Despite talk show host Michael Savage's astounding bigotry and anti-Semitism, the radio industry can't get enough of him.
MSNBC learned the hard way.
Resisting a lengthy campaign by human rights groups that asked that it not hire radio talk show host Michael Savage, well known for his bigoted on-air vitriol, then-MSNBC President Erik Sorenson gave Savage a major television talk show last March, saying Savage hadn't said anything hateful on MSNBC's air — at least not yet.
Then, in July, Savage described a caller to his new show as a "sodomite" and a "pig," and told him to "get AIDS and die" and to "go eat a sausage and choke on it." The cable news network fired him within hours.
MSNBC had reached its limit. But to others, Savage's astounding bigotry was simply money in the bank. Savage had lost his shot at big-time television, but all was not over for the man whose bestselling 2003 book, The Savage Nation, was still bringing in sizable royalty checks.
Originating station KNEW-AM 910 in San Francisco, station owner Clear Channel Communications, and the Talk Radio Network syndication group chose to keep Savage's immensely popular radio show, also called "The Savage Nation," on the air. After all, KNEW had just lured Savage away from local rival KSFO-AM a month before his firing.
And Savage was, as knew understood, a cash cow. His drive-time program, aired for four hours a day, five days a week from a station in what is arguably America's most liberal metropolitan area, is ranked No. 4 among the nation's radio talk shows.
As many as 7 million people around the country — most of them white men aged 35 to 55, according to the industry-watching Talkers Magazine — listen to "The Savage Nation" through some 330 affiliated stations. To them, Savage is a celebrity.
That Savage is also a bigot is well known. He has called inner-city victims of gunfire "ghetto slime." He refers to non-white nations as "Turd World" countries. Latinos, he says, "breed like rabbits." He regularly bashes gays and liberals.
But there is one type of group hatred that Savage, who claims to have coined the phrase "compassionate conservative" in 1994, long held in relative check.
Although he called Jewish talk show host Jerry Springer "hook-nosed," attacked a fictional ACLU lawyer named "Mark Nobodyberg," and referred to Sen. Joseph Lieberman as "throwing his bagel into the ring" of the presidential campaign, Savage avoided sustained, on-air expressions of anti-Semitism.
Not any more.
'Jews From New York'
Last November, Savage went after the Southern Poverty Law Center's president, Richard Cohen. Savage's ire came in response to the Center's lawsuit against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for installing a Ten Commandments monument in the state's judicial building. After vowing to defy a federal appeals court, Moore was removed from office by fellow Supreme Court justices despite protests from some Christian Right activists and others.
On Nov. 13, during one of many furious tirades that month about the Southern Poverty Law Center, Savage responded to a caller who seemed to agree with him about the case, but who questioned what appeared to be Savage's Jew-baiting.
"What do you mean I am trying to stir it up?" Savage demanded. "A guy like Cohen, who is obviously a Jew from New York, is going after a decent Christian man. What am I supposed to do? Sit here and take crap from him? I think he is a vile human being who ought to be arrested for a hate crime.
"And I am not going to mince words. And I guarantee you that he says 'goy' behind the scenes." ("Goy" is a Hebrew word for a non-Jew that, depending on its usage, can be derogatory. Savage also uses the plural "goyim.")
At one point in the exchange, Savage seemed ready to advocate violence against Jews. But he stopped short of spelling it out.
"I'll tell you the truth, it's enough to break your heart to see what this country has become," he said. "And I have a lot of things that I really want to say today, that I'm going to have to control myself and not say, because there are things that need to be done that I can't say. But the country's at a terrible, terrible balancing point."
Savage's self-control didn't last long. Later in the same broadcast he mocked Jews in a fake Brooklyn accent and laid out a justification for anti-Semitism.
"That's next isn't it?" Savage asked. "From these verminous Brooklyn College lawyers, isn't it? Go down South and have a tee-hee over the goyim. Laugh at the goyim. Go down there and take away the crosses and they can't touch you, huh Mr. Cohen? [Mock laughter.]
"Mr. Cohen, and you wonder where anti-Semitism comes from. Let me strip the mask off it for you today, because if you think I'm going to mince words you are mistaken. It comes from situations like this, when you have a New York Jew like Cohen going down South into the heartland of Christianity and stealing the religious symbol from Christians."
The Wiener Nation
There's just one thing. Savage is himself "a New York Jew," a man who was born — and legally remains — Michael Alan Wiener. According to the liberal media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Savage is the son of Jewish parents in the Bronx. He adopted his pseudonym in 1994, with his first major radio show.
Despite that, Savage frequently talks about Christianity as "our" religion and bitterly criticizes those he characterizes as "Christophobes." Now, with his attacks on Cohen, FAIR's Steve Rendall says Savage has crossed a new line.
"Savage's anti-Semitism is nothing new," said Rendall, a long-time analyst of Savage's show. "But this takes him a step beyond, into the company of neo-Nazi conspiracists like [hate group leader] Matt Hale and [former Klansman] Don Black.
"What's most remarkable, though, is how Savage has put the blatant racism and anti-Semitism of the shortwave dial onto commercially sponsored am stations."
That doesn't seem to bother his backers.
"It's hard for us to comment on anything other than Michael is just wildly popular," KNEW-AM spokesman Ken Kohl told the Report. "You don't achieve this kind of success in markets like New York and San Francisco unless you are wildly entertaining to huge numbers of people."
For their part, officials at Clear Channel Communications, after reviewing Savage's remarks about Cohen, limited themselves to a simple statement. "Clear Channel's radio stations," it said, "are operated and programmed locally based on extensive audience research."
Talk Radio Network (TRN), a radio syndicator based in Central Point, Ore., and featuring an array of hard-right hosts, did not respond to requests for comment. But it has defended Savage from the start. Last May, it went to federal court to sue the operators of three small Web sites critical of their leading host in a bid to shut them down.
After the public interest group Public Citizen stepped in to help defend the case, however, TRN seemed to crumble. On the December day that they were to respond to a defense motion to dismiss the case, TRN's attorneys instead asked the judge for permission to drop their own case. It was granted.
None of this has turned off Savage's publisher at WND Books, a new publishing house that is a partnership between the far-right World Net Daily Web site and Thomas Nelson Inc., a Nashville-based publisher of Christian books. WND Books also published Savage's latest book, The Enemy Within, which debuted this January at No. 8 on The New York Times' bestseller list.
"I can only say that I am a bit mystified by your assertion that Dr. Savage is anti-Semitic," David Dunham, who identified himself as WND Books publisher and a senior vice president at Thomas Nelson, Inc., said after reading transcripts of Savage's rhetoric.
"I would suppose that you are extrapolating this from his repeated comments that, 'Mr. Cohen is a Jew from New York.' That's no more anti-Semitic than if he said, 'David Dunham (me) is a Christian from Nashville.'"
Except for one thing. Cohen was born and raised in Virginia.