Michael Savage, whose last name incorporates the concept of truth in advertising, recently went on a rant against autistic children, apparently because other innocents were not readily available to vilify that day. He called autism a "fraud, a racket."
Unfortunately, it was just another day on talk radio, one more outrage to be tossed on the old bonfire of cackling controversies. Parents of autistic children protested, of course, but with these guys the more you protest the more they prosper. There’s no telling flies they can’t fill their mouths with garbage.
Michael Savage is one primitive in a tribe of conservative Neanderthals. Another is my old pal Rush Limbaugh, the blimp of bombast, who did me the high honor of denouncing me on his show once. Or was it a low honor? Either way, I was a hero to my son and for that I am grateful to the great fuehrer of fatuousness.
While there’s no immediately stopping these guys, it is a proof that the Almighty exists that one thing disturbs their slumbers. What they dread most is the return of the Fairness Doctrine, which expired in 1987.
In its heyday, broadcast station managers with all the sex appeal of funeral directors would read bland "editorials." If they said anything remotely controversial, the Federal Communications Commission would insist that critics be given equal time.
Thus was robust free speech tamed by nannies, possibly wearing sensible shoes in a style popular in Soviet collective farms. The only good thing was that the Fairness Doctrine never applied to newspapers, because the government knew that the print media could be trusted to be bland without official pressure.
With the Fairness Doctrine abolished, the garden of free expression bloomed. Unfortunately several undesirable plants — the Rush dandelion, the Savage thistle, the O’Reilly ragweed — thrived in ground fertilized with manure. They spread pollen on the airwaves that to this day troubles autistic kids, gays, blacks, liberals, Mexicans, feminists — heck, anybody who dares and cares enough to think.
But as much as the unfairness doctrine sometimes irritates, the Fairness Doctrine is not coming back, nor should it. The whole idea of expecting conservatives to be fair at this late date is preposterous. The Republican elephant will do delicate ballet steps before fairness rules on the right-wing airwaves and in the mindless rank and file that tunes in to get its orders.
That does not stop conservatives worrying about the prospect. "Fairness is coming! Fairness is coming,” they shout like demented Paul Reveres. O the horror! James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, recently devoted his religiously oriented radio show to the imaginary threat — and never mind that this detracted from his main mission, which, as I understand it, is suggesting to unbelievers that heaven is full of self-righteous busybodies.
I have long thought that the fun in being a conservative consists of getting worked up about things that have little basis in reality while disregarding things that do. For example, they worry that Barack Obama is a Muslim but don’t think the melting in the Arctic has anything to do with global warming.
Wouldn’t it be good if the Fairness Doctrine could come back and be strengthened — say, to make Michael Savage baby-sit some autistic kids and put his heartless theory to the test? No, and not because it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment for the kids. I think it is important that liberals remain liberal in the face of Savagery. I say, let the right wing cranks crank on.
Besides, reinstating the Fairness Doctrine — which, by the way, Barack Obama opposes — would spoil the fun. I love it that right-wing talk show hosts are always out there proving the bankruptcy of the conservative philosophy with their every burp and utterance.
Many of us take pride in the fact that liberals don’t dominate talk radio. It’s for a good reason — liberals don’t think it’s funny or clever to stereotype and bully, well, not autistic children anyway, but only certain deserving jerks.
"By their fruits ye shall know them," it was said by a wise man long ago. If talk radio had been around in first-century Palestine, you just know that more than a few talk-show hosts would have applauded His crucifixion.
Keep talking, boys, your jaws are digging a grave for your cause and the real fairness is that the joke is on you and your listeners. I sense a new age coming. No, not the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Aquariums. You guys will be the blowfish.
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)