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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/25/08

The Shock Jock Racket

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Message Rory OConnor
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Angry citizen reaction to the latest cynical, cyclical outpouring of hateful speech over the public radio airwaves – top-rated talk show host Michael Savage’s despicable attack on autistic children as “brats", "morons" and "idiots” – has once again injected America’s talk radio problem back into the mainstream news cycle. But why did it take a full week of protests, pressure, pickets, pullouts by advertiser, and stations dropping the program – Savage’s remarks occurred on the July 16 edition of his nationally syndicated radio show –– before the mainstream media finally responded to the latest outrage? Is it because they are part of the racket?

Savage claimed on his program The Savage Nation that autism is a “fraud, a racket.” He also stated that the ongoing asthma epidemic is “a money racket” staged by “the minority community” to get “extra welfare.” Here’s how the racket works, according to the hatemonger Savage: “When the nurse looks at you, you go [fake cough], ‘I don’t know, the dust got me.’ See, everyone had asthma from the minority community.”

As should be obvious now to all but the most biased observers, the real money racket at play here is the shock jock racket. Everyone involved is getting rich: from top shock jocks like Savage, Rush Limbaugh, (who recently signed a new $400 million dollar contract) and Sean Hannity (who recently signed a new deal in excess of $100 million) to local radio stations like New York’s WOR (which expressed “regret” over Savage’s remarks but took no “responsibility” for them) to national syndicators like Premiere, ABC Radio Networks and the Talk Radio Network, (which pushes Savage out to more than 350 radio stations — and whose CEO Mark Masters trumpets the “fearless entrepreneurial environment at TRN” while he fearfully ducks reporters’ calls) to advertisers and sponsors (like Home Depot and Anheuser-Busch, which unlike the estimable AFLAC continue to advertise on The Savage Nation.) And let’s not forget about the shock jocks’ elite enablers, drawn from the upper echelons of the corrupt nexus of Big Media and Big Politics, who sell their political platforms, books and souls in exchange for audience access…

Although children’s advocates are calling for his head and demanding that Savage apologize and retract his statements — and calling for a boycott of stations that air his show — Savage is offering in lieu of an apology an absurd explanation that his remarks were merely intended to stimulate a dialogue.

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“My comments about autism were meant to boldly awaken parents and children to the medical community’s attempt to label too many children or adults as ‘autistic,’” he claimed.

Equally absurd is the statement that WOR Radio posted on its Web site:

“The views expressed by Michael Savage are his views and are not those of WOR Radio. As Michael Savage is a syndicated show, the content is the responsibility of the syndicator, which is Talk Radio Networks.

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Unfortunately, it is impossible for WOR Radio to know the subject matter in advance of airing. WOR is in the business of serving the community in which we broadcast. That is our stated goal, and we will continue to do so. We regret any consternation that his remarks may have caused to our listeners.”

Can someone please explain how calling autistic children “morons” is serving the community? Maybe I’m missing something!

Or maybe Evelyn Ain, whose 8-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism and who organized a demonstration this week outside WOR, stated the situation more accurately: “That isn’t just freedom of speech, it is hateful speech when you say 99 percent of children with autism are brats.” (Savage responded to the protest by noting that “some in New York… suspect it was a staged protest by the Stalinist Savage-haters.”)

Other parents and activists responded by calling on Talk Radio Network to fire Savage. As Jim Ward, founder and president of ADA Watch and the National Coalition for Disability Rights, said:

“As America prepares to celebrate the 18th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, people with disabilities, parents, family members, friends and advocates across the nation are outraged over Savage’s latest attack on people with disabilities. His despicable assault on children with autism — calling them ‘frauds’ and ‘brats’ — is rightly being condemned as hateful and bigoted. But it is just the latest of Savage’s numerous and painful attempts to demean and disenfranchise people with disabilities.”

And the insurance company Aflac responded as well, by withdrawing all advertising from Savage’s show. Company spokeswoman Laura Kane said, “We understand that radio hosts pick on any number of targets however we found Michael Savage’s recent comments to be both inappropriate and insensitive.”

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Experts estimate that about 1 in 150 children have some form of autism. Telling them and their parents that it’s all just a racket to make money –- as means of enriching yourself, your distributors and your sponsors – is beneath contempt.

Yet Savage shows no shame. Instead, in Orwellian fashion, he is portraying himself as a victim, defending his remarks on the Larry King Show, guest-hosted by fellow shock jock Glenn Beck, by noting, “What a shame it is that I — as a man who has spent his entire life defending the defenseless, mainly children — should have to defend myself from charges leveled at me …by ripping things out of context and making me look like the monster.”

He also responded on his own show, asking, “Do you want to live in a world where one statement that offends somebody could cost you your career?

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Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor writes the 'Media Is A Plural' blog, accessible at www.roryoconnor.org.
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