The Worst Advice Dan Savage Has Ever Given

Question: What is the worst advice you’ve ever given?

Dan Savage:  God.  That is a hard question to answer.  I once...  God, I can’t even remember.  You know, early on when I started writing the column it was a joke.  I was going to be the gay advice columnist who was as rude to straight people as straight advice columnists always had been to gay people and it was just a gag. And straight people really responded to that kind of contemptuous treatment and started sending me real letters, and suddenly I had to answer real questions from real people. And I didn’t know jack shit about particularly women’s bodies because I stopped paying attention once I realized I wouldn’t... that was a country I was never going to visit.  I didn’t need the Baedekers, you know? And so yeah, I didn’t know how the clit worked and I gave lousy advice about getting women off that got me yelled at. 

I think the worst and perhaps most damaging advice I ever gave was to Jake Shears who I met when he was 15 years old and he asked if he should come out to his parents and he described what was going on and who they were and what you know what he thought they might know. And after he told me everything I was like: "Oh, they know.  They’re just waiting for you to tell them.  You should tell them.  Just come out to them.  They’re waiting.  They’re ready." And he came out to them and they didn’t know and it was a big disaster and they threatened to pull him out of school and they were really angry and so he called me.  I had a radio show and he called me and I got him off the air and got his mother’s phone number and called my mother and gave my mother Jake’s mother’s phone number and had my mom call him mom and yell at her. And it helped, but yeah, I gave him so really shitty advice. And that is really shitty advice.  There is a lot of bad advice for gay middle schoolers and high schoolers out there telling them that they should just come out and not everybody is in a position where that is wise or safe and we have to tell these gay teenagers to take a cold, hard look at who their families are and where they live before they take that step.  Most of the bullied gay kids are kids who can’t hide and can’t pass for straight and gay adults need to be careful about telling, as I was not at that moment, telling 15 year-olds to come out.  Something like 40% of homeless teenagers are gay and lesbian teenagers who have been thrown out of the house when they were outed or came out and unless we’re willing to take, as a community, financial responsibility for these kids who get thrown out we just can’t glibly tell middle schoolers that they have a responsibility to come out in middle school and make it better for themselves if it really is going to imperil their lives and their futures to do that.

You have to come out from a position of strength and you have... and some security and I get grief because I tell kids who are in college whose parents are paying for college who would cut them off to wait.  Wait until the last check clears in your senior year and then come out.

That said, you can... Sometimes gay people underestimate their families because they want to justify their own cowardice.  Some people don’t come out to their families when they could and their families would be supportive and the gay person is just afraid and they inflate... they exaggerate their family’s homophobia in a self-serving way as an excuse never to come out.  When I meet a 30 year-old who is not out to their family, it’s always that their family is so homophobic. And really what is going on there is that that gay person is a chickenshit and a coward and so they make their families out to be these monsters that they’re not, necessarily. And so they don’t ever have to like live some integrity and honesty and ethics and I have no sympathy for those people.

Recorded on October 18, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

There’s a lot of bad advice that tells teens to come out regardless of their family situation. "Not everyone is in a position where that it wise or safe," he says. On the other hand, "some gay people underestimate their families because they want to justify their own cowardliness."

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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