Michael W. Perry has long been a household name in the islands, and for good reason.
KSSK Perry & Posse Program, airing Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. on 92.3 FM, is one of the highest-rated programs in decades. He also acted and had a popular local TV show.
And Perry is a go-to source when natural and man-made disasters affect our islands. KSSK 590 AM is one of the few local radio stations recognized as main sources of emergency information.
It’s Perry’s stature and platform, however, that makes some of his on-air comments about Covid-19 troubling. There have been recent statements that I have found misleading at best and bordering on lies in some cases.
Here is an example, from his January 4 show: “Vaccinated people can spread and catch Covid. They do it all the time. I’m room A for that. The death rate is now comparable to the flu – it was once something that got you kicked off Facebook, and now it’s true.
It is true that vaccinated people can spread and catch Covid, but it is misleading to say that Covid deaths are comparable to flu deaths.
A January 19 article in Politifact, for example, says that – while death rates vary depending on the available data – it is not accurate to say that Covid is no worse than the flu. And a January 30 article from the New York Times said that “across the country, hospitalizations remain near peak levels and deaths are increasing.”
I asked Perry for his sources on the quote along with half a dozen others. In the case of Covid and the flu, he emailed links to stories of The daily caller, The New York Time and the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.
It would be a giant rabbit hole to use this space to explore the back and forth that Perry and I went through via email and phone calls. He understood my questions and his responses to his live remarks on cruise ship safety, mask effectiveness, hospitalization rates, whether Covid is still primarily a disease of the unvaccinated and how at risk children are risk.
Let’s just say we agreed to disagree and I appreciated his willingness to discuss and debate the issues. Indeed, Perry’s comments on Covid are part of an ongoing discussion everywhere, from kitchen tables to government seats. These are extremely polarizing times and there is little consensus.
But Michael W. Perry carries a particular influence. He speaks with a deep, authoritative, friendly voice that almost certainly wins over some listeners. His political commentary is interspersed with straightforward segments on local and national news, sports and entertainment, music and weather, making it sometimes difficult to separate “news” from “opinions”.
The message may also be jarring, as advertisers include the Hawaii Department of Health, Kuakini Health System, Hawaii Dental Service, Adventists Health Castle, Nomi Health, and the National Kidney Foundation.
The DOH declined to comment on Perry, Castle didn’t return my call, and Kuakini’s marketing and public relations manager said she didn’t have the medical expertise to say anything about it. . But “Perry & Posse” also reaches the coveted demographic of people in their mid-twenties to those in their mid-fifties.
Perry’s opinions do not appear to have damaged his reputation, aside from the anger of many listeners. He is a longtime and respected figure in the community, and his ties include chairing the Pacific Rehab Hospital Board of Directors and as a longtime pitcher for Pohai Nania retirement home in Kaneohe.
I know Perry a bit, having described him in a story that ran in Civil Beat in 2011 That said, his political views made him look a lot like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
Based on the three shows I listened to in January, his political views still lean decidedly to the right: on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the southern border and illegal immigration, the January 6 assault on the Capitol , the Chicago teacher walkouts, and more.
But, while there are indications that Covid is easing, we remain in a public health crisis. That’s why Perry’s views on the virus are so concerning.
In a phone interview, Perry said he was well aware that some listeners didn’t like what he had to say about Covid. But he says it’s important to share viewpoints that don’t get widespread attention, and that he and KHVH 830 AM producer John Matthews research their topics before speaking on air.
(Full disclosure: I frequently appear on Rick Hamada’s show on KHVH, which is also an iHeartMedia Honolulu station.)
“I’ve done more homework since this came out two years ago than I did in high school and college combined,” he said. “It’s a mind-numbing thing.”
I, too, am numb to data overload, and I too share Covid fatigue, like everyone I know.
And, like Perry, I too am sick of the constant “drum beating” of the latest case counts. For that, he blames – rightly, I believe – the media for scaring people off. Civil Beat stopped reporting them a while ago.
Perry also has a personal connection to the coronavirus – he contracted Covid late last year, even though he and his wife were vaccinated.
“I had a stuffy head and I never understand that,” he said. “So I took a test, and of course.”
And it is true that many experts have often been wrong about the pandemic. (See: the CDC on cloth masks.) One can see why so many people doubt the word of the CDC, Anthony Fauci, the World Health Organization, the Biden and Trump administrations and many others. . Even former President Trump was booed at rallies when he advocated for vaccines.
Most people who listen to KSSK on their morning commute probably won’t check out everything Perry says, let alone record and play it like I did.
They can also choose not to tune in, although it’s hard to find a more informative morning broadcaster – Perry’s opinions are sometimes to the contrary.