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MSNBC’s Shuffle Draws Protest

Mar 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Outfoxing Fox News is not as easy as it looks.
MSNBC, which has begun calling itself “NBC News on Cable, 24/7,” appears to have been caught unprepared for the level of controversy ignited by its decision to give a weekend talk show to Michael Savage, the right-wing radio star and author who refers to some nations as “turd-world countries,” and says Hispanics “breed like rabbits,” women “should have been denied the vote” and “The gay and lesbian mafia wants our children.”
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Organization for Women launched pressure campaigns to convince NBC and parent General Electric to cancel Savage before he even goes on the air.
“So these folks want to ban a show that’s not yet aired? Isn’t that censorship of the worst kind?” Mr. Savage said in a statement. “I invite any of their leadership to submit a request to appear on my radio show. I believe in fairness.”
In a statement, MSNBC said, “The addition of Michael Savage to the MSNBC lineup was made with the full awareness of his reputation for controversy and confrontation. We respect the right of those who wish to protest. However, we also strongly defend his new show as a legitimate attempt to expand the marketplace of ideas. 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.”
The controversy comes on the heels of the firing of Phil Donahue, the liberal commentator whose highly publicized comeback lasted only about six months, and the hiring of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who publicly referred to Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank as “Barney Fag.”
Mr. Donahue, to the surprise of many, lashed out in a very public way in response to his cancellation. He released a statement wishing his eventual successor “a longer time in the ring and a more patient management team loudly cheering from the corner” and said that the recent hirings of three conservatives (Mr. Savage, Rep. Armey and former Congressman Joe Scarborough) “suggest a strategy to out-Fox Fox [News Channel].”
Protesters Pressure NBC’s Chairman
Mr. Donahue may be gone, but the controversy over Mr. Savage continues. While GLAAD waited to hear whether NBC Chairman Bob Wright would grant its request for a meeting, Mr. Savage, who referred to MSNBC as “More Snotty Nonsense By Creeps” in his bestselling “Savage Nation,” rallied his listeners, “my 6 million loyalists,” to help him wield a “two-edged sword” against “the sewer groups that are trying to put me out of business.”
Speaking from his San Francisco studio, in which MSNBC planned to put cameras for the live Saturday afternoon show, whose launch date has not been announced, Mr. Savage said, “If they go after me and my advertisers, then I’m going to go after their funding sources.
“Just remember one thing and then I’ll go past it,” Mr. Savage said, invoking the name of fellow radio conservative Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whose attempt to find the same stardom in syndicated TV that she had in the shock talk studio was crippled by protests of her often harsh statements about gays and lesbians.
“When they successfully drove Dr. Laura off the air because she didn’t kowtow or cater to them, it was under the regime of Janet Reno and Bill Clinton,” Mr. Savage said. “They had protection under the Attorney General’s Office. That was then, this is now.
“We have a Republican president. We have a Republican attorney general. But more importantly we have a new climate in America. These days of economic terrorism are over,” Mr. Savage said.
“I’ve got news for you,” he said at one point on the air. “You think I’m going to roll over like a pussy? You’re wrong. It’s not 1965 and it ain’t South Africa. I’ll cut your funding off, and if you break the law any further, I’ll put you in jail.”
“We’ve done our homework on this,” said Cathy Renna, news media director for GLAAD. “There are a lot of different organizations concerned about giving a platform to Michael Savage.”
They include Parents & Friends of Lesbians And Gays, Pacific Islanders for Human Rights, Gay Men of African Descent and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Comm..
The National Organization for Women notified General Electric and Microsoft, which is a an equal partner in MSNBC, that “It is very important that the corporations that own the media get the message: Profiting from hate will cost them the business of thinking consumers. That applies to GE as well as Microsoft.”
NBC, GE and Microsoft had no comment.
Sam Donaldson Won’t Talk
MSNBC, which has changed slogans and identities three times in just the past year, is playing with its lineup again, but ABC News stalwart Sam Donaldson will not be on as had been expected.
Mr. Donaldson had been in discussion about hosting a prime-time news-interview show on MSNBC. Last week, a spokeswoman said Mr. Donaldson and MSNBC were unable to make a deal but had “parted ways as friends. Sam continues to do his [ABC] radio program and is preparing to bring the radio program overseas” if events dictate. The spokeswoman pronounced ABC “delighted” that Mr. Donaldson would remain in the family.
MSNBC’s lineup for the short term has newly hired conservative Joe Scarborough at 10 o’clock weeknights and gives the afternoon duo of Pat Buchanan and Bill Press a second window during much of the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. hour, occupied until last week’s cancellation by Mr. Donahue. After the axing of “Donahue,” MSNBC announced the hour would be filled by an extension of the 7 p.m. show “Countdown: Iraq,” hosted by Lester Holt. “Buchanan and Press” will fill whatever time is left in the second hour of “Countdown.”
Mr. Scarborough, the conservative former Florida congressman who has recently been a substitute host on “Nachman,” was following “Hardball With Chris Matthews” last week and is expected to continue to do so for the short term.
In the daytime, anchor changes will pair John Siegenthaler with Chris Jansing from 9 a.m. to noon, followed by Natalie Morales from noon to 2 p.m. She’s expected to be joined shortly by Forrest Sawyer, followed by the current lineup of “Buchanan and Press,” Lester Holt, “Nachman” and “The Abrams Report” at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively.
Christy Musemeci is going from daytime to anchoring news inserts in prime time.