‘We Must Arrest the Leaders of the Anti-War Movement,” declares the Web site of syndicated radio personality and newly minted MSNBC host Michael Savage. To protect our troops, Savage argues, we should resurrect the Sedition Act of 1918 and make criticism of the government illegal during wartime.
Being a student of history, I’m familiar with the notorious 1918 Sedition Act. It was under this unconstitutional law that the famous socialist and presidential candidate Eugene Debs and many others were sent to prison for opposing World War I. Debs went to jail not for anything he specifically did but for the words he spoke. In particular, for the famous speech he gave in Canton, Ohio, in 1918 denouncing U.S. entry into the World War. Now, Michael Savage, author of New York Times bestseller, The Savage Nation, is getting rich for the words he writes. However, unlike Debs — a man of honor and idealism who spent his entire life working for the rights of labor and social justice, Savage is a political thug, one of the new breed of media demagogues who has discovered that politics — as noise, insult, and rhetorical aggressiveness — is the way to get noticed.
Savage’s publisher describes him as a writer with a “muscular, electrifying style,” full of “trenchant insights” into the dangers to our American way of life posed by the left in America.
What a crock! Actually, Savage Nation reads like his show sounds, all in your face bombast and bloated sound bites piled endlessly one upon the other. It’s all aggrieved White Male Noise, the worldview of a man of a thousand petty rages against the “freaks” and “perverts” who he believes have taken over his country. These include immigrants, gays, liberal journalists, “subversive” socialists and anyone who dares question the virtues of our capitalist way of life. Or disagree with Michael Savage.
On the Warpath Savage may be among the media’s worst, but these days Talk Radio is full of smug, angry hostility. Here in Chicago, WLS-am, the local ABC affiliate, has in recent months offered listeners a steady, almost morning-to-night diet of vituperative, pro-war rhetoric.
There’s grim morning host Republican, Don Wade, for example, a man who routinely refers to Jimmy Carter as the “Hate America” President. Or afternoon hosts Roe Conn and Gary Meier, who, when the Iraq war broke out, repeatedly ran a brief, inarticulate sound clip from some anonymous street protester, supposedly to show how stupid and ignorant the anti-war opposition was. Conn especially seems to revel in the din of his own flip, never-ending smugness, berating anti-war protesters as “morons” and “idiots” who don’t know what they’re talking about.
Yet you will listen for a very long time to these folks before you ever hear a defense of the war that goes beyond the mindless, look-into-my-eyes-and-repeat-after-me mantras of the Bush administration. Instead it’s just endless hours on one or another variant of the theme: “Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. Saddam Hussein must be stopped now. America good, Saddam Hussein bad.”
But it gets even worse on Saturday evening, when host Teri O’Brien, a woman who likes to berate CBS’ Dan Rather as “America’s most politicized journalist,” takes over. Apparently, O’Brien considers Rather a complete idiot, a defect revealed partly in the fact that he chose to interview Saddam Hussein on the eve of war. Didn’t Rather know that the President would not approve of this?
I happened to catch one of O’Brien’s shows in week one of the war. She was going on gleefully about some diatribe circulating on the Internet comparing the impressive educational credentials of the Bush administration with the “Hollywood liberals” and their lowly high school degrees. I thought, what does this mean, that smart people are more likely to want to kill people? Of course, we expect all kinds of nonsense to circulate on the Internet.
O’ Brien went on to make clear that in time of war, the only title that really matters is that of the President. “If you support the troops,” she informed her listeners, “you have to support the Commander-in-Chief.”
We do? O’ Brien seemed oblivious to the irony that Benito Mussolini, or, for that matter, Saddam Hussein, would themselves likely have very little problem with such a declaration. How reassuring to know that “fighting for freedom” now means silencing political criticism of the President!
Tell me again, what exactly are we fighting for?
I listen to a few minutes of this nonsense, and I know why so many people in the polls believe the Iraqi government had something to do with 9/11.
We can, of course, just dismiss it all as low-brow “entertainment,” loud, punchy talk by people with strong personalities and none of it meant to be taken seriously, other than by advertisers concerned to keep listeners hanging on long enough for the next commercial.
But the “Michael Savages” of the airwaves have turned their media into something more, something uglier. Talk Radio celebrates and rewards its own pathology of bloated egoism, hostility, and hurtfulness. There’s little genuine, informed — let alone respectful — discussion on most Talk Radio formats (the notable exception at WLS being the Sunday afternoon Ski and Skinner show). What there is instead is a corporate media willing to pander to the worst, most embittered and now jingoistic sentiments lurking among a large sector of the public, and, if at all possible, to inflame those sentiments even further.
“We need racist stereotypes right now of our enemy in order to encourage our warriors to kill the enemy,” Savage was quoted as saying in early February.
That’s scary. Almost as scary as the unnecessary, criminal war our own country has waged in Iraq.
Mark Harris is a Chicago journalist. Visit www.Mark-T-Harris.com .
Speak Up If you’d like to express your opinion on Michael Savage hosting a show on MSNBC, contact FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting).