ABC's 'What Would You Do?' Attacks Michael Savage on...Autism?

April 14th, 2012 12:23 PM

ABC's Primetime:What Would You Do? strangely attacked conservative talk radio host Michael Savage on Friday for autism views he expressed almost four years ago.

The following was injected into an eight minute segment dealing with how people respond in a public setting when an autistic child acts up (video follows with transcript and commentary):

OFF-SCREEN ANNOUNCER: Now if you're finding it hard to believe that anyone would mistake autistic behavior for misbehavior, listen to this.


MICHAEL SAVAGE: I'll tell you what autism is in 99 percent of the cases: it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is.


OFF-SCREEN ANNOUNCER: Michael Savage hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show that’s heard by 10 million listeners a week.


SAVAGE: 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.”


OFF-SCREEN ANNOUNCER: His fire sparked protests from the autism community, and yet Savage insists the disorder is overdiagnosed.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it deals with how ordinary people react in uncomfortable situations.

In this segment, actors in a restaurant portrayed an autistic child and his family trying to have breakfast. As the child began to speak loudly and repetitively, as well as walk around the restaurant, patrons started to get uncomfortable.

One of the actors played a rude patron chastizing the parents for the terrible behavior of their son. Some of the real patrons responded by telling the rude one to shut up and be more sympathetic until he ended up leaving.

This was all very interesting until the producers decided for some reason to bring Savage into the picture.

Never did they mention that his autism views that sparked controvery were spoken almost four years ago.

As the New York Times reported on July 22, 2008:

Michael Savage, the incendiary radio host who last week characterized nearly every child with autism as “a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out,” said in a telephone interview on Monday that he stood by his remarks and had no intention of apologizing to those advocates and parents who have called for his firing over the matter.

“My main point remains true,” Mr. Savage, whose radio audience ranks in size behind only those of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, said in the interview. “It is an overdiagnosed medical condition. In my readings, there is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism.” [...]

Asked Monday if he actually believed that 99 out of every 100 cases of autism were misdiagnosed, Mr. Savage conceded that figure was “a little high.” He added, “It was hyperbole.”

But he said he was proud to have prodded discussion on the subject, and planned to give over his entire show on Monday — broadcast live from Northern California from 3 to 6 p.m., Pacific time — to parents and other callers who wished to disagree with him and to educate him.

And that's exactly what Savage did, with some callers - including a school psychologist - agreeing with him that autism like so many childhood behavior disorders is overdiagnosed oftentimes for financial reasons:


A June 2, 2010, article in Psychology Today supported the view that autism is overdiagnosed:

Fads in psychiatric diagnosis come and go and have been with us as long as there has been a psychiatry. The fads meet a deeply felt need to explain, or at least to label, what would otherwise be unexplainable human suffering and deviance. In recent years the pace has picked up and false "epidemics" have come in bunches involving an ever increasing proportion of the population. We are now in the midst of at least three such epidemics- of autism, attention deficit, and childhood bipolar disorder. [...]

Fads punctuate what has become a basic background of overdiagnosis. [...]

The "epidemics" in psychiatry are caused by changing diagnostic fashions - the people don't change, the labels do. There are no objective tests in psychiatry-no X-ray, laboratory, or exam finding that says definitively that someone does or does not have a mental disorder. What is diagnosed as mental disorder is very sensitive to professional and social contextual forces. Rates of disorder rise easily because mental disorder has such fluid boundaries with normality.

PT even addressed media complicity in these fads:

The media feeds off and feeds the public interest in mental disorders. This happens in two ways. Periodically, the media becomes obssessed [sic] with one or another celebrity whose public meltdown seems related to a real or imagined mental disorder. The mental disorder is then endlesslycommented [sic] on and dissected by the media.

Did What Would You Do? even casually address the possibility that autism is currently being overdiagnosed in America?

Not at all. Instead the show depicted Savage as a kook for thinking so.

(H/T NB reader Jack)