The New Yorker Magazine's Strange Embrace of Hate-Spewing Shock Jock Michael Savage
If you've been under the impression that right-wing radio host Michael Savage, who claims Barack Obama was born in Kenya, was schooled at a radical Islamic madrassa, and is now "raping America," was a hate merchant who operated on the edges of common decency, and represented a primetime player in the unfolding far-right campaign to delegitimize and dehumanize the president, The New Yorker wants you put those assumptions aside.
If you thought that Savage was cultivating a culture of extremism by claiming the Obama administration espouses "the same exact policies as the Nazi Party," The New Yorker thinks you have it all wrong.
And if you bought into the silly notion that Savage was part of a right-wing movement playing off racial fears, The New Yorker thinks you're being simplistic and naïve.
Because in its August 3 issue, the mighty New Yorker magazine, in an in-depth profile of Savage (subscription required), mostly set aside the host's nasty streak and suggested instead that the paranoid, gay-hating, xenophobic talk show host was really just misunderstood.
In truth, or at least in the gentle hands of New Yorker writer Kelefa Sanneh, Savage is "a marvelous storyteller, a quirky talker, and an incorrigible free-associater." He hosts "the most addictive program on radio and one of the least predictable." To Sanneh's ear, Savage's daily rants by the jazz-loving host are "engrossing."
In other words, he's an artist weaving a broadcast tapestry.
Savage doesn't preach hate. (That's so cliché, people.) Instead, the host merely engages in some old-fashioned "rabble rousing." Sure, he broadcasts an "antipathy for liberals." And yes, he does show flashes of an "immoderate" and "incendiary style." But deep down, Savage is really just a throwback to "garrulous old-school New York radio personalities." In fact, Savage isn't all that much different than famed shock jock Howard Stern. Besides, The New Yorker loves the "counter-culture feel" of Savage's program.
Plus, once you get to know Savage and hang out with him on his deck at his Bay Area home and share a beer, you discover he's "a first-rate host, chatty and solicitous." And who knew that Savage "loves to talk about his well-worn Hebrew Bible, which is full of annotations and post-it notes"? Indeed, Savage is a man in search of "the right way to articulate his Jewish heritage."
What's the big deal, Sanneh seems to be asking throughout the article. And in an audio interview posted online at The New Yorker website, the writer seemed bemused that when it came to the topic of Savage, "liberals get all worked up about, 'Oh, this guy is really offensive and vile and hateful.' "
Personally, Sanneh just didn't see it. "I think a lot of people who don't listen to his show would maybe be surprised by how weird it is and how funny it is," he told his online interviewer. Indeed, according to the writer, "part of the fun of listening to his show" is the way Savage "wrestles on the air" with life's bigger, philosophical questions.
And, oh yeah, Savage is actually a "political idealist, a sucker for a sob story, and firm believer in the power of friendship."
Question: Does he like puppies, too?
Honestly, The New Yorker could not have picked a worse time to publish a puff piece about Savage. Arriving on newsstands the same week we learned that 58 percent of Republicans either don't believe or don't know whether Barack Obama was born in America (a rancid conspiracy theory that Savage has peddled for months), and arriving the same week that Fox News' Glenn Beck went on national television and called out the president of the United States a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people," The New Yorker's soft-pedaling of Savage, as well as the larger unhinged right-wing movement to demonize and dehumanize Obama, was just embarrassing. (By the way, in the same article, The New Yorker described Beck as "deftly channeling the defiance and bewilderment of dissident America." I suppose that's one -- softball -- way of putting it.)