When I saw a profile of the radio talker Michael Savage in this week's New Yorker, I wondered whether it was part of some broader "liberal media" plot to discredit the Republican party by publicizing its craziest members and factions. Watch MSNBC enough and you could believe in such a plot, given that network's growing coverage of the birthers, the C. Street "Family," health-care conspiracy theories, etc. It also seemed past the time to publicize Savage, his moment of notoriety being the time he lost his gig on television (ironically, on MSNBC) for telling a caller to get AIDS and die. But Kelefa Sanneh seems less interested in exposing Savage's ideology than in celebrating him as a uniquely eccentric entertainer. Sanneh describes him as "a marvellous storyteller, a quirky thinker, and an incorrigible free associater [who] sometimes sounds less like a political commentator than like the star of a riveting and unusually vivid one-man play...or a fugitive character out of a Philip Roth novel." The author is fascinated by Savage's digressiveness on air and his career track in life, the former Michael Alan Weiner having earned a Ph.D. from Berkeley and authored numerous books on alternative medicine while growing more reactionary as he blamed his limited progress in academia on reverse discrimination and more homophobic as he encountered the early outbreaks of AIDS in a San Francisco clinic.What most fascinates Sanneh is Savage's apparently irrepressible pessimism, a trait that may be characteristic of philosophical conservatism but isn't conducive to "successful rabble-rousing." Savage, from this account, is no cheerleader for any party or movement; "Savage never quite seems able to convince himself that the forces of righteousness will prevail," Sanneh writes. Nor is he a team player; he reportedly insults the likes of Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on a regular basis. A reader might get the impression that Savage isn't for anything apart from the usual historically hypocritical meritocracy espoused by aggrieved white men.
"The immoderate quotes meticulously catalogued by the liberal media-watchdog site mediamatters.org are accurate but misleading, insofar as they reduce a willfully erratic broadcast to a series of political brickbats," Sanneh argues. His reluctance to explicate whatever Savage's actual ideology might be suggests that he might be recommending Savage to audiences who used to be entertained by the nightly meltdowns of irascible characters like Rev. Gene Scott or other cult personalities. But just as I'd warn MSNBC that its seeming strategy of sinking the Republican party by publicizing its association with its most insane constituents might backfire, owing to the underestimated credulity of Americans, so I suggest that any article that gets more people listening to Michael Savage simply for some sort of outre entertainment is deeply misconceived.