After comments blasting autism as just another over-diagnosed American problem, controversial radio personality Michael Savage has been dumped by a Charlottesville station. And for at least one local talk-radio host, the dismissal of “The Savage Nation” comes none too soon.
“As the father of a six-year-old boy who has been diagnosed with autism,” says WINA personality Coy Barefoot, “I was outraged. He clearly is spreading what I know to be outright lies about autism.”
“I’ll tell you what autism is,” Savage boomed in his July 16 broadcast. “In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.’”
“Quite honestly, it came down to common decency,” says WINA program director Rick Daniels. “Although he was trying to make a bigger point, he didn’t clarify it at all. We took into account our listeners and some feedback we’ve gotten, and we wanted to do what was best for our community.”
While Savage’s syndicator, Talk Radio Network, found the comments merely “inartful,” Media Matters, a D.C.-based organization “dedicated to correcting conservative misinformation” agrees with WINA that the comments were out of line.
“I think he and the people who use the airwaves have an ethical responsibility not to be lying and not to be so hatefully offensive that they cause this much controversy,” says Ben Fishel, a spokesperson for Media Matters.
However, Charlottesville resident and long-time “Savage Nation” listener Linda McRaven disagrees. “Media Matters is looking for bombs,” says McRaven. “They’re not really valid critics.”
McRaven says that she’s a fan of Savage because of his fearlessness. “I call him a flame-thrower because he’s so passionate about what he feels,” she says. “He pulls no punches, and I really admire that. We are entirely too politically correct, and he just says what he thinks. In my opinion, a lot of things he says are right on.”
Both Aflac Insurance and Home Depot have reportedly pulled their sponsorships of his show in reaction to Savage’s comments, but according to Daniels, none of WINA’s local advertisers had made such a move— or even any comment— by the time of Savage’s removal.
Fishel is especially baffled by the way Savage’s comments might come across to parents of autistic children.
“Disciplining your child can cure autism?” he asks. “That is absurdly false and hateful, especially to these parents who have committed their whole lives to children with special needs.”
“Where do we draw the line with what is done with our public airwaves?” asks Barefoot. “What’s next, these kids with cancer should get up and walk it off?”
On his afternoon program “Charlottesville, Right Now,” Barefoot played excerpts of the controversial comments and shared his perspective. But the decision to remove Savage was the program director’s, not his.
“I think they did the right thing,” Barefoot says, noting that since Savage’s removal, WINA has received emails from around the country applauding the action.
In an email of his own, Savage tells the Hook, “The drug companies are very powerful and have worked very hard to silence any voice critical of the misdiagnosis of our children and the drugging of vulnerable minds. Sad the station manager is such an ignorant man.
Daniels says he has received what he called “overwhelmingly positive” reactions to the ouster, and only a handful of complaints, most of which he characterizes as freedom of speech concerns.
“There are hundreds of syndicated talk shows out there,” says Daniels, “and each one has the right to be heard, but we can’t run them all. We pick the best ones for Charlottesville, our listeners, and the community.”
On WINA— at 1070 AM— Savage’s program has been replaced with David Ramsey, who deals with get-out-of-debt and money management issues. “I think just about all of us,” Daniels says, “could use good financial advice these days.”
Savage added in his email that Charlottesville listeners could soon continue to hear his program on a station “across the street,” though Julian Hudson, Talk Radio Network’s affiliate director, could not confirm that any Charlottesville station is poised to pick up “The Savage Nation.” Dennis Mockler, general manager of Monticello Media, the other major radio group in Charlottesville, says his stations have no plans to pick up the show.