Before it even debuts on Saturday, talk-radio star Michael Savage's MSNBC show has attracted more attention than anything else the struggling news network is telecasting. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has launched a campaign to keep Savage off the air. The syndicated radio personality is fighting back by calling his critics "stinking rats who hide in the sewers." His show, The Savage Nation, will debut at 5 p.m. (Eastern) on Saturday despite the furor, said Alan Winikoff, an MSNBC representative.
The brash, tough-talking Savage, who broadcasts out of the San Francisco area, is probably the second-hottest talk-radio host in the country, after Sean Hannity, said Michael Harrison, editor of the trade magazine Talkers. "He is, in many ways, the quintessential shock jock," Harrison said.
"He's a very aggressive, clever, street-smart everyman. He flies in the face of political correctness. He's what works on talk radio." A group Savage formed, the Paul Revere Society, advocates closing
borders, deporting illegal immigrants, mandating health tests for immigrants, eliminating entitlement programs, and making tax cuts permanent.
GLAAD said Savage spews "hateful, defamatory rhetoric" against virtually everyone except white American males. He has referred to gays and lesbians as perverts, said Joan Garry, GLAAD's executive director. "Read what he's written and listen to some of the things he's said, and you can't sit idly by," Garry said. "You have to raise concerns. You have to question why a news channel would give this guy a platform."
Winikoff would not comment on why Savage was hired. Savage, rehearsing his debut, was not immediately available for comment. "What people are forgetting is, the show hasn't been on the air yet,"
Winikoff said. "What Savage says he wants to do on this show is focus on serious issues. Stuff that [his critics] are complaining about won't be a focus of the show. Just give the guy a chance before jumping to conclusions."
Liberal talk-show host Phil Donahue, abruptly fired last week by MSNBC, said the network is trying to "out-Fox Fox" News Channel--the top-rated cable news network, which employs Hannity as a daily talk-show cohost--by appealing to conservatives.
GLAAD helped to organize a tenacious campaign against conservative radio host Laura Schlessinger when her syndicated TV talk show debuted in September 2000, urging an advertiser boycott. When the show was canceled after six months, Schlessinger blamed the boycott. GLAAD hasn't called for a boycott of MSNBC. Garry said she wants to meet with NBC executives before deciding on a next step.
Savage has threatened to launch his own campaign against people who fund groups such as GLAAD, perhaps appealing to the U.S. Justice Department to see if his rights have been violated. "You keep this up, and I tell you, until the last breath I breathe, I'll cut your sources of funding off," he said. "You'll be serving muffins in cafes if you're lucky."
Savage's radio commentary "scared me," Garry said. "It felt very threatening." Garry said she does not dispute Savage's free-speech rights but said that "MSNBC has a responsibility because there are and should be boundaries to what you can and can't say on television. Savage has a history of crossing those boundaries."