Savage misguidance?

Radio talk show host Michael Savage has made some people mad.

The previous sentence could be written almost every day, but since the recent controversy hits close to home for my family, I thought I'd throw in my two cents.

On a recent broadcast, Savage, whose views I most often agree with, said the following things about autism:

"[a] fraud, a racket. ... I'll tell you what autism is. 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.'"

Autism groups and many whose lives have been affected by autism in some way called for Savage to be fired.

My wife and I have some experience in this area. Our 13-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism -- albeit one of the milder forms. The diagnosis was made not even two years ago, as we had noticed many quirks and "abnormal" behavior over the years and decided to pursue what was the matter.

Mr. Savage's description of autistic behavior isn't in line either with why we sought to find out what the problem was. Kids who have temper tantrums and occasionally act like morons are normal. What I wouldn't have given on some days if he'd have behaved in the way Savage described, as I'd have known how to address it.

Though I can only speak from personal experience, Savage's description of people with autism sounds like a man who has seen the airport scene in "Rain Man" one too many times and has been so jaded by the government-sponsored fragmentation of the American family that he assumes kids only have these kinds of problems because they don't have a father around to keep them in line.

Though this can certainly be true, we can't paint everything with the same brush, as tempting as that can be.

Savage later tried to explain himself:

"My comments about autism were meant to boldly awaken parents and children to the medical community's attempt to label too many children or adults as ‘autistic.'" 

Our experience contradicts this statement. My son was tested extensively, and once the diagnosis was made, we weren't "sold" anything, and we weren't prescribed anything. We were only given some advice on how to help our son adapt socially so he can be competitive in the job market someday and be self-sufficient once he's out there in the real world. As a matter of fact, he's making progress and we haven't been back to see a psychologist in well over a year, nor have we been begged to return.

Believe me, as an observer and commentator on government matters for many years, nobody is on the lookout for a "racket" or a "scam" more than I am. In our experience with autism and its treatment methods, I have not found this to be the case.

For some reason, the radio host seems to have lumped autism in with "Attention Deficit Disorder" and the debate over passing out Ritalin to kids like Tic Tacs. The two are completely separate disorders, and lumping them together is like blaming Savage for something that Rush Limbaugh said just because they both happen to be talk radio hosts.

Writer Selwyn Duke defended Savage, pointing out that the host grew up with a brother who suffered from severe retardation, which instilled in Savage the importance of ensuring diagnosis of these problems are "real" and not invented.

"Labeling these less serious or even non-existent problems as mental conditions," Duke infers on Savage's motivations for his opinion, "causes society to take authentic ones less seriously."

Duke also points out that false diagnosis of medial issues are as important to monitor as bogus rape allegations, because the false ones over time make people take the real ones less seriously.

Savage himself offers 20 audio clips of his comments on autism for context, and his website links to his network's statement on the matter, and other supportive material. 

True, people are falsely accused of rape, but if Savage had said the same thing about rape that he did about autism, for example, that "99 percent of rape allegations are bunk," the comparison falls apart, at least according to my understanding of the statistics. Not every woman strips at Duke frat parties and has Al Sharpton on speed-dial.

I appreciate Mr. Duke's position, but these to me are "apples and oranges" comparisons. It's a logical fallacy to believe that because Michael Savage grew up with a brother who was severely retarded, he's in a better position than most to say that my son was probably misdiagnosed with autism -- and not only that, that my son probably doesn't have a father in the home to keep him in line.

Michael Savage should not be fired based on backlash. But if his employers ever deem him a financial liability due to lost sponsors or listeners, that would be a free market-based decision. But firing Savage just because he hurt the feelings of Rodney Peete and Jenny McCarthy, or even my wife and me, isn't the kind of America I'm teaching my kids to perpetuate.

We teach our children that not everybody in the world will agree with them. We teach them that the way to deal with people who say things they may not like to hear is not to try to make them go away by waving a magic wand. After all, this would be wildly counterproductive to my goal of assimilating my son to the "real world."

As for those calling for the firing of Savage, I only wish people got as upset and demanded the firing of people who actually can make our lives worse -- and with more than just words. I wish people got as angry with politicians who say and do dumb, illegal, immoral, unethical, and anti-American things as they do when a radio talk show host offers his opinion of a medical disorder.

Michael Savage can't take my property, Michael Savage can't steal money directly from my paycheck and Michael Savage can't take away my freedoms.

If and when the day comes when Michael Savage can and does try to do all of the above, then I'll call for his firing. Until then, I'll focus on what matters: Working to fire the people who can and do all of those things -- and I'll be doing so side-by-side with my autistic son while "The Savage Nation" is audible on my radio, but as mere background noise in the big picture.

Doug Powers is a columnist and author from Michigan. He can be reached via his blog at


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