to make a principled decision to tone down his usual rhetoric just because it’s inappropriate for his audience. True, that’s what a responsible and ethical speaker would do, but if you want a responsible speaker you don’t invite Dan Savage. He acted like a jerk, but that’s how Dan Savage acts. If the JEA and the NSPA knew he would behave inappropriately, then they are responsible. If they didn’t, when all they had to do was do minimal research to see what they would be inflicting on their conference attendees, they are still responsible.

Either way, they are the Ethics Dunces.

[ Note: If anyone can point me to a transcript of Savage’s entire speech, not just the Bible comments, I would be grateful. I can’t locate them.]


Source: Fox News

Graphics: American Catholics

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

17 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: The Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association

  1. I’m really glad you and I are on good terms, Jack.

    And I thought you did really good with your piece on the messed up, morally lacking, attorney/prison thing wherein evidence is, shall we say, SNAFU?

    So glad we’re friends, Jack, cause I wouldn’t like being called what you called that man.


    Or, perhaps some vino while you ponder what you will write about ALEC?

    I love you, man.


    • I haven’t forgotten about ALEC, honest.

      As for Dan: it’s a fair diagnosis. If this were an isolated incident, maybe not. We do have professional jerks in this country–Imus, Stern, Alec Baldwin, Maher, Coulter, Olberman,the other Savage, lots of others. At least Dan Savage does something worthwhile too. But going in front of kids you don’t know to talk about bullying and use the slot to denigrate some of their parents and upbringing, and to hold them responsible for gay-bashing? Would you do anything like that, or even close to that?

      • That said… Savage is also the person responsible for a very vicious cyber-prank that was aimed at Rick Santorum a number of years ago. Savage also tried to infect Gary Bauer (or his staffers) with the flu back in 2000.

        So the real question is, “Is what he is doing for gay kids enough to outweigh his… bullying (for lack of a better term) of those who he disagrees with?”

  2. Show me the money.

    Jack, I just wrapped a two-week long term sub job at a high school where I covered Biology, Environmental Science, and Health Careers. Do you think I didn’t tell those kids some of my own experiences, my own ideas about the way the world works? Well, I damn well did. And I know that you and plenty of other people feel that a teacher’s personal observations, which some may interpret as indoctrination, which, in my case, is not because I have repeatedly stated to my classes, “Don’t think that because I’m telling you this stuff that it’s true, You have to decide for yourself. It’s not what you learn, it’s what you discover,” have no place in the classroom, especially in K-12.

    • I’m not sure about a substitute teacher doing this, but a good and responsible teacher, which I assume you are, knows the difference between exposing students to points of view, which is fine, and indoctrination, which isn’t. There’s a big, big difference between “I believe” and “this is the way it is.” The latter isn’t just irresponsible, it’s proof of stupidity. Also opinions of how the world works are always useful—insisting on partisan activism isn’t.

      None of which, as far as I can see, has any relationship at all to turning an anti-bullying speech into an anti-Christian hate rant.

    • You present facts as a teacher. You do not present your ideals. That is indoctrination. You would be up in arms if a teacher was talking about the Bible in school. That little clause you use is just your way of absolving yourself of guilt.

      I cannot wait for us to get over this whole bully fascination we have. Bullying happens and we need to stop it when we can, but in the end this whole fascination is causing even more bullying. This is a fine example. The man came to discuss bullying and ended up bullying. He cannot get over what has happened to him. He cannot even pull himself away from what he is doing to recognize what is bullying.

  3. Unless you present your ideals, Joshua, you might as well get a job at the golden arches. Facts are slippery things in the hands of the greedy.

    Agreed your comments, and Jack’s, concerning Dan Savage. It’s just that sometimes I think Jack gets a bit histrionic with the name calling.

    • Your entire idea is counterintuitive to what professionalism is.

      Hypothetical: You are teaching a class on Communism. You begin with where Communism came from and how the system works. You present other nations such as Cuba, USSR, and China as examples of Communism. Every nuance about this form of government is given, including what has happened under Communist regimes. You do not interject your own opinions on Communism.

      Hypothetical 2: Same scenario as above but only this time, you discuss what you think about Communism. You fudge on some of the facts and gloss over important bits and pieces. Hey, it’s okay because the information is out there. They can always find it on their own, right? Not like you are missing certain things on purpose? “Don’t think that because I’m telling you this stuff that it’s true, You have to decide for yourself. It’s not what you learn, it’s what you discover.”

      How many students do you think will go off on their own to discover more about Communism in scenario two? In one? Probably none. Most will take your opinion on it first and foremost. You are their teacher after all.

      And sorry for going off of topic, Jack. I wonder what the people who plan these types of events think when they look for people to speak. Do they look for someone outspoken and well-known before they look for anyone else? Or do they throw darts at a board and toss six dice, add the scores together then divide by forty-four, and plug that number into google to find what they want? That’s the best answer I have for what they did.

  4. The whole Santorum name change thing shows that he’s a jerk. Nice people wouldn’t do that. Nice people also don’t say what Santorum says, so I’m not crying. And again, I will point out that a man with the last name Savage trying to change the meaning of another man’s surname by acting with cruelty and without respect or remorse… he is living in a glass house.

  5. Since Mr Savage is notorious for his low opinion of Trans and Intersex people, I can’t be sufficiently objective enough to comment.

    He did one good thing – started the “It gets better” camaign for Gays and Lesbians. Just Gays and Lesbians though, “Trannies” deserve all they get according to him. Intersex people? They’re Freaks.

    Dammit, I’m commenting. Ignore what I said, just research for yourself.

    • I know. Savage is a champion for the mistreated as long as he thinks they are like him. A lot of talented writers are fairly awful human beings. Few are so proud of it, however.

  6. Great minds think alike, Jack. A Facebook friend shared a link to this story, and I saw it this morning.. I read it, then went to another site and watched the video of the event. In my head, the term “Jerk!” bubbled up, so I shared that link to Facebook, dubbing Savage a jerk in an introductory comment. A few minutes ago, I surfed over to here and read this entry about the incident, and noticed that you had closed it by characterizing Savage as a jerk. Whoops, thought I—Jack’s had a problem with plagiarism, of late. So, it was purely coincidental, Jack. We just had the same reaction to the same story, independently, I swear.

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