Sunday, June 19, 2016

Michael Savage and Mark Levin

Lately I've been listening to right-wing talk radio, to try to understand its attractions. In particular, I've been listening to Michael Savage and Mark Levin. These men are both conservative radio hosts with millions of weekly listeners. I have to admit, after more than a month of listening, I find it really hard to understand their appeal.

In some ways, Savage and Levin are very similar. They both use extensive call screening, so that practically no dissenting voices are ever allowed on the air. During the past month, I think I haven't heard a single liberal caller on either program. If they do manage to get on somehow, they typically get shouted down and cut off.

They both shill for their own books, with Levin pushing Plunder and Deceit and Savage pushing Government Zero. They both advertise their books about dogs, with Savage pushing Teddy and Me, and Levin pushing a book written by his father, My Dog Spot. They both shill for companies that sell precious metals as investments, with Levin pushing Goldline and Savage pushing Swiss America. Levin also shills for AMAC (which bills itself as the conservative alternative to AARP) and Dollar Shave Club.

For radio professionals, they both seem to have trouble pronouncing certain words. Levin once referred to Mallorca as "Mall-er-ka", and Savage pronounced "fiefdom" as "fife-dum".

They both always refer to the "Democrat party", a typical epithet of the far right.

They both love to name-call. Levin constantly uses terms like "puke", "hack", "jerk", and "punk" to describe anybody he disagrees with. Sometimes he calls people "subhuman". If there exists a single person in the world who is both personally honorable and disagrees with Levin on some substantive issue, you would not know about it by listening to him. For example, he called Elizabeth Warren "one of the biggest idiots", "a complete freak" and a "dimwitted buffoon". (He has a particular dislike for university professors.) Levin routinely refers to the New York Times as the "New York Slimes", the Washington Post as the "Washington Compost", MSNBC as "MSLSD", Associated Press as "Associated Depressed", Hillary Clinton as "Hillary Rotten Clinton". I guess he thinks he's being clever. Savage, on the other hand, routinely refers to people he disagrees with as "garbage" or "vermin". He particularly dislikes Muslims, which he enjoys calling "Moose-lims". He calls Rachel Maddow "Rachel Madcow".

Both Savage and Levin like to portray themselves as brave, honest commentators who say what others dare not. When Levin says, "There! I said it!" you know for sure that something particularly ignorant has just preceded it.

Probably the most important commonality between Levin and Savage is they both lie. Unrelentingly. Repeatedly. In listening for a month or so, there were so many lies that I often had trouble recording them all. They're not lying about things whose truth is hard to determine, either. Here are just a few:

  • Mark Levin claimed "nobody watches CBS News". In fact, in 2015, viewership was 6.8 million, up 4% from previously, or about the same as Levin's own audience size.
  • Michael Savage lied about what Mark Tushnet said here, claiming Tushnet advocated treating conservatives like Nazis.
  • Mark Levin claimed Marx and Engels invented the term "middle class". Not true, of course: it was James Bradshaw in 1745.
  • Michael Savage claimed Japan never apologized for the Bataan death march. But they did, 6 years ago.
  • Mark Levin twice claimed that "gun shows are the safest place on earth", despite being informed that this is simply not the case: accidental shootings at gun shows are routine.
Many more examples can be found on my twitter feed. Despite these lies, in my listening for more than a month I never heard either host issue a correction or retraction about anything. (In contrast, Rachel Maddow issues corrections all the time.)

Both hosts have their obsessions. Levin is completely obsessed with Barack Obama; nearly every show is on the same theme, about how Obama is destroying America. Obama, Levin claims, is "sick" and "hates America". Similarly, Savage is obsessed with Obama, calling him a "psychopath", but his obsessions also include George Soros, Google, Hollywood, and Facebook, frequently insulting Mark Zuckerberg (often with exaggerated Jewish accent) and Jeff Bezos. Indeed, although Savage is Jewish (his real name is Michael Weiner), many of his comments seem either overtly or covertly anti-Semitic.

Both hosts have extremely high opinions of themselves. Savage has a doctorate from Berkeley in ethnomedicine, which he frequently likes to mention (callers often call him "Dr. Savage"), and likes to boast for minutes at a time about how smart he is compared to everyone else. He says, "I'm far more creative, inventive, entertaining, informative, educated than everyone else in the history of radio." However, he's not as smart as he thinks: for example, Savage frequently uses the term "coelenterate" and says it means the same as "worm". (Coelenterates are not worms or even closely related to them. They are creatures like jellyfish and sea anemones.) Here Savage quotes Hillel's famous questions, but attributes them wrongly to Maimonides. On the other hand, Levin's website describes him as "The Great One" or "Denali", terms which Levin embraces with enthusiasm. He frequently turns testy, telling callers that he is going to "educate" them.

Despite their great similarities, both hosts apparently dislike the other one. Indeed, it seems that both are quite reluctant to mention the other by name. Levin has called Savage "a real cancer" and a "phony, fake conservative".

Nevertheless, there are some differences between them. Savage, by far, has the stranger life story, whereas Levin had a more conventional career at the fringes of American right. Savage supports Donald Trump and Levin was a strong supporter of Ted Cruz. (Whether Levin will eventually back Trump is hard to tell, although I suspect he will eventually cave.) Savage seems to have no coherent political philosophy at all, other than his dislike of various minorities. For example, he seems to hate gay people, once telling a caller that he "should get AIDS and die ... eat a sausage and choke on it". Like his hero Trump, Savage seems to be a fascist in training; he admires Vladimir Putin and thinks bringing back the House Un-American Activities Committee would be a good idea. Levin is somewhat more consistent philosophically, claiming to be a "constitutional conservative". However, his idea of the constitution is extremely narrow; it never seems to occur to him that there might be two or more different ways of interpreting constitutional provisions. Levin used to work under Ed Meese, whom he calls a "great man". But remember that Meese did not believe in the principle of "innocent until proven guilty"; he once said, "If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect." Levin also buys into the typical craziness of the right, denying man-made global warming and claiming that environmentalists are responsible for the deaths of millions of people from malaria.

Savage seems genuinely unbalanced to me. For example, he thinks seltzer water is dangerous and claims that seltzer water has damaged Bernie Sanders' sanity. He says things like, "I am a prophet. I have been a prophet. I was appointed to be a prophet since birth." Levin is better, but his sanity is also not so clear to me. He once claimed violating transgender guidelines will get you put in "Leavenworth Prison" and once agreed with a caller that if Obama had been president during US Civil War "he would have continued slavery". But perhaps these are just wild hyperbole as opposed to being actually crazy.

After a month of listening, I still don't quite understand their appeal. Savage is an ignorant narcissist who is filled with hate. Levin is a boring partisan and ideologue with a single theme that he repeats with hardly any variation. Neither host is much concerned with the truth. Both like to hear themselves rant, and, despite praising their audience, rarely genuinely engage with any caller.

If these are the minds that the American right listens to on a daily basis, it's no wonder that the right is so badly misinformed.


JimV said...

Al Franken did a similar study and wrote the book "Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them". (Maybe it's time for you to write a sequel!) I thought it was a great book, funny and well-documented, and bought an extra copy to give to my conservative friend Mario. He returned it, unread, a couple days later. They (conservatives) do not want their world view challenged. (Generalizations are always suspect of course, but that one seems to me to be almost mathematically true - if they do accept challenges to their world view, they soon cease to be conservatives.)

Part of the problem for me personally is that to take the time (ranging from 30 seconds to a half-hour) to check the facts on the Internet to challenge every other sentence people like Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, and all the rest generate endlessly is too much of a commitment, so I avoid listening to them. When I do hear one of their outrageous statements repeated in casual conversation I challenge it, but it is usually a half-day or day later that I email a substantive, researched rebuttal, and in the meantime they have said dozens more similar things - like the Gish Gallop.

My generation tended to grow up with the belief that if you heard something on the radio or TV "it must be true or they wouldn't be allowed to say it." That has never been true and least of all now, but I still hear it from my conservative friends and relatives.

Bert Brouwer said...

Regarding taking Genesis literally, an interesting question for me would be:
Who were all these people in Genesis 4,14-15 that threatened to kill Cain?
And if I was allowed to ask a second question:
Where did Mrs. Cain in Genesis 4,17 come from?

CDP said...

Michael Alan Weiner's 1978 U.C. Berkeley Ph.D. thesis, "Nutritional Ethnomedicine in Fiji," contains the following summary:

By isolating various elements of several disciplines--notably medical anthropology, ethnobotany, nutrition and epidemiology--an interdisciplinary approach to nutritional ethnomedicine in the Fiji Islands has been constructed. Beginning with an overview of the physical characteristics of Oceania, especially the geography of island types as they affect ethnobotanical practices, the work proceeds through an overview of the people and their health including vital statistics. Food and nutrition as health-related phenomena are next presented, including a description of a current research project into the causes of infant malnutrition. Infectious diseases, cases and deaths, for the years 1972 through 1975 are presented in tabular form.

Since the "tools" used to gather and order much of these data are largely anthropological, a review of the literature in cognitive anthropology is included, followed by a lexicon of Fijian disease terms including names of islands where local names were recorded. To attempt an understanding of the genesis of herbal remedies in Fiji the materia medica of a celebrated practitioner, including an edited transcript of field interviews, follows. The next section consists of a detailed socio-botanic essay on the single most important plant species from a cultural perspective, kavakava or yangona (Piper methysticum). A chapter on nutritional considerations in the islands is further subdivided into (A) an appraisal of the vitamin and mineral content of edible leaves, (B) a speculative review of the possible relationship between cyanogenetic glycosides and neurological disorders, and (C) the agricultural considerations of a hypothetical migrant Melanesian people.

Finally, the medicinal applications of 188 plant species are enumerated. Included are the plant parts used, Fijian names, the illnesses, and the preparations of the remedies.

Nothing that would lead you to expect him to know anything about coelenterates or Hillel or world affairs.

Silvio Frank said...

I am listening to Michael Savage right now and as you said he hates Obama, Democrats, Jews, and so on, but the preponderance of the evidence points to the fact that he simply hates. How anyone can hate so much, be so filled with hate ( Why?) is beyond my understanding. You'd imagine a man filled with so much hate would simply self destruct, but no, he continues to hate and hate and hate, so it must all be playacting? I have no idea. These right wing guys are ready for the loony bin.


Daniel Rogers said...

At What point will you non logicall obvious all libtards understand reality. The author of this is writing a review on these two men who apparently just hate hate hate well in reality all this author is doing is putting both these men down. Inbevery part of this essay lol. How dumb can can u progressives be to be writing about hate when your own writings show the same lol. From the bottom of my heart i truly feel bad for u guys amd what ot must feel like to literally think in your minds you guys are truly intelligent and think your tryinh to help but truth be told when facts and when any type of logical awareness is presented yall crumble and retreat to safe zones lol. Last point i want to try and put it into perspective on how any rational person with any decent common sense views u guys when yall speak. Its like me tryimg to explsin to u 2+2=4 everbody knows who i just mentioned logical thinkers knows its 4 but u libersls are convinced itz another number becaise your little libersl tv shows and papers and blah blah blah has told.u so amd thay all u geeks talk abkut whem around each other. Like blind sheep following but in your heads u think your coorect but in reakity your dumber then shit. Skrry fkr terrible grammar i know u geeks are already reading this saying this dude calling us out he cant evem spell hahahahahahaab fucking tools im driving amd care less bout ykur shit and ps ALL LIVES MATTER

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Daniel:

I'm not sure where you got your education, but perhaps it's not too late to demand a refund.

CDP said...

I'm afraid Trump "University" does not offer refunds. But they will be more than happy to provide information on how to max out your credit card to pay their tuition.

Unknown said...

Such a great comparison. I've been listening to them for quite a while and always had a great laugh, well as well as from Alex Jones, great clowns they all are!

But recently I got tierd from the repetitions and here I am reading this amazing and funny post, it's funny coz it's great comparison, especially for those who have been listening those dudes for a while! For me all this politics crap has become a pure entertainment!

Now I understood that all the parties and all the systems are the same, better sooner than later!

Cheers to all, be neutral, then hop the right train at the right time, best advice I can give you so far! 😃

Unknown said...

This seems like a pretty narrow assessment on these radio programs. I listen to Michael Savage for years maybe like an hour a week and have enjoyed talks about literature, Ayurveda, Eastern Philosophy, food, and health. You don't have to be into his politics and still find a lot of substance in his show.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Savage does not talk about any of those topics any more. It's all screeching about how Obama is a "maniac in the White House".

By the way, he's a bit of a nutcase on food, too. He thinks seltzer water is a poison of the brain.