- During the Clinton impeachment battle, the online magazine
Salon gratuitously revealed that leading House Republican Henry Hyde had
an extramarital affair 30 years ago.
- Was that playing dirty?
- "Frankly, yes," the mag's editors conceded
in an editorial. "But ugly times call for ugly tactics."
- Salon, ever a trailblazer, has just gone beyond character
assassination against conservative politicians, and has begun going after
them with germ warfare.
- This week in Salon, syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage
wrote of his undercover stint with the Gary Bauer campaign in Iowa. While
lying in a Des Moines hotel room suffering from the flu, Savage caught
the candidate on TV speaking out against gay marriage.
- That did it. The openly gay Savage decided his mission
was clear: "Get close enough to Bauer to give him the flu, which,
if I am successful, will lay him flat just before the New Hampshire primary."
- Savage regales readers with tales of coughing on everything
in the Bauer office, even licking doorknobs when nobody was looking. He
sucked on a pen he later handed to the candidate.
- "My plan was a little malicious -- even a little
mean-spirited," Savage wrote. "But those same words describe
the tactics used by Bauer and the rest of the religious right against gays
- My, what tidy moral reasoning. Hate your opponent's rhetoric?
Then do your dead-level best to put him and his staff in the hospital.
Ugly times, after all, call for ugly tactics.
- Bauer's Iowa office was shell-shocked by the news.
- "We just kind of knew him as Dan," said Iowa
campaign director Loras Schulte. "This is trash-can journalism at
its worst. I have no idea what he may have tried to infect us with."
- Indeed, it's hard to think of a stunt that could better
play into the hands of authentic homophobes. Think of it: a crusading gay
avenger secretly tries to pass on a virus to Christian conservatives, and
is rewarded for his efforts by a trendy media outlet. It's the kind of
fevered propaganda you'd expect from the crazy "God hates fags"
- Savage couldn't be reached because, according to his
Seattle office, "He's lost somewhere in the Midwest." He'd better
be across Iowa state lines. A spokesman for the Iowa attorney general's
office says the jerk's flu-bug prank opens him up to felony assault charges.
- And, by signing an Iowa voter-registration form so he
could participate in the caucuses, Savage committed perjury.
- Salon editor David Talbot said he didn't send Savage
out to infect the Bauerites, and claims not to condone it. But he was pleased
to print the story all the same, under the moniker "The Merry Prankster."
- Is giving the flu to people on purpose Salon's idea of
a "merry prank"?
- My wife and I spent two days in the hospital last Thanksgiving,
watching our flu-infected newborn gut it out with tubes coming out of his
feet, screaming from a spinal tap the doctors had to do to test for meningitis.
I wouldn't wish that hell on my worst enemy.
- But for Talbot, such sneering disregard for human suffering
is just lively journalism.
- "It was provocative and it raised lots of questions
about the ways gays are scapegoated by the religious right," Talbot
said. "The kind of passion and fury that Dan feels I completely empathize
- Bob Giles of the media think tank Freedom Forum warns
that Salon is setting a dangerous precedent.
- Savage "is acting as a terrorist, and he's using
a journalistic cover to do it," Giles said. "This is the kind
of unedited behavior that some will try on the Internet."
- Where is the outrage? If a right-winger angry over Al
Gore's gay- rights views tried to take down the veep's campaign by spreading
disease within its ranks, then profited from it by penning a sanctimonious
tell-all, the "hate crimes" hysterics would be baying for blood.
- Not necessarily Salon. Talbot says he might be willing
to publish such a piece from the right "if the writer did it with
sufficient craft and wit."
- That's not comforting. That's chilling.
- e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org