Monday, August 10, 2009

More on Michael Savage (and Kelefa Sanneh)

I checked today for reactions to the Kelefa Sanneh piece that I wrote about yesterday. There's definitely some intense criticism of both Sanneh and The New Yorker, generally, for such a friendly portrayal.

Dave Gilson
on The Mother Jones website (here) writes:
In Sanneh's account, Savage comes off as the crotchety old uncle of the conservative radio world, an amusingly apoplectic, ultimately harmless crank. That's too bad, because ... Sanneh had a unique opportunity to reconcile Savage's showmanship and charisma with his toxic political rhetoric, which runs the gamut from raw homophobia to annihilationist fantasies about illegal immigrants and Muslims. Instead of taking Savage at his word, Sanneh went soft on him.

Savage is not, as Sanneh insists, an irrepressible conservative "heretic" flying in the face of the Limbaughs and Becks. Sure, he may play heavy-metal interludes and riff about his fear of death and his traumatic childhood, but he's still one of the loudest voices propagating the increasingly unhinged line that America's been taken over by a foreign-born, Al Qaeda-coddling, whitey-hating Marxist and his traitorous liberal followers. Whether Savage's show is ultimately a schtick or an act of slo-mo catharsis doesn't make it any less disturbing.
Eric Boehlert, at Media Matters (here) has this:
If The New Yorker wants to pretend that Savage is merely "weird" and "fun" to have a beer with (the writer and the radio host had "a great time together" according to Sanneh; Savage confirmed on his show that he "liked" the writer), and that liberals ought to chill out and not get so upset about the sewage that Savage dumps into the mainstream, that's The New Yorker's (elitist) choice. But it certainly represents a glaring case of journalism malpractice.

I'm not suggesting the weekly had to print a straight-up Savage hit piece, or that it couldn't seek out some nuances about the host, his life story, and his show. If
The New Yorker wants to paint a rich portrait, be my guest. But to just play dumb on an epic scale about the hallmark of Savage's program, with its almost unmatched level of hate, was wildly misguided.
I'm with Gilson and Boehlert: I like that Sanneh's perspective on Savage, appearing as it did in The New Yorker, was completely unexpected, but he did a disservice by not examining the significant negative effects of Savage's program. If someone is spewing hatred and you have the chance to interview the person (and have an influential outlet like TNY to report your findings back to the public), you need to do more to challenge the person's hatred than Sanneh did.

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