Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Audio That Started It All: The Context, What Was Overlooked, The Spin, and The Apologists

Here is the audio that started the whole campaign to remove Michael Savage from the radio. Note that I chose to post a video with the preceding context this time:

Here's the transcript of the preceding context:

"But I'm really getting pissed off at the world. I really am. I feel it. I feel it today in particular. When I hear Paulson, the Treasury Secretary, not giving a straight answer to a real conservative Republican, when I read that Bush just slapped us in the face again, and raised the ante on money to Africa for AIDS and malaria from $15 [billion] to $48 billion with a stroke of the pen, without the people's input, I'm telling you, I don't know which way to turn.

"What kind of government is this that can write checks to bail out friends on Wall Street without any oversight by the people, and can write a check for a bunch of degenerate bums in Africa who are going to rob the money, on top of the drug company thieves? Do you think it's actually going to treat people in Africa? I'd rather treat people in America who have cancer. I'd rather treat people in America who have diabetes. Don't get me started on this!"

When I wrote my original article on Michael Savage's attack on autism, it was based completely on what came next. My argument has been that it doesn't matter what context the audio was in; what he said stood on its own and could not be legitimized. I stand by that assertion, but the context is important in light of the subsequent spin. Before I posted my original piece, I had heard the audio I transcribed for you above, and it was obvious to me that there really wasn't a context; he just said the next thing that popped into his head. Basically, his thought process appears to be "I'd rather treat cancer and diabetes, because they're real diseases. Now I'm going to tell you about something I think is not a real disease and does not deserve funding." I don't know how else to take it.

"I'd rather treat people in America who have cancer."

"I'd rather treat people in America who have diabetes."

The implication of what comes next in the audio is that he'd rather NOT treat autism.

"Now you want me to tell you my opinion on autism, since I'm not talking about autism? A fraud, a racket."

In my original article, I mistakenly replaced the "not" with "now", but "not" is the correct word here. He was saying, "I'm talking about funding cancer and diabetes as legitimate diseases that deserve funding, but NOT autism."

Savage is now in spin mode, of course, but remains not only unapologetic, but indignant that anyone could ever think he'd attack children with "real" autism. He made an absolute statement about autism first, then changed the "fraud" to "99 percent of the cases". But first, he went into something that the media is currently overlooking, that the autism community seems to be overlooking, and that the minority communities are overlooking, unless I have just been missing their outrage. I caught this part and gave an opinion on it in my original post, but I want to bring it back up, because I think it's a twisted bit of audio:

"For a long while, we were hearing that every minority child had asthma. Why did they sudden--why was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because--I'll tell you why. The children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help at school. It was a money racket. Everyone went in was told [mocking fake cough]. When the nurse looks at you, you go [mocking fake cough]. 'I don't know. The dust got me.' See, everyone had asthma from the minority community. That was number one."

No one has been talking about this venemous little blurb. I mentioned it, but I'm just a small fish in the ocean of the Internet. Media Matters, autism advocacy groups, and several other people transcribed and published it, but somehow, it became lost.

When were we ever hearing that every minority child had asthma? The tragic truth of the matter is that minorities are three to six times more likely to die from asthma than white children, depending on the group studied. I posted a link to an article about African-American and Puerto Rican children in my original post on this issue, and anyone who wants to research it can find plenty on Google.

Savage hasn't had to answer for these remarks. I mentioned them to several of the advertisers in my letters, but the focus has repeatedly been on autism. I'm glad that so many people want to talk about autism and are sympathetic/empathetic to the cause, but I just don't want people to lose sight of how disgusting this assertion regarding minorities and asthma was, and how it's been largely ignored.

Asthma advocacy groups might also want to give that audio some attention.

Moving on, I want to address the spin where Savage is now saying that he wasn't attacking children with "real" autism, and that the "ninety-nine percent" was hyperbole:

"Now, the illness du jour is autism."

In other words, the illness people--probably minorities, given the previous context--are using to get additional funding and academic help for their children is autism.

Savage's naked ignorance is overwhelmingly on display here.

Anyone who has tried to get extra funding in the area of special education knows that most programs are horribly underfunded and, as a result, inadequate. The preschool program my daughter attends does pretty well, but they could use quite a lot more in the way of resources, and the research-recommended approach of intensive, one-on-one daily therapy is impossible in the public school system. I am paying for additional therapy outside of the preschool to the tune of $780 per month, and I know there is a lot more I could do if I had the funds.

In addition to the lack of resources and funding, it's not as easy as Savage seems to think to get the therapy and extra academic help for autsim. A parent can't just say the child has autism; the child must be screened by a group consisting of a speech therapist, a psychiatrist, an occupational therapist, and a physical therapist. My daughter had to meet certain criteria to qualify for special education, and additional criteria to be in the autism class. It's not just a matter of getting a doctor's note or the word of a school nurse. Maybe things are different elsewhere in this country, but quite a few schools are facing funding crises, and funding is being micro-managed. Anything that sucked funding into one area of focus would draw the attention of the school board and would be addressed.

"You know what autism is? I'll tell you what autism is in ninety-nine percent of the cases."

Savage has told his audience (including me, since I've been listening to the show to gather an accurate list of advertisers) that the ninety-nine percent figure was hyperbole, and that children with "real" autism should get all of the funding and services they need. Now, had he accompanied this spin with an apology, saying that his attack was irresponsible and had no basis in fact, and he wouldn't still be going on about how the autism spectrum is fiction, I may have simply left him alone and forgotten about him. I have heard enough from him during "Right Wing World" segments on the Stephanie Miller Show to know that I wouldn't want to listen to his show (and I still don't, but I'm keeping on his sponsors until he has none or they've all responded). However, placing the spin into the context of his previous remarks, Savage is being disingenuous here. He followed "I'd rather treat people in America who have cancer" and "I'd rather treat people in America who have diabetes" with "Now you want me to tell you my opinion on autism, since I'm not talking about autism? A fraud, a racket." How does this juxtaposition NOT imply that he doesn't want to see autism funded through tax dollars? I'm talking about cancer, I'm talking about diabetes, but I'm not talking about autism. That's what he said.

Additionally, Savage claims in his spin-fest that the larger discussion was about drug companies and overdiagnosis of conditions. Now, I missed everything that came before he began to talk about Secretary Paulson, but unless the previous discussion was about how AIDS is also a fraud, a racket, and a largely misdiagnosed condition, I don't see how I can take the spin as anything but a bald-faced lie.

In any case, even if the new figure he's using, allegedly quoting (I can't find the original source) a Dr. Camarata from Vanderbilt University, that sixty percent of autism cases are misdiagnosed, is accurate, it would be difficult for someone whose child was misdiagnosed to get past the screening process at my child's school.

I looked up Dr. Camarata, and I noticed a link for TRIAD, or Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorder. On their Common Questions About Autism Page, it says that autism occurs in 1 in 166 individiuals. Nowhere on the page does is say that sixty percent of cases are misdiagnosed. I emailed Dr. Stephen Camarata to see what he thinks of his name being used on Savage's show in the way it is being used, asking him to susbstantiate or refute the claim. I am awaiting a response.

"It's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is."

So...throwing out the ninety-nine percent as hyperbole and using the new figure Michael Savage now uses, sixty percent of children who have been diagnosed with autism simply have bad parents. He has made the claim, based, I'm sure, on the writing of Thomas Sowell, that the cases where autism is misdiagnosed include children with high IQs and late talkers. It very well could be that this sort of misdiagnosis would have been made quite often before more was known about autism, but there's much more to the observational diagnosis of autism than late talking and evidence of exceptional intelligence. There's more to it than simply having OCD behaviors, which can be part of autism. There's inappropriate play, lack of pretend play, lack of theory of mind/empathy...there is a range of symptoms that, when taken together, result in a correct diagnosis of autism.

The example Savage has been using quite often is Albert Einstein, who was notably a late talker. From many reports, Einstein was told to cut out the act, was called a dummy by his parents, and had a similar childhood to the one Savage recommends for all children. Did it make him speak any sooner? No. Setting aside a diagnosis of autism that Einstein may have faced today, did the parenting method Savage recommends work for Einstein?

Now, going back to whether Einstein would have been diagnosed with autism (there are several people out there who claim that he very well may have had Apergers): the claim Savage makes is that there would be no Einstein today, because he would have been labeled autistic and thrown into an institution. The reality is that during Einstein's childhood, it was much more common to institutionalize people with mental disabilities than it is today, so that argument doesn't hold water.

Also, what is the worst that would have happened if Einstein had received the treatments recommended for autism today? He certainly wouldn't have lost his IQ, would have he? He would have received speech, occupational, physical, and social therapy, all without medication, and he might have had less of a difficult time with his parents and teachers. Would it have caused him not to have gone into physics? Who knows? The theories of general and special relativity probably would have come later anyway; there certainly are scientists who are living today who understand them--they had to in order to build on the theories. Just because a name is a household name (who doesn't know Stephen Hawking? But my understanding is that there are other physicists out there more capable than he) doesn't mean that nobody could ever be as intelligent or capable.

"What do you mean, they scream and they're silent?"

Savage continues to be ignorant about the symptoms of autism, never really defining what he means by "real" autism. Screaming and silence are certainly not the only characteristics of autism. In fact, with Asperger's, the children talk early and incessantly. They have other specific symptoms; I'm sure it's the Asperger's children Savage dismisses as being in the "high IQ" category. In his eyes, they don't really have autism; that's part of his spin.

Let's just say for a moment that everyone with Asperger's just has a really high IQ, and isn't on the autism spectrum. Should they not get any sort of therapy? As someone with a high IQ, I can tell you that going through school without peers of any kind was really, really tough--until I decided to hide my intelligence as much as possible during my high school years. It simply wasn't respected. Really smart kids are often the social outcasts, labeled nerds and regarded as arrogant. Funding programs so high IQ children can have peers in their classes wouldn't be such a bad idea, as far as I'm concerned.

Getting back to reality, people with Aspergers certainly can have high IQs, but there are other symptoms. When I was looking for what could be going on with my daughter, I ran across several professional screening tools for Aspergers. Three of the symptoms that always appeared together were early, precocious talking, physical clumsiness, and social awkwardness. Along with the early precocious talking was the inability of the child to comprehend the speech; it would be scripted, memorized, and only understood later in life. Along with these symptoms had to be the presence of symptoms from each of six categories. I can't remember everything from the list, but it included clues like hand flapping, lack of empathy, lack of eye contact, and several other symptoms that look like autism. That's why Asperger's is on the spectrum.

I will repeat what my friend Angie suggested: take the spectrum people consider "normal", then throw autism on top of it. To me, this statement is a profound way of looking at the autism spectrum. The children may have low, average, or high IQs, but they all have similarities, as well. They are as individual as any other group of children, but they have that one thing or set of things in common.

I know it's not a requirement in order to be a radio personality, but wouldn't it be logical to research a subject before talking about it, especially after making an attack on people who are intimately familiar with it? Savage admitted to lining things up as a child and being obsessed with counting tiles on the bathroom floor, and asked if he would be diagnosed with autism because of that behavior. That's not necessarily autism. OCD behaviors are common on the autism spectrum, but OCD behaviors alone mean that you have obsessive compulive disorder; they don't mean that you have autism.

Maybe Savage is insecure about being labeled as having autism or Aspergers, and that's why he's so irate about the issue. Whatever his problem is (and I'm talking about his insecurity and/or anger issues, not the possibility of him having ASD), he's hurting parents and children by saying that there's one group with a real disability that requires intense treatment, and another group where the problem is bad parenting, but couldn't possibly be a disorder mistaken for autism that also would require treatment. He's still calling the autism spectrum a fraud thrust on the public by drug companies and the medical profession.

"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 screaming and crying, idiot."

Savage has since had an "expert" by the name of Dr. Peter Breggin, who resurrected the long-abandoned stereotype of the "refrigerator mother". Leo Kanner, who defined autism, labeled "cold, unfeeling" mothers as its cause. Breggin's assertion is that all of autism is the result of bad parenting. Michael Savage asked him directly if he believed autism exists, and his answer indicated that he suspected it didn't. If we need any further confirmation, we can turn to his book, Toxic Psychiatry. In chapter 12, which is entitled, "Abandoning Reponsibility For Our Children: A Critique of Hyperactivity, Attention Deficit Disorder, Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, Autism, And Other Diagnoses", Breggin quotes research that links all childhood psychiatric disorders with child abuse and neglect. He goes one to talk about how Leo Kanner described autism as having to do with childhood upbringing--in 1948. Quite a lot of research has been done on autism since 1948! The chapter reads similarly to the quackery of people who denounce other science: the prevailing "ideology" keeps any papers that challenge it out of the peer-reviewed journals. That's why the quacks publish books--their professional peers don't have control over the publication of a book, nor can they stop it from being popular among people outside of the profession.

Apparently, Breggin hasn't updated his research on autism since he published the book in 1994. The American Journal of Human Genetics published an article in 2001 on genetic markers and autism. They found that chromosomes 5, X, and 19 were different in children with autism. Interepreting the findings is complex, but they would seem to suggest that autism has a genetic component. Also, with the multiple questionaires parents of children with autism must invariably fill out when seeking therapy, evidence of abuse and neglect would certainly be caught. A "refrigerator mother" would certainly be unable to talk about every detail of her child's behavior, because she wouldn't be paying attention, now would she?

I resent Breggin's resurrection of the "refrigerator mother" and the insinuation--no, accusation--that autism is the result of child abuse and neglect. My daughter has never, ever lacked affection. She has become quite affectionate with people she knows, but it had to come over time--and it wasn't for lack of trying on our part. I've never had a problem holding her, but I'm one of the very few in her life who hasn't. My wife certainly has no problems getting a hug or a kiss, either. We've never laid a malicious hand on her, either, and wouldn't think of it.

Savage attacked single mothers here, and insulted loving fathers who do take part in raising their children. Never mind that what he's suggesting is that we fathers verbally abuse the children we are around to raise. Discipline doesn't have to involve calling our children morons, putzes, and idiots. There is nothing constructive in this approach, nor is there anything in Savage's statement that would qualify as real discipline. Where is the correction?

Oh, and I can also tell you from experience that hurling insults at your child with autism will result in scripting (if your child is verbal at all), and you'll regret it. I have never verbally abused my child, but she did once wake me up at around 4:30 AM with a blow to my head with her electric guitar (she loves musical instruments, and even sleeps with them). I yelled the worst possible expletive I could yell before I knew what was happening, and she hasn't stopped repeating it. I've even tried to get her to replace it with something that sounds similar (e.g., fudge), but it hasn't worked. My wife once slipped and called her a "crybaby", and now she says it anytime she doesn't get her way.

Road rage is also not good around children with autism who happen to be verbal.

In contrast to my child, my niece learned to say "Bullshit!" when she was two. More accurately, my brother told her to say it, and she started repeating it with glee. I took her aside after seeing that her mother was getting quite embarasssed, and I told her to say "Bullpuckey!" It sounded a lot cuter, actually--but the point is that a parent/caregiver can do this sort of thing with a neurotypical child. Not so with a child who has autism.

"Autism! Everybody has an illness."

This statement comes back to Savage's insecurity about his own childhood behaviors being on the list of red flags for autism, not understanding, as I've illustrated, that it's a combination of symptoms and not one here or there that results in a correct autism diagnosis. Of course, that's if you buy into his spin. It could also go back to his original labeling of autism as "a fraud, a racket."

"If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, 'Don't behave like a fool.' The worst thing he said: 'Don't behave like a fool. Don't be anybody's dummy. Don't sound like an idiot. Don't act like a girl. Don't cry.' That's what I was raised with. That's what you should raise your children with. Stop with the sensitivity training. You're turning your son into a girl, and your turning your nation into a nation of losers and beaten men."

Poor Michael Savage, always acting like a foolish girl as a child, crying his poor little eyes out.

Okay, that might have been a cheap shot, but he deserves it. It's too bad he didn't take his father's advice about not sounding like an idiot.

What if your kid is a girl? I have a daughter. Is she supposed to stop acting like a girl, whatever that means at age 4? Or is it that Savage is only concerned with boys? Or maybe only girls have this thing Michael Savage calls "real" autism, without ever defining it.

I could never take this guy seriously if he didn't have a radio show carried by 300-plus stations (some have dropped him since July 16th). He truly is a reflection of his father's child-rearing methods, though, because he makes a living insulting anyone with whom he disagrees without regard for intellectual dilligence, fact, empathy, or nuance, nor does he ever seem to suggest practical solutions for problems--he just complains about them.

"That's why we have the politicians we have."

Bad parenting is why we have bad politicians? Maybe, but I think that's a separate issue from autism. If 1 in 166 (or 1 in 150, whatever the current accurate number is; I'm using the TRIAD number because it's the most recent I came across) children have autism, that's hardly a majority of people, so it's not much of a voting bloc. That's just a weird conclusion to draw there, Savage.

Finally, we have the apologists for Savage. These people are the reason why I'm going after the sponsors. The apologists have painted him as everything but a simple entertainer to a full-fledged hero of children with autism, and it's making me sick, quite frankly. Here are the things I've been hearing and reading:

"He's just an entertainer."

No, people take him seriously, and say that he speaks the truth. He makes this claim himself. Furthermore, I have to wonder what sort of people are entertained by hearing that liberalism is a mental disorder, autism is a fraud and racket, homsexuals are perveted pigs who should die of AIDS, dissent should be met with arrest for sedition, Obama is a closet Muslim socialist, and the euthanasia of Terri Schiavo was the same as the beginning of the Holocaust. I suppose if no one took him seriously, or if his rants were taken as satire, which is Stephen Colbert's format, then it would be different.

"He wasn't talking about kids who really have autism."

That's what he claims, but that's after he made the claim that autism is a fraud and a racket, leaving a little loophole of one percent who have legitimate disorders. What he's done since is dismiss the autism spectrum, bring on an expert whose work suggests that he believes all of autism is the result of child abuse and neglect, and leave "real" autism undefined. He hasn't done a thing to educate his audience on what constitutes autism. Instead, his focus has been on how he has been persecuted, taken out of context, and maligned by the media and progressive groups--and how he's so heroic for bringing autism to the forefront of public dialogue.

No, Savage, you're no hero. Autism awareness has been growing without you. What you did was turn autism into a misdiagnosis, and you continue to do so by never defining "real" autism (if you say it exists, then you have to know what it is, right?), never educating your audience in any meaningful way on the subject. That's why you have to go.

"Media Matters is just trying to get rid of him before the election."

Media Matters has been pointing out what Savage has been saying for quite some time now. It's not like they made up something untrue about him, either; they simply passed on what he said to the American public. Now, he wants to shoot the messenger. He calls them Stalinists and fascists, which simply aren't compatible political worldviews; he calls them perverted, childless men. Also, to listen to Savage, you'd think Media Matters was the only group coming after him.

I'm coming after you, Michael, and so are a bunch of other parents (I certainly couldn't do it alone). There was no call for what you said, you're unapologetic about it, and we're now having to defend ourselves against your ignorant apologist listeners. I've already spoken to three apologists this week--one who was a listener and two who simply heard about the controversy and thought it had been blown out of proportion. Everyone has an opinion, and when you added fuel to the fire of ignorance, you made it harder for those of us who have children with autism, who are struggling to pay for therapy and struggling to help others understand our children, to gain and maintain acceptance in society.

"There are more important issues."

My child is pretty much at the top of my list of important issues. I want her to have a functional future.

Savage has thrown out references to obscure court cases that haven't been publicized, where someone is already going through the justice system, or has gone through it and the system failed (in his mind, anyway). It's a diversionary tactic, and it's really stupid. You can protest a court all you want; a jury is going to be influenced by the evidence presented in a case, both forensic and testimonial, and by the arguments of the attorneys. We don't try people in the court of public opinion. That's a good thing. We don't want to live under ignorant mob rule. Media sensationalism and political/special interest opinion would destroy anyone's right to a fair trial. Think about the O.J. Simpson case: how difficult was it for the court to find jurors who didn't have knowledge about the case or a firm opinion on it? Activism doesn't belong in the justice system; impartiality and objectivity should be the standard.

I've heard more from Savage apologists, but I think I'm going to end this extraordinarily long post here. My next piece will be more positive and inspirational, I think. I've been indirectly introduced to an extraordinary young man who has been advocating for his younger sister who has autism. The story of his family turns everything Michael Savage has said on its ear, and it moved and humbled me so much, I absolutely have to share it.

Till next time.


twinsx2 said...

Mom with 4 boys with autism,

Great post!

Amnesty said...

Thanks. I hadn't actually heard any of the context at all except for the line about autism. Knowing all that came before and after certainly does make it worse!
I have one of those kids with the super high IQ, hyperactivity, and OCD behaviors. He hand flaps and lines things up and spins in circles. But he would never qualify for an autism diagnosis.
Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to dissect what was said and the follow up, and I completely agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Your liberal socialists anti 1st amendment actions will not work. Michael will remain on the air with loyal support because the truth rings clear.
I am a physicain and autism and its spectrum as well ADHD is over diagnosed. You need to do more thorough and objective research on this topic and the many others you misrepresent.

Greg Reich said...


It's obvious that you haven't read much of what I wrote, because you would understand that it's not about the First Amendment. The First Amendment is a protection from legislatiion, not from free market forces. If the advertisers Michael Savage has drop him, then he has no inherent right to stay on the air. Advertising dollars support him; if they are gone, so is he.

No one is calling for legislation to ban him from the air. No one is suing him in court to get him off the air. We're trying to educate his sponsors.

I really don't give a damn if you're a physician. Do you know how many times I've been misdiagnosed myself by physicians? It took six months and five different doctors, two of them specialists, to figure out that the cartilege in my back is drying out and disintegrating. I figured it out from web research the week my back went out.

You--and all other intellectually lazy apologists for Michael Savage--are missing the point I'm making here. Michael Savage was not talking factually about autism spectrum disorder here, and the context wasn't misdiagnosis or the drugging of our children. He was originally talking about (I already put this into my post, so you obviously didn't read it or didn't care) what treatments he would fund and which ones he wouldn't in America, following his statement of opposition to funding the fight against AIDS in Africa. Moreover, he disparaged minorities with asthma, when minority children are three to six times more likely to DIE of ashtma than white children!

Why don't you sheeple stop being apologists for this intellectually lazy blowhard and wake up? You're supporting someone who has no interest in what "real" autism is (which he talks about but never defines); he is only trying to salvage the few sponsors whom we haven't contacted or convinced yet. It's spin, pure and simple. He wasn't misquoted; those were his actual words on the audio. He said that AUTISM is a fraud and a racket, not ASD. He was NOT talking about misdiagnosis and misdirected pharmaceutical treatment. He only brought those things up later--and fictionalized the original context, by the way--after his sponsors started dropping him like a bad habit.

I find it ironic that Savage is using the government to try to investigate Media Matters and to sue CAIR, while we're using the power of the market to oust him. Some conservative.