Protesters gathered outside WOR-AM in New York City on Monday over syndicated radio commentator Michael Savage's remarks last Wednesday describing "99 percent of children with autism as brats."
Some parents of autistic children have called for Savage's firing after he described autism as a racket last week. "In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out," Savage said on his radio program.
Savage offered no apology in a message posted Monday on his Web site. He said greedy doctors and drug companies were creating a "national panic" by overdiagnosing autism, a mental disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate.
On his radio show last week, he said: "What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They 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.'"
The government estimates about 1 in 150 children have some form of autism. But many experts believe these unsociable behaviors were just about as common 30 or 40 years ago and that the increase is mostly caused by a surge in special education services and a corresponding shift in diagnoses.
Children's advocates want Savage to apologize and retract his statements. They are also calling for a boycott of stations that air Savage's show.
WOR posted this statement on its Web site:
"The views expressed by Michael Savage are his views and are not those of WOR Radio. As Michael Savage is a syndicated show, the content is the responsibility of the syndicator, which is Talk Radio Networks. Unfortunately, it is impossible for WOR Radio to know the subject matter in advance of airing. WOR is in the business of serving the community in which we broadcast. That is our stated goal, and we will continue to do so. We regret any consternation that his remarks may have caused to our listeners.
Savage's statement was also posted on the WOR710.com Web site:
"My comments about autism were meant to boldly awaken parents and children to the medical community's attempt to label too many children or adults as "autistic." Just as some drug companies have overdiagnosed "ADD" and "ADHD" to peddle dangerous speed-like drugs to children as young as 4 years of age, this cartel of doctors and drug companies is now creating a national panic by overdiagnosing "autism" for which there is no definitive medical diagnosis!"
Wendy Fournier of the National Autism Association, a parents' advocacy group, said she was invited to speak Monday on Savage's three-hour program by Savage's boss, Mark Masters of Talk Radio Network, which syndicates the show across the country.
Fournier called Savage's comments "way, way, way over the line and cruel."
"I'm hoping to make him see the reality of what these kids are facing," she said. "You can't fix it by telling a kid to shut up. It's like telling a kid with cancer to stop being sick."
Evelyn Ain, whose 8-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism, said she had never heard of Savage and couldn't believe what she had heard when she first listened to the remarks. She organized the demonstration Monday outside WOR-AM.
"That isn't just freedom of speech, it is hateful speech when you say 99 percent of children with autism are brats," she said. "I'll tell you, I wish I had a brat."
Savage, with more than 8 million listeners a week, is talk radio's third most popular personality behind Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, according to Talkers magazine. He's made a living off bold, outrageous statements: His brief MSNBC show was canceled after he told a caller he should "get AIDS and die, you pig."
Peter Bell, executive vice president of national advocacy group Autism Speaks, said he isn't aware of any big controversy about overdiagnosis of autism. He said Savage's remarks, effectively blaming parents, reflect an outdated point of view.
"He's an entertainer, he does these things for attention," Bell said. "I think we should, to the best we can, ignore it."
Autism Speaks also posted this statement on its Web site:
"One important goal of increasing awareness about autism is to foster a greater level of acceptance and understanding of the very real and significant challenges it poses to individuals with the disorder and their families. The good news is that we see more and more expressions of this compassion every day and everywhere, from classrooms and playgrounds to ballparks and supermarkets. Unfortunately, there are those who are apparently incapable of feeling compassion. They deserve our pity, not our scorn."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.