Privacy, Violent Rhetoric and Talk Radio: Michael Savage Edition
The story above really is scary.
Just how close do we have to be to RTLM (Hutu Power Radio) for anyone to see the parallel and say, "That's enough, the people making these kind of threats are off the air for good."?
(You might recall from your watching of Hotel Rwanda that the hosts at RTLM gave information on where the Tutsis were located after talking about crushing the Tutsis like cockroaches. Note: those hosts are now serving jail time for war crimes.)
Is it going to take a few more murders of the targets of right wing talk radio host's ire for someone to act? And by someone I mean their own management. And if management doesn't act, showing us in writing the warnings to Savage along with his signed agreement posted on his website that he won't do this, then they need to pay a financial price. That is the only thing that might get them to act.
The government will not act unless the EXACT right type of murder or violent assult happens. I don't think that will ever happen. Savage knows he needs to avoid certain words and phrases. He knows that unless it is spoken in-person to the person carrying out the murder the people defending the hosts will work on the "he has his right to free speech!" line.
All talk radio and TV hosts know this, so they dance around it and practically demand that the people on the LEFT defend them.
Here is an example of what I mean. Last week
Terry Gross of Fresh Air interviewed Chip Berlet last week and asked him the question about violent rhetoric. She set up for him the question right wants the left to answer. She said,
"The right wing pundits don't pull the trigger. The don't whisper in the ear and say, 'You, you go out and shoot somebody.'"
-- Terry Gross, Fresh Air interviewing Chip Berlet Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. (link)
That is bar that the right is happy the left is setting for them. "Legally he isn't culpable because he didn't pull the trigger." They are very concerned about protecting his "right" to make violent death threats on the air.
My buddy David Niewert can warn people, write excellent books on the topic and then, when the shootings happen go on TV and explain why it happened, but the media will continue to defend these radio and TV hosts. Why? Is it even ever possible to get them to say these people have gone too far? I don't think so.
The media are afraid that any suggestion of limitation of speech will be used against them. Even speech that clearly crosses the line in the category of falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater, . At a macro level they see Savage as "one of them".
Who enables Michael Savage? Several groups:
1) His management. Talk Radio Network, they profit from him and as long as he is making them more money than he is costing them, they will do nothing.
2) His listeners on the right.
3) People on the left who believe standing up for Michael Savage's violent rhetoric and incitement to violence are somehow standing up for the First Amendment.
4) The advertisers who are paying to advertise on his show with the hope that the listeners will buy their goods and services.
Hosts like Savage want to be defended by people on the left. They want it to become a "free speech" or First Amendment issue. But as I have pointed out, it's a corporate issue and a financial issue.
The people who profit from Savage are not going to reign him in, unless he costs them money. And unless he is generating negative revenue they have no incentive to tell him to do something differently.
The people who support Savage's views are not going to tell him to stop.
The people on the left get antsy when it comes to any kind of development of new government speech rules. It is a long expensive legislative battle they don't want to fight. (As much at the right is screaming about a reinstatement of the fairness doctrine, Obama has said that he isn't planning to go there. Of course they don't care what he says, they will still bring out this boogy man whenever they want.)
The only people who can have any impact are the advertisers. We can point out to the advertisers just how bad it is to be connected to Savage. They often have advertising guidelines that give them permission to walk away from controversial people like Savage. If they really, really want to keep advertising they will make up reasons to stay, I think we should give them reasons to leave. Reasons that are consistent with their own internal rules. "Hey, I didn't write your HR and advertising guidelines, you did.")
Some advertisers will wait until more people are killed or violently attacked to act. They are hoping to squeeze out some juicy juicy sales from the people who support Savage. That is their choice.
I don't think that they really want to see, "These acts of violence against Media Matters staff are brought to you by Product X, a long time sponsor and friend of Michael Savage! "
Remember, Nike dumped Michael Vick. They had no desire to be connected to him after what he did. They understood that you need to protect your brand from people who are tainting it. It's too bad they couldn't have extracted themselves and their sponsorship BEFORE the revelation. Maybe there weren't any warning signs in the Vick case. In the case of Savage the warning signs are out there every day. Do you really want to be the last advertiser standing by the next Michael Vick?