July 30, 2008

Smart Mom Is No Radio Host

By JIM BELSHAW Of the Journal

I'm late to the Michael Savage party. When the invitations went out about a week ago, I thought about calling Gay Finlayson to see if she was going, but decided against it. I don't know why. Probably because syndicated talk show host Michael Savage is such a horse's patootie that I didn't want to bother Gay with him.

Then I saw that a group of San Francisco parents of kids with autism were demonstrating on Tuesday and calling for Savage's firing, which of course won't happen because he is a star of conservative talk radio. He entertains. He generates ad money. Some radio station owners don't much care what you say as long as you generate money.

Here's how Michael Savage entertains: "They (autistic kids) don't have a father around to tell them, 'Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, you idiot.' "

Savage entertains locally on KKOB, and sure enough, the next day callers were explaining him away as having "rough edges" and it was just radio shtick and how can you not like a guy who dumps on autistic kids? If nothing else, we have to say the man knows his audience.

I know it's been long a time since we decided people like Michael Savage were "entertaining." I know it's been a long time since we decided mocking the weak and powerless was "entertaining," but I still don't get it. I don't get the attraction of dumping on someone who can't fight back.

When I first heard what Savage said about autistic kids, I thought about Rudy, an autistic kid I wrote about in 1997. When he and his mother went to visit her parents at their Belen ranch, she left 11-year-old Rudy in his wheelchair to watch the cowboys working in a corral. When she came back, the wheelchair was empty.

She looked around and finally saw him in the corral. He was perched on a gentle horse, surrounded by the cowboys who had lifted him from the wheelchair to the horse. The all rode in close to keep Rudy from falling, but still giving him a chance to sit in the saddle.

Such men will never get their own show on KKOB. They are not entertaining.

Gay Finlayson won't get her own talk show for the same reason.

On the other hand, she does know what she's talking about. That should count for something, shouldn't it?

"I got sick to my stomach when I read his (Savage's) remarks," she said. "I thought of all the families in New Mexico who are challenged by autism, and who wake up every morning determined to make life better for their child or their children. ... They live on little sleep and a diet of meager resources. We need to help them."

I met Gay more than 10 years ago. She is the mother of two autistic children and is now a health education consultant at the University of New Mexico's Center for Development & Disability. In recent years, she has become a tireless legislative lobbyist working on behalf of New Mexico families with autistic children.

"One of the reasons autism is so tough is that our kids look so typical," she said. "It's their behaviors that stand out. We are a judgmental culture and always look to parents when we see a child's behavior that we don't understand or find intolerable. We're also a culture that blames the victim. I think we do that as a defense mechanism, because we don't have the skills to make things better."

As I said, not entertaining.

Experienced, informed, smart -- but not anywhere in Michael Savage's league. She's just not talk show host material.

"I think not having autism intervention as part of our state's children's Medicaid package is discriminatory," she said. "We are denying children medically necessary treatment. We wouldn't do that to children with diabetes or asthma. We need a culture shift. But those things take time, and time is something our kids don't have."

Write to Jim Belshaw at The Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103; telephone -- 823-3930; e-mail -- [email protected]

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