Chorus of Voices Needed to Drown Out Ignorance : News & Views Advocacy groups of all types should speak out against the pervasive ignorance that allows bullies like Michael Savage to beat up on sick and disabled kids.
NPR logo Chorus of Voices Needed to Drown Out Ignorance

Chorus of Voices Needed to Drown Out Ignorance


Areva D. Martin has this week's installment of "Speak Your Mind." Her op-ed titled, "It Takes a Chorus of Diverse Voices to Drown Out Ignorance," is focused on the recent incendiary comments of radio host Michael Savage.

Martin is an attorney based in Los Angeles.

On Wednesday, July 16th, AM radio talk show host Michael Savage, whose weekly show, Savage Nation, reaches an audience of eight million Americans via 350 stations across the country, attacked minority children and their families for falsely claiming to have asthma so that they can get "the extra welfare ...and ...extra help in school."

He called their ploy "...a money racket." Savage punctuated his commentary with fake coughing to demonstrate how easily the crafty minority children fool school nurses.

Michael Savage
Michael Savage

So far, the reaction from the mainstream media has been overwhelmingly consistent -- rampant apathy.

This is in stark contrast to events in 2007, when less than eight days transpired between radio shock jock Don Imus' equally racist comments about Rutgers University's female college basketball team and his official firing from CBS Radio.

In the week and a day that lapsed between the initial "nappy headed hos" incident and Imus' termination, a number of prominent journalists and community leaders called for Imus to step down. Their voices were joined by outraged basketball fans, advertisers who pulled their support of Imus' show, and thousands of everyday Americans who rallied to the cause.

The cascade of Imus protests that eventually pulled the shock jock into the vortex demonstrated the power of an outraged coalition of diverse voices -- a diversity noticeably absent from l'affaire du Savage.

Perhaps the reason for this response is that Savage's rant against minority children with asthma was paired with equally egregious insult -- this one aimed at children with autism -- and mainstream America, when confronted with more than one civil rights issue to handle at a time, seems to revert to "separate but equal" justification.

And, as we all remember from Brown v. The Board of Education, there is no such thing as "separate but equal." Somebody has to sit in the back of the bus, and in this case, it's the minority kids with asthma.

Don't get me wrong. What Savage said about children with autism is nothing short of hate-speech directed at one of society's most vulnerable populations, a population about whom Savage said, "You know what autism is? In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out."

Savage went on to say that children with autism don't have fathers around " 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."

Savage's contemptible words were immediately challenged by autism advocacy and disability rights groups. On Monday, July 21st, a rally was held outside radio station WOR in New York City, where Savage Nation airs. Statements were issued by Autism Speaks, Hollywood parents whose children have autism, and disability rights groups.

Absent from all these protests, however, was any remonstration of Savage's companion insult against minority children who live with the chronic and life-threatening disability of asthma.

And what was the result of these well-intentioned protests? Savage defended his broadcast, and instead of issuing an apology, released a statement, concluding with "there is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism." He didn't even bother to mention the minority kids with asthma because no one complained about that.

In short, Savage does not seem to be headed for the same fate as Imus, though his words were intentionally incendiary. Nor does his employer, Talk Radio Network, the nation's second largest provider of syndicated talk radio and distributor of Savage Nation, seem poised to pull Savage from the air as CBS did with Imus.

The whole incident, in fact, seems to be fast receding from the headlines.

But this should not happen. Advocacy groups of all types, should now find their voices and speak out against the pervasive ignorance that allows bullies like Savage to beat up on sick and disabled kids.

And autism and disability rights groups, instead of being satisfied that they were given a truncated forum or a "teaching moment," should ramp up their protests, inclusive of defending the rights of minority children with asthma who were equally smeared by Savage's vile words.

In the end, it is up to the American public to decide what they want to listen to on their public airwaves. If advertisers understand that consumers can and will boycott products and services associated with bigots and bullies, then corporations like Talk Radio Network will be forced to offer quality programming that informs, enlightens and educates their audiences instead of offensive programming that hurts the most vulnerable members of our society.

-- Areva D. Martin