The dishonesty in the world of blogs and partisan websites is so pervasive, the determination to deceive so great, and the willingness to distort, confuse and misinform so ingrained and shameless, that an objective understanding of some politically-charged events become literally—and I mean literally literally, and what Joe Biden means when he says literally, which is “figuratively”—impossible. Does this fuel the destructive partisanship that causes public discourse to be about “gotchas” and point scoring rather than collaboratively addressing societal problems? Absolutely.
I fell into this muck today when I made the mistake of visiting the Breitbart website for the first time in months, to see what it was evolving into now that Andrew has left us. Eureka! Here was a post by Ben Shapiro saluting Perez Hilton, the petty and reliably ethics-challenged gossip columnist (there is no such thing as an ethical gossip columnist) for breaking ranks and criticizing Dan Savage for his anti-Christian, abusive rant to high school journalists in what was supposed to be a speech about anti-bullying initiatives. This signaled to me that Hilton had an Ethics Hero designation in his immediate future, for properly chastising unethical conduct by an ally: like Savage, Hilton is gay and active in anti-bullying efforts.
“Hilton has long been an advocate of anti-bullying, and it is heroic of him to stand apart from the rest of the media, which has buried Savage’s bully tactics or brushed them off as unimportant. Savage, as Hilton points out, has lost his credibility as an anti-bullying advocate with such actions. And yes, Hilton has cut a video on behalf of the It Gets Better Project.
“It wasn’t any of the big time celebrities who have endorsed and supported Savage’s It Gets Better Project who stood up against him. It wasn’t folks like Jane Lynch or Neil Patrick Harris or Josh Duhamel or James Marsden or Janet Jackson or Jennifer Love Hewitt or any of the dozens of other stars who could have done so. It wasn’t the folks in the mainstream media, who have completely ignored the story, or justified Savage’s behavior. It wasn’t the elected leaders who have used government resources to direct traffic to Savage’s program who stood up to Savage’s bullying here. It wasn’t President Obama or Vice President Biden or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack or the Department of Justice or the White House Staff or Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
“It was a gossip columnist.”
The Perez quote cited by Shapiro to justify this extravagant praise was this:
“UGH ….Savage later called the walk-out “pansy-a**ed” which, from someone who helms an anti-bullying campaign, is obviously a very negative thing to say ….Can’t we just be good and kind to each other? Isn’t faith in love and honesty and kindness all any of us really need?”
Oddly, no link or reference accompanied the quote. This caused me to do something I am even more loathe to do than visit the Breitbart site—visit Perez Hilton’s semi-literate, dim-witted blog. I found the post Shapiro’s “quote” came out of, and it was almost exactly the opposite of how the Brietbart writer characterized it. Hilton didn’t criticize Savage in the least. His headline on Savage’s unconscionable speech trivialized and misrepresented what occurred as “Dan Savage offends some Christian teens.” In his post, he rationalizes and spins Savage’s attack on the Bible, writing,
“Knowing Savage as we do, we know he wasn’t saying Christianity was bullish** or that religion in general is bullish**. He was merely pointing out that certain aspects of the Bible are outdated and simply wrong — specifically anti-gay sentiments — which makeup perhaps .00009% of the text.”
Then Hilton brushes aside Savage’s calling the students who walked out on his speech under the barrage of vulgarity and abuse “pansy-assess,” noting that Savage had apologized. Hilton’s Rodney King-like “Can’t we all get along?” lament at the end isn’t directed at Savage or anyone in particular, as far as I can tell. If there is a more juvenile, inarticulate blogger with millions of visitors a year than Perez Hilton, I’m not sure who it would be.
The conclusion of my investigation of Perez’s supposed ethics heroism: Shapiro, true to his Breibart roots, intentionally misrepresented Hilton’s post as the opposite of what it was by quoting him out of context and omitting a link so readers could check. He seems to have done this to make the targets of his post—the President, Clinton, Sibelius, Hollywood celebrities, most of the media—look weak and hypocritical by contrasting their failure to criticize Savage with the (fictional) integrity of a mere gossip columnist. Hilton, for his part, had in fact written a very typical post for him—superficial, ethically muddled and useless—that attempted to paper over the indefensible conduct of his comrade-in arms, Savage. There isn’t anything critical, brave or surprising about it.
Yet I did learn something: Dan Savage had issued a more detailed apology than his “non-apology apology” offered on Twitter, which said he was sorry “if he hurt anyone’s feelings.” Maybe he had really apologized this time! I went to his blog.
To evaluate Savage’s apology, such as it is, we will need to pull out the hierarchy of apologies first introduced on Ethics Alarms here. They run from most admirable and ethical to unethical, 1 being the best, 10 being the worst:
1. An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.
2. An apology motivated by the realization that one’s legitimate and defensible action or words caused unanticipated, excessive, or unnecessary harm to a particular party or parties. The apology expresses a sincere regret that the harm occurred.
3. An apology motivated by a desire to accept accountability for an event or occurrence that one may not have caused, but was responsible for in some way.
4. A spontaneous apology intended to demonstrate compassion and sympathy for the victim or victims of the unavoidable consequences of a necessary action.
5. A spontaneous apology designed to prevent future, preventable harm by expressing regret that a past action was necessary or that it occurred at all.
6. A forced or compelled version of 1-4, when the individual apologizing knows that an apology is appropriate but would have avoided making one if he or she could have gotten away with it.
7. A forced or compelled version of 1-4, in which the individual apologizing may not sincerely believe that an apology is appropriate, but chooses to shows the victim or victims of the act inspiring it that the individual responsible is humbling himself and being forced to admit wrongdoing by the society, the culture, legal authority, or an organization or group that the individual’s actions reflect upon or represent .
8. A forced apology for a rightful or legitimate act, in capitulation to bullying, fear, threats, desperation or other coercion
9. Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not (“if my words offended, I am sorry”). Another variation: apologizing for a tangential matter other than the act or words that warranted an apology.
10. An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.
Given the most generous interpretation, Savage’s current apology can rank as no better than a 6. The speech in which he engaged in hateful rhetoric while supposedly opposing bullying took place weeks ago, and conference attendees expressed objections weeks ago. Yet it is not until now, after the video surfaced and some conservative blogs called attention to his hypocrisy and inappropriate conduct, that Savage decided to express any regrets at all. It is a forced apology, not a spontaneous one.
It is much, much worse that that, however. Here is Savage, with comments from me in bold:
“I would like to apologize for describing that walk out as a pansy-assed move. I wasn’t calling the handful of students who left pansies (2800+ students, most of them Christian, stayed and listened), just the walk-out itself. [ Comment: A blatant lie. Here is what Savage said, referring to the students who had walked out on his speech: “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.” There was and is no question that “pansy-assed” was specifically directed at the students who had left.] But that’s a distinction without a difference—kinda like when religious conservatives tells their gay friends that they “love the sinner, hate the sin.” They’re often shocked when their gay friends get upset because, hey, they were making a distinction between the person (lovable!) and the person’s actions (not so much!). [ Comment: “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a legitimate and important distinction, the difference between concluding that someone has done a wrongful act and saying that they are a bad or evil person. One can change future conduct; one cannot change one’s nature. Savage, of course, truly believes that those who have beliefs he opposes are bad people, which is why his rhetoric toward them is so hateful.] But gay people feel insulted by “love the sinner, hate the sin” because it is insulting. [ Comment: He’s right about that.] Likewise, my use of “pansy-assed” was insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong. And I apologize for saying it. [Comment: This is a “but remember, they do it too” rationalization, disguised as a self-serving apology, as in “they deserve it, but I sunk to their level and I’m better than that.” No credit.]
As for what I said about the Bible… A smart Christian friend involved politics writes: “In America today you just can’t refer, even tangentially, to someone’s religion as ‘bullshit.’ You should apologize for using that word.” I didn’t call anyone’s religion bullshit. I did say that there is bullshit—”untrue words or ideas”—in the Bible. That is being spun as an attack on Christianity. Which is bullshhh… which is untrue. I was not attacking the faith in which I was raised. [Comment: This is spinning, and deceit. Savage knows that many Christian religions regard the Bible as the holy word of God, and the foundation of their faith. He cannot call the foundation of their religion “bullshit” and claim he wasn’t attacking their religion. Talk about a distinction without a difference!]
“I was attacking the argument that gay people must be discriminated against—and anti-bullying programs that address anti-gay bullying should be blocked (or exceptions should be made for bullying “motivated by faith”)—because it says right there in the Bible that being gay is wrong. Yet the same people who make that claim choose to ignore what the Bible has to say about a great deal else. I did not attack Christianity. I attacked hypocrisy. My remarks can only be read as an attack on all Christians if you believe that all Christians are hypocrites. Which I don’t believe. [Comment: The students in the audience felt attacked, and attacking the religious beliefs of attendees was not the purpose for which Savage had been invited to speak. He was at fault, yet he is arguing that they shouldn’t have been offended. The argument makes this just an extended version of his original non-apology apology: he’s sorry if anyone’s feelings were hurt, but they just weren’t smart enough to understand the nuances of what he was saying.]
“On other occasions I’ve made the same point without using the word bullshit…[ Comment: here Savage quotes from another post. That is irrelevant to the issue, which is his using a speech to students to vent his personal animus in a way that made the students he was addressing feel personally attacked. What difference does it make that Savage has made the point in the past, to a different audience, less offensively? He is supposed to be apologizing for how he treated this audience.]
“…and maybe I shouldn’t have used the word bullshit in this instance. But while it may have been a regrettable word choice, my larger point stands: If believers can ignore what the Bible says about slavery, they can ignore what the Bible says about homosexuality. [Comment: Now Savage has abandoned the pretense that he is apologizing at all. His argument suggested that the religion encourages and supports the bullying of gays, which it does not. ]
“Finally, here’s Mark Twain on the Bible:
‘It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.‘ [Comment: Translation–“A great American writer agrees with me, so I have nothing to apologize for.” But then, Twain wasn’t talking to high school students about bullying, and he didn’t call them “pansy-assed,” did he, Dan?]
I’m not guilty of saying anything that hasn’t been said before [ Comment: There it is!! “The Golden Rationalization” for unethical conduct: “Everybody does it.” ] and—yes—said much better. What is “bullshit” in this context but “upwards of a thousand lies” in modern American English? And while those slamming me most loudly for “pansy-assed” may be on the right, they are also in the right. I see their point and, again, I apologize for describing the walk-out as “pansy-assed.” But they are wrong when they claim that I “attacked Christianity.” There are untrue things in the Bible—and the Koran and the Book of Mormon and every other “sacred” text—and you don’t have to take my word for it: just look at all the biblical “shoulds,” “shall nots,” and “abominations” that religious conservatives already choose to ignore. They know that not everything in the Bible is true All Christians read the Bible selectively. Some read it hypocritically—and the hypocrites react very angrily when anyone has the nerve to point that out.[Comment: Savage has apologized, deceitfully, for one phrase, “pansy-assed,’ and nothing else. The objections, however, were to the whole anti-Christian and hateful tone of his speech, which was offensive to students who did not attend the conference to be attacked, and should not have been. After all, they walked out before Savage called them “pansy-assed.”]
The verdict: Savage’s pseudo-apology is a 9 or a 10, which is to say an unethical, dishonest, self-serving mockery of an apology and barely worthy of the word.
To recap this chain of lies, misdirection and deceit:
1. Dan Savage gave an offensive and hateful speech to a groups of unsuspecting students, who should not have been subjected to it.
2. Most of the media ignored it, because Savage’s anti-bullying project is supported by people they like and cater to.
3. The conservative media publicized the story, in part out of unethical motives ( a lot of them don’t like gay rights advocates, because they thing gays should be discriminated against, if not bullied.)
4. Since the speech in its context was obviously deserving of criticism, this brought unpleasant heat on Savage.
5. Savage issued a non-apology apology on Twitter, and was called on it by some commentators who could not be tarred as gay-bashing Neanderthals.
6. Savage then took to his blog to issue an expanded, self-serving, rationalized, excuse-filled non-apology apology, which was itself unethical.
7. The sycophantic Savage ally Perez Hilton falsely represented it as a complete and sincere apology, when it was nothing of the kind, and
8. The Breitbart site, through Ben Shapiro, intentionally misrepresented Hilton’s positive spin on Savage’s faux apology as courageous criticism of Savage, so Shapiro could attack Savage’s supporters.
To quote Hilton, “UGH.” No wonder so much of the public just picks a side to root for and stops trying to figure out what’s really going on, who’s right, who’s wrong, and who can be believed.
[ 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.]
Graphic: Media Bistro
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.