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20 July 2008

Savage's autism comments cross the line

The other day, I received an e-mail from a friend of mine who read my short call for Michael Savage to be yanked off the air for his comments about autism. He called the affliction “a fraud.” He also made some other disparaging remarks about autism — and you can hear those in the video embedded on this site.

The e-mail I received was rather interesting, because it aptly pointed out my once-strong fervor for getting Don Imus back on the air after the “nappy-headed hos” comments — and it pointed out my relationship to Sid Rosenberg. We all know that Sid has had his moments, in the past, with remarks that caused a stir.

With that in mind, I was asked how, given my defense of Mr. Rosenberg over the years, I could call for Savage’s head since he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights.

And as I’ve said over and over during the course of my career — there is a huge difference between expressing one’s opinion and expressing something that is false as fact.

In the case of Savage, saying autism is “a fraud” is the equivalent of screaming fire in a movie theater that isn’t really on fire. Here’s how.

Take these examples. If someone wrote in a column “Kevin Canessa is a fat man,” though the words aren’t exactly nice, they’re true. Anyone in this country can make that statement. It’s irrefutable fact. On the same level, if someone said “Kevin Canessa held up a bank in Miami over the weekend,” this statement, which is absolutely false, is easily proven untrue — and as such, the writer or speaker of said comment would be open for a slander or libel lawsuit.

From these two examples, it should be much clearer there is a huge difference between expressing one’s opinion and expressing something controversial that is false.

Let’s get back to autism for a moment.

If, on his show, Mr. Savage made the following comment, he’d be clear of much criticism: “People who have autistic children should keep their kids in special schools — and they should refrain from mainstreaming them.” Sure, it’s a bit of a controversial comment to make — just ask anyone who has a child (or grandchild) who is autistic.

On the other hand, when Savage says autism is “a fraud,” he is, in essence, attempting to get his audience to believe there is no such thing as autism — and that those kids who have it are really “brats who act up and whose parents have lost control of them.”

Again — ask any parent of an autistic child, and they’ll be able to tell you that autism is no fraud. Instead, it’s a serious problem that needs more funding and more research.

The First Amendment does not, therefore, protect Savage’s words because he is taking a statement that is false and he’s proposing it as fact. Anyone with a minute knowledge of autism knows it’s not a fraud — and that Savage has done a great injustice the any child with autism, to any family that deals with autism on a daily basis.

And let’s face it, folks. With Savage, it’s a lot more than just this one statement. This is the same guy who was canned by MSNBC for telling a caller he hoped he “died of AIDS.” The guy is a loose canon — and he’s a really disturbed man. He’s in a class by himself, and it’s extremely unfair to compare him with the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Though I often (not always) disagree with the aforementioned two, they’re both true broadcasting professionals and geniuses. Savage is a man who has no problem insulting the defenseless — a man who has no problem spewing great hatred for people who are remotely different than he is.

There’s a huge difference between being protected by the First Amendment and expressing an opinion. I hope this makes a little sense.

And I hope, now more than ever, that in a few days, we get news that its distributor has yanked Savage Nation off the air.

Then, on only then, will there be justice.

And that moment of justice can come not a moment too soon.


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