NYT Critic Accuses Author of Limbaugh Bio of 'Stockholm Syndrome'
In her review Monday of "Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One," Zev Chafets'
new biography of the radio giant, New York Times entertainment critic Janet Maslin harshly accused Chafets of suffering from "a case of Stockholm
syndrome" for his failure to lambast Limbaugh as much as Maslin
apparently wanted him bashed: "Limbaugh, Somewhat Airbrushed."
Maslin discussed the origin of the book (from a profile of Limbaugh that appeared in the New York Times Sunday magazine) before accusing journalist Chafets, without evidence, of "purging...any details that might pique" his subject.
In July 2008 The New York Times Magazine published Zev Chafets's appreciative profile of a surprisingly candid Rush Limbaugh. There was spontaneity to the piece, perhaps because it had come about only by accident, after Mr. Chafets's original assignment to write about John McCain (and interview Mr. Limbaugh in the process) fell through. And there was an overriding idea that still holds true: The only way to form a fair opinion about Mr. Limbaugh is to listen to him directly. His pronouncements are distorted and yanked out of context by acolytes and enemies alike.
The article traced Mr. Limbaugh's background, visited his lair in Palm Beach, Fla., described the impact of his weekday AM radio show on the 2008 presidential campaign and generally captured the heat of the moment. Asked whether any of his thunder had been stolen by Sean Hannity, his fellow talk-radio apoplectic, who was exceptionally aggressive in harping on Barack's Obama's connections with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Mr. Limbaugh at first loftily dismissed the idea that he had any competitors. "Things only take off when I mention them," he told Mr. Chafets. "That is the point." When Mr. Chafets continued to press the idea of a rivalry, Mr. Limbaugh lost patience. "Write what you want," he snappishly replied.
A funny thing happened to Mr. Chafets's reporting on its way to the bookshelf: It got declawed. The ticklish parts (like that touchiness about Mr. Hannity) vanished. It appears that the price of access to Mr. Limbaugh for "Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One" has been the purging of any details that might pique him. Quotations are truncated in ways that make them softer, and the boosterism has been boosted. (How much of a cheerleader is Mr. Chafets? "Republican success in 2010 can be boiled down to two words: Rush Limbaugh," he wrote in an Op-Ed article in the Times on Thursday.)
Mr. Chafets shoos unwanted facts and individuals out of the way relentlessly, in accordance with what seems like a case of Stockholm syndrome. He devotes little or no space to the Tea Party movement (it gets two pages), Sarah Palin (he calls her a lifelong Limbaugh fan and says that her best lines are borrowed from him) or even President George W. Bush ("Whatever happened to him, anyway?" Mr. Chafets asks). Glenn Beck? Who he?
Maslin has been far kinder to liberal books in the past. She previously swallowed all of Valerie Plame's skimpy claims in an October 2007 review of the autobiography of the C.I.A. staffer-wife of anti-war serial misleader Joe Wilson.
Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.