Doyle wants Savage off the air over autism rant

July 23, 2008
The Hill

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) is calling on radio stations and potential sponsors to “reconsider their association” with Michael Savage after the radio host called autism a “racket.”

“I understand that shock jocks get the big bucks for being as obnoxious and controversial as possible — but there’s no reason we have to stand idly by and let Mr. Savage boost his market share at the expense of families who are dealing with a heartbreaking and financially draining health issue,” Doyle wrote in a post on The Hill’s Congress Blog .

“If I were a radio station that broadcast his show or a company that sponsored it, I’d certainly reconsider my association with it, and if I were a parent of an autistic child, I’d certainly demand that.”

Doyle, along with Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairs the Congressional Coalition for Autism Research and Education, whose membership includes 180 members drawn from both the House and Senate. The two congressmen issued a joint statement condemning Savage’s words soon after they were aired.

On the July 16 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Savage said that “in 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out.”

“What do you mean, they scream and they’re silent?” Savage said. “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.’ ”

Doyle called the remark “a classic example of someone with access to a microphone saying something really dumb.”

The Autism Society of America (ASA), a leading autism awareness group whose board includes many parents of children with the disease, called the comments “inaccurate and derogatory.”

“We are dismayed that these grossly inaccurate remarks would be aired in any platform, much less on a nationally syndicated show,” said spokeswoman Carin Yavorcik in a statement.

Shortly after Savage’s remarks originally aired, media watchdog group Media Matters organized a nationwide call-in campaign to radio affiliates carrying Savage’s radio show in an effort to get him taken off the air.

Since then, seven FM radio stations, all owned by Mississippi radio conglomerate Telesouth Communications, have dropped Savage’s show. In a statement posted Tuesday to Telesouth’s website, CEO Steve Davenport called Savage’s comments “beyond inexcusable and unacceptable.”

Telesouth’s decision followed Monday’s announcement by insurance firm Aflac, one of Savage’s sponsors, that it would be pulling its ads from the show.

Savage devoted the entirety of his three-hour radio broadcast Monday to a discussion of autism, but stood by his comments, calling them a “parody.” He also blasted Media Matters for taking his words out of context.

In an accompanying statement posted on his website, Savage explained that his remarks “were meant to boldly awaken parents and children to the medical community’s attempt to label too many children or adults as ‘autistic.’ ”

“He can try to recast his comments however he’d like,” Media Matters spokesman J. Jioni Palmer said. “Nobody tried to put words in his mouth. He’s obviously trying … to blame those who have been critical of what he said for what he said.”

ASA communications director Marguerite Colston said that Savage’s clarification of his remarks was just as scientifically and factually inaccurate as the original remark, citing a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found that autism is a disease that is generally underdiagnosed, rather than diagnosed too often, as Savage alleged.

“I know no parent who would seek out this condition for their children,” she added.

It is not yet clear what will happen to Savage’s radio show. Media Matters has not yet called for his removal. “It’s too premature to tell how this thing will end,” said Palmer.

Talk Radio Network, which syndicates Savage’s show, could not be reached for comment. However, in an apparent attempt to defend the host, the company posted 20 audio clips of Savage talking about autism and its overdiagnosis on its website.

Colston indicated that ASA would not be calling for Savage’s dismissal, but would be putting pressure on Talk Radio Network to “get the right information out there.”

When asked to comment on Rep. Doyle’s remarks, Colston said: “We’re really grateful for his legislation. We appreciate all his leadership.”

Most recently, Doyle and Smith introduced the Global Autism Assistance Act of 2008, a bill designed to provide grants to nations in the developing world to combat the disease.