There are limits even to free speech
- John Calhoun
- Portland Tribune - Opinion
In January, Oregon experienced two violent hate crimes. In Medford, a man from India was beaten because the attackers believed that he was an Arab. In Portland, blacks were targeted in a night of random attacks.
Oregon has a history of hate crimes reaching back decades. The most notorious case in recent years was in 1988, when Skinheads murdered Mulegeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant. In that case, a court awarded the victim's family compensation from the White Aryan Resistance's Tom Metzger, who had incited the Skinheads with his violent, racist rhetoric.
Michael Savage, a radio talk-show host on KXL (750 AM), is continuing this tradition of hate and racism. On a daily basis he denigrates gays, Muslims, women, Mexicans, the poor and most immigrants. He also advocates violence against some of these groups.
Last May, in a reference to controlling illegal immigrants, he asked, 'Do we have a government anymore? If we had a government, we'd blow them out of the desert with airplanes.'
Discussing the homeless in April 2002, he said, 'In a sane society, they would be beaten up, thrown in a van, and thrown in a work camp.' An article published in the San Francisco Chronicle included this excerpt from one of Savage's shows: 'We need racist stereotypes right now of our enemy in order to encourage our warriors to kill the enemy.'
Three National Guardsmen, recently returned from service in the Middle East, were responsible for the attack in Medford.
It's impossible to tell whether Michael Savage is responsible for any specific hate crimes, but some would argue that it is only a matter of time. This raises the question of what a responsible community can do. Supporters of Michael Savage claim that it is his free-speech right to say what he wants on the air. They say that if we seek to remove him from being broadcast, we are advocating censorship. Besides, they say, Savage is just providing entertainment.
Let's be clear about one thing: Michael Savage is not entertainment. He is promoting a dangerous message of hate that is damaging to our community. However, he is on the air not because KXL is concerned about free speech but because the station manager believes that this kind of programming is profitable.
KXL is in a ratings war with other radio stations, and Savage attracts listeners. Listeners attract advertisers. This makes money for KXL, which is owned by Paul Allen. That's right, the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers is the No. 1 promoter of hate speech in the Pacific Northwest.
Whether Michael Savage is on the air in Portland is not a free-speech issue for Paul Allen. It is a commercial issue. If Savage's ratings dropped, do you think they'd be discussing First Amendment rights?
You and I do not have the chance to broadcast our views three hours a day on a major radio station. Are we being censored because we do not have that access? If Savage were dropped by KXL, putting him in the same position as the rest of us, would that be censorship?
Let us also keep in mind that in spite of what Savage's supporters say, there are limits to free speech. As the courts ruled in the case against Tom Metzger, hate speech that leads to hate crime is not free.
Challenging KXL's broadcasts of Michael Savage is not an attack on free speech. Challenging Paul Allen's sponsorship of the 'Savage Nation' is in fact a celebration of those rights. Allen, KXL and the advertisers that finance these broadcasts need to hear that Portland wants no part of Michael Savage's bigotry and hatred.
John Calhoun is president of the board of the social services organization Neighborhood House and a member of the Coalition Against Hate Radio. He lives in Southwest Portland.