Monday, July 21, 2008

In Defense of Freedom of Speech : Michael Savage on Autism

article on autism
another article on autism

vos iz neias/new-york-city-remarks-on-autism-kids-by-radio-show-stirs-anger-and-protest/

Michael Savage, the famous right wing talk show host has ignited a firestorm of criticism with his comments on autistic children. On his radio program, he has reportedly dismissed 99% of children with an autism diagnosis as "brats" and "morons". Predictably, there has been a chorus of calls for his resignation, with a demonstration planned today in front of WOR radio in New York City.
In fairness to my readers, I am presenting the You Tube recordings of Michael Savage's statements. One video sounds fairly simplistic and the other recording makes a plausible case that there has been overdiagnosis of autism. Debates about the suitability and frequency of autism diagnoses have been going on in medical circles for a long time. A concrete physical complaint such as a broken arm of strep infection can be diagnosed beyond a reasonable doubt. In such cases a medical treatment is fairly straight forward.
In the case of a psychological or behavioral condition, debates about cause and cure are less conclusive. In the case of milder diagnoses such as attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, it can be argued that drugs are prescribed far too frequently. Certain types of students are less appreciated than others. Those who have listened to Savage are familiar with his opposition to Ritalin and support for alternative medicine. He is a strong advocate of exploring diet as a possible remedy to behavioral problems now treated with pills.
Michael Savage is an entertainer and a social critic. His adeptness at infuriating some of his audience is a part of his attraction. Bob Grant, who was also no stranger to controversy once said, "I don't care what people say about me as long as they say something."
Another attraction Savage holds for his audience is his willingness to focus on issues and fears that get banished to the sidelines of public discussion. Illegal immigration, outsourcing of American jobs and anti white racism are topics that are treated dismissively in the media mainstream and given serious attention on Savage Nation.
It would easily be possible to package a Savage Nation agenda in the style of National Public Radio. I am more interested in Savage's opinions and agenda than I am his style. I would love to see him do an NPR broadcast saying what he does in their format. But Savage is a showman and an entertainer. His attraction is his continued ability to shock in a time when we blush at little. He reminds me a great deal of Lenny Bruce, who was also hounded in his day by opponents of free speech.
The medical profession is still changing its mind on basic questions. Current wisdom says that a baby should sleep on its back. In my younger years, pediatricians told us to put a sleeping baby on its stomach. It is hard not to wonder how much medical advice is the product of fashion and trends. I am sure that new facts and hypotheses will come to light concerning autism and other disorders.
I have had contact with autistic individuals and their families on a regular basis. In light of what I have seen, Savage's comments seem simplistic. I think he would probably qualify some of his more offensive statements if he met some of the people I have who suffer with and those who live with people who are diagnosed with autism.
When Media Media Matters , a liberal "media watchdog" gets involved with Savage's latest difficulties, it should be viewed in the light of their long standing opposition to Michael Savage. Before Michael Savage made his controversial remarks, Media Matters was not involved in advocacy for autistic individuals.Their mission has been to marshal public opinion against what they see as conservative misinformation. Liberal distortions of fact are not on their agenda. In fashioning the families of autistic children into another aggrieved constituency, Media Matters and other free speech opponents hope to be able to add to their ground troops in the war on Savage's first amendment rights.
Savage will probably stimulate valuable discussion about autism and other disorders. Those whose children suffer from physical or psychological maladies often develop expertise in their child's area of difficulty. New and alternative approaches are often sought out and eventually make their way sometimes into mainstream medicine. As offensive and self promoting as Savage might be , he is an advocate for questioning conventional wisdom about conventional medicine.
Questioning scientific as well as political orthodoxy is what has drives the growth of human knowledge. It would be a pity for the voice of Michael Savage to be silenced in this election year or at any other time. Freedom of speech is not the sole province of the bland and conventional. It belongs as much to those we consider obnoxious and repugnant. Silencing Savage creates a precedent that is injurious to the families of the autistic and to all of us. It is a bad idea.
Savage on Autism

Savage on autism (at greater length)

1 comment:

Findalis said...

In the 1980's and 90's it was ADHD and ADD. Today it is Autism. I have a neighbor with a severely autistic child. Because of the Hollywood celebrities and their screaming to close down the homes for these children, this child has to be cared for at home. The family is living a nightmare. True Autism is ugly. It isn't bad behavior, there is no way to describe the horror that this family lives with. The son becomes violent, self-abusive (he continually bangs his head on the wall), and can't control himself.

The true illness is rare. What these celebrities and others have are dumb kids. They don't want to admit that their child is stupid, so they have to find an excuse for it.

I pray to G-d that my neighbors can get their son into a new home (they found a lovely one run by Catholic Nuns), and that their family has some measure of calm in their lives again (they have 6 other children so calm is to them is the normal craziness that runs in such a family).