Fox News after Blix report- compare and contrast

Peter McLaren mclaren at
Fri Mar 7 17:54:30 MST 2003

                    Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
               Media analysis, critiques and activism

MSNBC's Double Standard on Free Speech
"Turd World" is OK-- "anti-war, anti-Bush" is not

March 7, 2003

MSNBC's claim to be championing free speech by hiring hate-talk radio host
Michael Savage is disingenuous in the extreme.

Defending its decision to give a weekly program to a commentator who
specializes in diatribes against various groups, the MSNBC cable network
called hiring Savage-- whose show will premiere on Saturday, March 8-- "a
legitimate attempt to expand the marketplace of ideas" (Electronic Media,

This was a response to critics of Savage's record of racism, misogyny and
homophobia, which includes dismissing child victims of gunfire as "ghetto
slime," referring to non-white countries as "turd world nations," calling
homosexuality "perversion" and asserting that Latinos "breed like
rabbits." (For more Savage quotes, see FAIR action alert, 2/12/03.)

The news channel-- co-owned by Microsoft and General Electric/NBC--
declared in its formal statement: "By bringing our viewers a wide range of
strong, opinionated voices, MSNBC underscores its commitment to ensuring
that its perspective programming promotes no one single point of view.  We
encourage debate and we would neither expect, nor want, our audience to
agree with everything on our channel."

But this enthusiasm for a "wide range of strong, opinionated voices" rings
hollow in the wake of MSNBC's firing of host Phil Donahue.  (FAIR's
founder, Jeff Cohen, worked as a senior producer for Donahue.)  His show
was cancelled despite having the best ratings on the network; this
occurred, according to published reports, after a study commissioned by
NBC described Donahue as "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the
current marketplace" who would be a "difficult public face for NBC in a
time of war" (All Your TV, 2/25/03).  "He seems to delight in presenting
guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's
motives," the report noted, warning that the Donahue show could be "a home
for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are
waving the flag at every opportunity."

Network insiders echoed these qualms.  In an email leaked to the website
All Your TV (3/5/03), one executive suggested that MSNBC could take
advantage of the "anticipated larger audience who will tune in during a
time of war" to "reinvent itself" and "cross-pollinate our programming" by
linking pundits to war coverage.  "It's unlikely that we can use Phil in
this way, particularly given his public stance on the advisability of the
war effort," the email said.

All Your TV's Rick Ellis quoted a network source: "I personally like
Donahue, but our numbers were telling us that viewers thought he has too
combative, and often said things that some respondents considered almost

According to published reports, these fears led MSNBC to "micromanage" the
Donahue show.  "He was often told what kinds of subjects to showcase and
what kind of guests to have.  And he was often chided for being too tough
on some guests," consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote (Common Dreams,
3/3/03).  "In the past few months, the corporate 'suits' even told Donahue
that he had to have more conservative or right-wing guests than liberals
on the same hour show."

Given this treatment of Donahue's progressive, anti-war views, it is
hypocritical for MSNBC to claim that it is hiring Savage merely to "expand
the marketplace of ideas," provide "a wide range of strong, opinionated
voices" and "encourage debate."  While hatred of "turd world immigrants"
is a viewpoint that the news channel seems comfortable promoting,
progressive criticism of a war with Iraq is too controversial.

Savage, who has called on the government to "arrest the leaders of the
antiwar movement" in case of war (Boston Globe, 3/3/03), is in no position
to pose as a free-speech martyr.  "I'll put you in jail!" was his response
to critics of his MSNBC hiring, whom he referred to as "stinking rats who
hide in the sewers" (2/27/03).  Noting that "we have a Republican
president. We have a Republican attorney general," Savage suggested he
would sic the government on his enemies:

"I have millions of people who vote. Mr. Bush wants to get re-elected, and
just consider me a politician at that point.  I'm going to ask for a trade
in favor.  If they keep it up, my favor is going to be I want these groups
investigated.  If they're doing nothing illegal, fine.  If they've crossed
the line, then put 'em out of business."

When activists in Oregon organized against Savage's show last year, he
issued thinly veiled threats of violence, saying he would release the
names and addresses of these "little hateful nothings" to his fans
(, 3/5/03):

"I'm warning you if you try to damage me any further with lies, be aware
of something: That which you stoke shall come to burn you, the ashes of
the fireplace will come and burn your own house down.  Be very careful,
you are living in incendiary times.  You can't just throw things at people
and walk away thinking that you had a little fun.  I warn you; I'm gonna
warn you again, if you harm me and I pray that no harm comes to you, but I
can't guarantee that it won't."

While FAIR does not endorse advertiser boycotts and has never called on
MSNBC to cancel Savage's program, these are clearly legal political
tactics that are protected by the First Amendment.  Threatening violence
against groups you dislike, or getting the government to investigate them
as a "favor," are not.  It hard to take seriously MSNBC's claim to want to
"expand the marketplace of ideas" when it is hiring someone with such
obvious contempt for freedom of speech.

ACTION: Please ask MSNBC to maintain a single standard on freedom of


Neal Shapiro, NBC News President
mailto:neal.shapiro at

Bob Wright, NBC President
mailto:bob.wright at

Erik Sorenson, MSNBC President
mailto:Erik.Sorenson at

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