BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This was the week for activist advice columnists -- I mean why just counsel when you can conduct an intervention? For instance, Jeanne Phillips, alias Dear Abby, was deeply disturbed by one advice seeker who wrote that he fantasized about his girlfriend's pre-adolescent daughters, so she called the police who were dispatched to the man's home where they found child pornography on his computer and arrested him. And this week, Dan Savage, who writes the syndicated advice column Savage Love, printed a letter from a gay man who was desperate to know if his co-worker was gay but was afraid to ask. Savage advised that the best way to find out if someone is gay is to ask, and so without asking the letter-writer's permission, he did. So Dan, what exactly did you do?
DAN SAVAGE: Well I was able to pretty easily figure out from the letter that had been sent to me where it was that they both worked and I called the office and asked around for the guy without saying why I was calling and got the object of the affection on the phone and asked him if he was gay.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well that's nice detective work but, really, [LAUGHTER] this is - this is not what an advice columnist does. What were you thinking?
DAN SAVAGE:This is what I do. Who decides what an advice columnist does; there is no professional like ratings board. I can't have my license taken away because I don't have one.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From what you've written, you may have actually gotten your correspondent in trouble.
DAN SAVAGE:Maybe, but I didn't mention anybody's names or give any real descriptions or anything. And usually what happens in cases like that is, you know, through other friends at work, you know, you dispatch emissaries to go find out from that person if that person is gay, cause you're too nervous to ask yourself - and that's all I did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:What do you think of the actions of Dear Abby? The man in that case was charged with possessing child pornography - not molesting little kids which is what Abby was afraid of.
DAN SAVAGE: I've been, I've been struggling with that, because I have a ton of e-mail from people who are attracted to children who are tormented about it and want to know what to do about it and-- and I guess I could take these e-mails to the police too, but I haven't. Certainly if I get an e-mail from someone saying I am, you know, in an ongoing fashion I am molesting this child, I would definitely go to the police with that. But you know on a hunch turning somebody in because--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Of their fantasy.
DAN SAVAGE:Yeah, because of their fantasy and then them being arrested for some other crime - a separate crime - that is a little goobie. I don't think I would have done that - which is not to say that I have sympathy for people who make or possess child pornography. But there, you know there is an assumption of anonymity when you write to an advice column that you're not - you know your name won't be attached to it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Exactly! Which brings us back to the case of Dan Savage! [LAUGHTER] Because if people with little secrets-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
DAN SAVAGE: I know! That's what I was addressing, and I ha-- I didn't reveal who these guys were.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:In the interests of full disclosure d-- I should say that Dan and I once co-hosted a call in show about human relationships called [LAUGHTER] A More Perfect Union. Dan, you never stalked any of those callers down, did you?
DAN SAVAGE: No, I didn't, but I've always written back people and, and talked to people and gotten involved. Anyone -- see the - this is the thing that you're missing - like anyone who reads my column on a regular basis, they know that I am not writing necessarily a traditional standard advice column and I have in the past gotten in touch with people who wrote me letters and dragged them into the column and interviewed them or talked to them or interfered in a really sort of invasive way. [LAUGHTER] You know so anybody who writes me knows it's a little bit of a - a risk and a dare to me and a, you know, risk to them personally because I have shown up on people's doorsteps who wrote me letters to interview them about their problem or to help them with their problem.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. Dan, thanks a lot.
DAN SAVAGE: Sure thing. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dan Savage is the author of the syndicated column Savage Love. [MUSIC]