I should have posted this ages ago, but better late than never.
You may recall that on June 27 2003 I posted an item about the BBC’s John Willis and US talk show host Michael Savage. To recap, Willis, BBC Director of Factual and Learning, made a speech in which he claimed that Savage said the Arabs must be “snuffed out from the planet, and not in a court of law”. A correspondent to this blog by the name of Peter dug deeper and found that Savage did not say that all Arabs should be snuffed out, he said terrorists should be snuffed out – in an article written two days after the terrorist attacks of Sep 11, 2001. I said on my post that John Willis’s remarks seriously misrepresented Savage.
Since then, Michael Savage, has been in the news. He was fired from a MSNBC talk show slot for telling a homosexual caller that he, Savage, hoped the caller would die from AIDS. His employers were quite right to fire him: that remark contains a level of personal malice that is truly shocking. Protection of free speech does not oblige MSNBC to continue employing someone who brings them into disrepute.
Is John Willis vindicated then? No way.
First point: I can now be more sure than ever that Savage did not advocate genocide against the Arabs. Back in June I did have a moment of doubt. Could it be, I wondered, that even though the article that Peter had dug out clearly referred to snuffing out terrorists, Savage might have made a similar-phrased remark directed against all Arabs on another occasion – say in an unscripted talk radio broadcast which John Willis had heard? After all, I’ve heard that US talk radio can be pretty raw. To check up I took a look at Savage’s website. At that time it contained an interview with an Iraqi. That didn’t sound like Savage wanted all Arabs dead. I decided that Peter was right: such an outrageous remark would have been picked up on.
Well, now I know that it would have been picked up on. For when Savage did make an outrageous remark it was picked up on, and he was fired within hours.
Second point: there was another misrepresentation within John Willis’s speech besides that of Michael Savage. He misrepresented America. He, typically for the BBC, portrayed it as the sort of place where a talk show host can advocate the slaughter of an entire race and yet continue in mainstream public esteem. Yet in fact Savage was fired and widely condemned for a hateful remark against one person. America isn’t the sort of place that John Willis claimed. That misrepresentation goes on daily.