When Michael Savage, a top radio talker known for his bold, uncompromising and “right-wing” commentary, spends 16 hours being interviewed for the left-leaning Playboy magazine, sparks are going to fly.
Playboy Contributing Editor David Hochman fired the first shot in an 8,000-word article for the June 2010 issue that leaves no holds barred:
“I can’t remember a more difficult interview,” Hochman writes in introduction of his subject. “Savage was a fine host, but his opinions are extreme to the point of being poison. Much of the time I hated him. He’s maddeningly bullheaded and closed-minded.”
And after enduring a string of questions picking apart Savage’s on-air comments and accusing the host of being angry, rabid, xenophobic and irresponsible, the nation’s No. 3-rated talker finally fired back:
“That’s the sort of bulls— question I would expect from liberal vermin media,” Savage said when accused of condoning the murder of Muslims. “People love to twist what I say, take it out of context, make me a monster.”
Savage told WND he consented to the interview – despite the latent hostility in the questions – in an effort to take his message to a wider audience. Playboy granted his goal, allowing Savage to go off uncensored by radio broadcast guidelines.
On the topic of homosexuality, for example, Savage described himself as a “sexual libertarian” but still presented a case for prohibiting “gay” marriage:
“Do whatever the f— you want if it feels good,” Savage said. “Like a psychiatrist wrote, ‘I don’t care what people do, with what orifices, nor with whom, to get pleasure.’ Just leave the children alone. That’s been my view on ‘gay’ sex and marriage.
“Why should I care what people do to stimulate themselves as long as children are not affected?” he continued. “‘Gay’ marriage confuses children. It all comes back to the survival of a society. To me marriage has always been the brick foundation of every society. You start tampering with the definition of marriage and you spread that idea to children, you’re tampering with the whole structure.”
Savage’s Playboy interview also gained him a platform to share his thoughts on President Obama:
“Look what we ended up with,” Savage told his interviewer. “Obama’s a great package – good-looking guy, very appealing. But you find out it’s all fury and sound and nothing else. And he’s leading the country down the road of socialism and left-wing morass.”
And on being fiercely independent:
“Me? I’m not a Republican because I don’t like their politics, and I know they’re a bunch of crooks,” Savage said. “Look at what Bush did. He was an embarrassment. The man couldn’t complete a sentence without mangling words. Not that being articulate is the end-all. Look at Obama. My listeners appreciate that I’m not a mouthpiece for either party.”
And on the tea parties:
“This movement is largely composed of middle-class business owners who know the government, Republicans and Dems, are bankrupting the nation,” he said. “The tea parties and the town halls are all saying what I’ve been saying on the radio. It’s the true voice of America, not the left-wing ‘rent-a-mobs’ we’ve seen for the past three decades. That’s why they both shock and frighten the left-wing media. These are real people, really angry.”
The rude introduction Hochman gave Savage, however – calling his opinions “poison” and saying, “Much of the time I hated him” – did not sit well with the radio host.
“Why did the guy say he hated me when he wouldn’t say it to my face?” Savage asked on his radio program, as reported by Ed Walsh in the SF Headlines Examiner.
According to Walsh, Savage told his listeners that if Hochman had interviewed Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Saddam Hussein, he wouldn’t have started his article by saying that he hated either man.
“I am sure that if Playboy sat down with Ahmadinejad, they would kiss his hands,” Savage said.
Walsh quoted Savage’s program in a second day of reaction to the interview, referring to the Playboy writer, “He came on in with an ax to grind and grudgingly tried to grind the ax on my own head.”
Savage’s producer further told WND that despite Playboy’s overwhelming bias against its interview subject, the radio host “held his ground”:
“When I first read the Playboy interview with Michael, I was angry that the interviewer had attacked Michael in such a belligerent fashion,” the producer said in a statement. “I’m used to the subtle, backstabbing bias of the passive-aggressive media, but I guess even I never thought that interviews would come with a label warning against the very subject of the interview.”
The producer then ticked off a list of the interviewer’s slanted questions:
- “Why are you so angry?”
- “That sort of rabid nationalism can quickly lead to xenophobia, which in turn can … well, remember what happened in the 1930s in Germany?”
- “You sound like a monster sometimes …”
- “Isn’t that the oldest line in the bigot’s handbook?”
- “Is your family ever embarrassed by what you say?”
“What I found as I read through the whole piece, however, was that, in spite of the animosity, Michael’s personality shone through,” the producer summarized. “To Playboy’s credit, they did not edit Michael’s comments. Though the interviewer went on the attack, Michael attacked right back, held his ground and came off looking the better for it. In spite of the fact that I think the interviewer might have been hoping that Michael would be cast as a devil, I think it showed that Michael is capable of overcoming even the worst prejudices against him.”
A glimpse into Savage’s softer side?
While most of the interview consists of Savage fending off Hochman’s thinly veiled accusations, the conversation also provides a glimpse into the painful past that led the radio talker to begin his career – before his years in radio – as a medical botanist.
The story stems from the tale of Savage’s brother, Jerome, who was born with brain damage and eventually died in an institution – “a tragedy,” Hochman writes, “that pushed Savage to study alternative medicine in faraway islands.”
“When I was a kid, my mother cried over and over again to me about Jerome,” Savage shared. “And I’d say, ‘Ma, if God could come down’ – I’d say this to her when I was a little boy – ‘what would you ask God to do?’
“‘I’d ask him to fix Jerome, make him better.’
“Now what does a little boy want to do more than please his mother?” Savage said. “‘I’m going to give Mommy what she wants.’ There’s no God in the room, so I’ll help her. I’ll fix Jerome. So I looked for all these cures in the oddest places, because I knew traditional medicine didn’t have answers.”
More than 20 years later, after authoring several books on alternative medicine, Savage turned to radio, where he has since become a talk superstar, climbing up the ratings with 9 million weekly listeners, an audience share that puts him in the company of names like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.
When asked by Hochman what he thinks of some of his fellow hosts and media personalities, however, Savage’s softer side evaporated, and the scathing wit returned.
“Let’s shift gears and play the name game with your media cohorts,” Hochman suggested. “Bill O’Reilly.”
“I think O’Reilly is a phony,” Savage said.
“I don’t know how Rush Limbaugh has an audience.”
“Glenn Beck is a laughingstock.”
“What about Rachel Maddow?”
“There’s a reason she has the lowest ratings of all the people on cable,” Savage said. “Now ask me about the brain-damaged Keith Olbermann.”
“Go for it,” Hochman said.
“He’s a sad man,” Savage answered. “He’s totally crazy. I think there’s actually something wrong with the guy. I mean he gets so worked up in ways that are inappropriate for the situation. With the hatred! The world’s worst person is me? Or Sean Hannity or O’Reilly? Not Osama bin Laden? Not a guy who just blew up 50 people in Iraq? It’s a media competitor? That’s the world’s worst person? How do they let him get away with it?”
Finally, left to summarize how the Berkeley-trained alternative medicine man became a flaming talk radio conservative, Savage insisted he really hasn’t changed that much.
“I’m still the same person who wants to be left the f— alone,” Savage said. “I don’t want the government intruding in my life. I don’t want it telling me what to do. I resent it telling me what I can say, what I can’t say. What I can’t think. I don’t like it controlling my food. I don’t like it controlling my water. I don’t like it controlling everything I do, and I don’t like it giving handouts to people who don’t want to work for a living.”
“Do you ever run out of things to say?” Hochman asked.
Savage’s answer is simple: “Not so far!”