I've never written about radio/TV shock jock Michael Savage. I don't know him, nor do I know much about him. But learning he'd just been given his own show on MSNBC a few months ago, I thought I should explore this new conservative spokesman and what I learned was not good. The consensus, from those who knew of him, was that he wouldn't last. The betting was that he'd say something wholly inappropriate and get himself fired. Worse, the conservative movement would get tagged by his outrageousness.
Those predictions came true last weekend when Savage's very brief TV career with a one-hour talk show ended in the haunted halls of MSNBC on Saturday afternoons. The former vitamin salesman, who transferred his husky hucksterism into becoming a raving conservative cartoon figure, self-destructed.
Bored channel-flippers might have stopped on the "Savage Nation" shtick as he screamed about his mistreatment during airline travel. To illustrate his "airline horror stories," he sat ridiculously between two life-size mannequins as he complained on camera about his Hawaii vacation. His TV end began when he took phone calls on this seemingly non-controversial topic.
The caller began by complaining about smoking in an airplane bathroom. "Half an hour into the flight, I need to suggest that Don and Mike take your ..." the caller said, before he was cut off. I'd guess the caller made a reference to a homosexual act, since Savage began screaming. "So you're one of those sodomists. Are you a sodomite?" Savage asked. The caller replied: "Yes, I am."
So Savage wiped out his own show: "You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How's that? Why don't you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage."
It's nice to find that there are still program directors in radio and television with the common sense and decency not to tolerate shock jocks when they wish death on members of their audience. It is refreshing to learn that on some level it's still unacceptable to wish another human being - especially an anonymous phone caller - to catch a terminal disease and die. "His comments were extremely inappropriate and the decision was an easy one," MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines said.
How... nice. And how hypocritical.
Wishing death on people hasn't always been a damaging career move. In fact, if you wish death on conservatives, there's no problem at all.
Ask big-mouthed leftist Julianne Malveaux. No poobahs at PBS or Maryland Public Television found it a slam-dunk "easy" move to ban her from her regular spot on their nationally distributed all-female TV talk show "To The Contrary" when she wished death on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1994: "You know, I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease." When others on the show protested, Malveaux wouldn't back down. "Well, that's how I feel. He is an absolutely reprehensible person."
That's not the only case where it wasn't "easy" to take some angry liberal's TV privileges away. A year later, National Public Radio reporter Nina Totenberg used her regular spot on the syndicated TV show "Inside Washington" to wish death on Sen. Jesse Helms and his family after he suggested AIDS research was overfunded compared to the death rate of other, more common life-threatening diseases like Malveaux's favorite, heart disease. "I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the Good Lord's mind, because if there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it."
Totenberg wasn't "easily" dismissed. She wasn't even admonished. And forget an apology.
On the subject of homosexuality, liberals are so quick to lose all patience and reach for a jar of good old hate. (Only conservatives commit hate crimes.) In August of 2000, after the Supreme Court refused to let the gay lobby torture the Boy Scouts of America any further, CBS's "Early Show" invited conservative expert Robert Knight for an interview. When he finished the interview, a camera mix-up resulted in Bryant Gumbel caught on national television saying of Knight, "What a f-ing idiot!" The last two words, as in the Savage caller incident, were made inaudible, but the lip-reading was unmistakeable. No one was going to fire multi-millionaire Gumbel for his hate speech, nor would he in a million years ever apologize.
MSNBC's experiment with Saturday-afternoon cartoon conservatism was doomed to failure. Sooner or later, Savage was bound to blow himself up. But it's too bad that the TV-talk titans never uphold civility on conservatives' behalf, and liberals never suffer the slightest professional hiccup when their hate speech lights up the tube.