A Rush to Ruin
Table of Contents:
This year’s attacks on Limbaugh began with an interview taped on January 19 for Fox News. Limbaugh told Sean Hannity that the media worked to elect Obama. He pointed out that the media’s elders came of age during the civil rights protests of the Sixties, and they’ve taught young journalists to see politics through the same prism of affirmative action: “Racism in this country is the exclusive province of the Left. We’re witnessing racism all this week that led up to the Inauguration. We are being told that we have to hope Obama succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this was the first black President. We’ve got to accept this.” The media establishment lined up to denounce Limbaugh and demanded that Republicans distance themselves from his claims.
■ “Does President Barack Obama finally have the cojones that some Democrats haven’t had in the past, in saying to other Republicans ‘you don’t have to listen to Rush Limbaugh?’...Isn’t this exactly the kind of fight that Obama wants to have?...Find somebody like a Rush Limbaugh, who they can argue is on the fringe, and fight with him?”
— MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell anchoring the 3pm ET hour of MSNBC Live, January 26, 2009.
■ “In addition to getting his feet wet, the new President’s also learning some things along the way....Picking a fight with that corpulent Oxycontin aficionado of right-wing talk radio, Rush Limbaugh — well, that mobilizes a bunch more on the conservative right, and eventually, it will begin to bring down your approval ratings.”
— CNN’s Jack Cafferty on The Situation Room, January 27, 2009.
■ “Trolls under the bridge — is that what Washington Republicans have become? Gremlins hiding along the pathway, nipping at the Democrats?”
— Chris Matthews on his syndicated The Chris Matthews Show on February 22, 2009 teasing a segment about Rush Limbaugh criticisms of President Obama’s policies.
■ Host David Letterman: “What about this bonehead Rush Limbaugh?...He gets up in Washington and he’s the keynote speaker at some function, and he comes up, he looks like an Eastern European gangster. You know, he’s got the black jacket on, the black silk shirt and it’s unbuttoned, like, oh yeah, you think Rush Limbaugh, when you think, ‘Ooh, let’s see a little flesh.’ [audience laughter] Honestly, you know, what is he doing?”
CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric: “...Although I’m thrown by the Rush Limbaugh flesh in one sentence, but I think it’s sort of indicative of this power vacuum that exists right now in the Republican Party.”
— Exchange on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman, March 2, 2009.
■ “As someone who spends a lot of time on the road, I used to find Limbaugh to be an obnoxious but entertaining companion, his eruptions more reliable than Old Faithful. But now that Limbaugh has become something else — the face of the Republican Party, by a White House that has played him brilliantly — he has been transformed into car-wreck-quality spectacle, at once scary and sad....The sweaty, swollen man in the black, half-buttoned shirt who ranted for nearly 90 minutes Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.”
— New York Times writer Timothy Egan on the Times “Outposts” blog, March 4, 2009.
■ “Limbaugh delivered a blistering, frothy-mouthed rebuttal on his radio show, admonishing Steele to pump his brakes and stay in his lane...Steele predictably bowed and scraped and repented. The whole sorry episode reeked of the same cowardice that the entire party is showing in the face of this howler, afraid of offending his Limbaugh-tomized minions of the far, far right.”
— New York Times columnist Charles Blow on Republican Party chairman Michael Steele’s apology to Limbaugh for saying on CNN that his show was “ugly” and “inflammatory,” March 6, 2009.
■ “If you didn’t know better this past week, you’d think Rush Limbaugh was more important than the guys in Washington....Two facts are clear about this human vat of vitriol. He relishes the attention and he sells anger as a weapon....Limbaugh’s high-handed, melodramatic, off with their heads oratory reminds me of those over-the-top movie villains. You know, the ones who issue ludicrous commands to snuff out the good guys, like James Bond’s archnemesis who wanted the supremely confident Bond — gone.”
– MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on his syndicated Sunday program The Chris Matthews Show, March 8, 2009.
■ “Michael Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, down on his knees apologizing to the helium-filled poster boy of the conservative right? Pathetic....If the Republicans are ever to emerge from the long dark night they have created for themselves it will have to be without pandering to the right wing nuts that comprise Rush Limbaugh’s radio audience. Didn’t they learn anything in the last election?”
— CNN commentator Jack Cafferty, March 10, 2009 edition of The Situation Room.
Great sadness came to “dittoheads” with Rush Limbaugh’s announcement in October 2003 that he needed to take a break from his radio career to conquer a prescription-drug addiction. While liberals routinely treat other celebrities with drug addiction with great compassion and no moral judgment, Limbaugh’s fall is never forgiven or forgotten, as Bill Maher displayed at the top of this report. Even before Limbaugh’s admission, comedian Al Franken joyfully proclaimed he was “looking forward to the perp walk...I’ll be switching channels to get it from every angle.” Katie Couric mocked the radio host on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno: “I feel actually good because I flew out here, and Rush Limbaugh sat next to me on the plane. He gave me some vitamins. Whaa! It feels good!” They were not alone:
■ “Rush Limbaugh has been more than a bit unkind to me more than once. He’s also been unkind to Al Franken, who in turn has been unkind to him. He’s taken shots at Michael Wolff, New York magazine’s media critic and Michael is hardly the retiring sort. So, here we all are, Al, Michael, and me, and the subject is Rush – made worse, no doubt, by the permanent smirk that seems to be attached to my face.”
— CNN anchor Aaron Brown on the October 10, 2003 NewsNight after Limbaugh announced he was seeking treatment for an addiction to prescription pain medicine.
■ “Empathy has never been one of Rush’s strongest suits. Do you detect anything in his broadcast yesterday that would suggest that Rush is now going to become a kinder, gentler Rush Limbaugh?”— CBS’s Harry Smith to Syracuse University media expert Robert Thompson on The Early Show, November 18, 2003, the day after Limbaugh ended five weeks of treatment for drug addiction.
■ “I certainly have heard him [Rush Limbaugh] being very hard on the weaknesses of human beings, particularly obviously Bill Clinton, and it seems to me something like that has to change.”
—ABC’s Charles Gibson to Bill Bennett on the November 18, 2003 Good Morning America.
■ “The man behind the curtain is not the God of Family Values but a childless, twice-divorced, thrice-married schlub whose idea of a good time is to lie on his couch and watch football endlessly. When Rush Limbaugh declared to his radio audience that he was ‘your epitome of morality of virtue, a man you could totally trust with your wife, your daughter, and even your son in a Motel 6 overnight,’ he was acting....Granted, Limbaugh’s act has won over, or fooled, a lot of people. With his heartland pieties and scorn for ‘feminazis’ and ‘commie-symps’ like West Wing President Martin Sheen (‘Martin Sheenski’ to Limbaugh), he is the darling of Red State, Fly-Over America.”
— Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas in the October 20 cover story, “The Real Rush.”
The piling on Limbaugh started all over again as the legal case against him in Florida ceased three years later. The media seemed upset Limbaugh wouldn’t go to jail:
■ Anchor Jim Avila: “Rush Limbaugh cuts a deal. He’s smiling for the cameras in his mug shot. Was this drug suspect treated like any other Florida first offender?”
Reporter Jeffrey Kofman: “...Had he been tried and had he been found guilty, Limbaugh could have faced up to five years in prison....Limbaugh himself has not been so tolerant of other people’s problems with drug addiction.”
— ABC’s World News Tonight, April 29, 2006.
■ “Rush Limbaugh is set to sign a deal with prosecutors today after three years of prescription drug fraud investigations. But did he get off easy?... Coming up on Good Morning America, a rush to judgment? He’s made a deal with prosecutors. Did Rush Limbaugh get off easy?...We’re going to start the half hour with Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host. He’s expected to sign a deal with prosecutors later today....But now there are new questions: Is Limbaugh getting off too easy?”— ABC’s Charles Gibson, Good Morning America, May 1, 2006.
■ “Mug shot! We have mug shot! Comedian Rush Limbaugh arrested on charges of prescription drug fraud. One-half his brain, as he likes to say, tied behind his back. Symbolically, at least, both his hands cuffed behind his back.”
— MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann on Countdown, April 28, 2006.
■ “I don’t need to be lectured on ethics from a much-married, obese, drug addict.”
— Fired CBS News producer Mary Mapes, as quoted by former reporter John Mashek in an April 7, 2006 posting to his blog on the U.S. News & World Report Web site.
■ “I think Rush Limbaugh should, you know, pop a few of those Oxycontin that he probably still has laying around and go over....You know, put your money where your mouth is, O’Reilly, go do a book tour or something over there.”
— Comedian Kathy Griffin on her own USO tour for the troops on ABC’s Nightline, January 20, 2006. In February 2005, Limbaugh spent several days with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
President Bill Clinton realized early in his first term that Rush Limbaugh was a greater obstacle to his plans for Big Government than the Republicans. In June of 1994, as Hillary’s health care proposal withered, Clinton complained on St. Louis news station KMOX: “After I get off the radio today with you, Rush Limbaugh will have three hours to say whatever he wants. And I won’t have any opportunity to respond. There’s no truth detector.” Limbaugh’s success in mobilizing protests against the Clintons and the GOP takeover of Congress upset Clinton supporters in the media. They grew more aggressive in demonizing Limbaugh as a national menace, even suggesting that “anti-government” talk on radio was a key factor in inspiring terrorism like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing:
■ “This afternoon it’s not the pressure of the job that's getting to [ABC World News Tonight Executive Producer Emily] Rooney. It’s Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh read from a story in TV Guide...in which Rooney gently chastises the media for its liberal vision. It’s the truth, of course – media executives know it, correspondents know it and the viewers out in TV-land certainly know it. But for a television executive to come out and say it is a real no-no, a violation of clan rules. And to have Limbaugh on your side – what could be worse? Within the liberal orthodoxy of ABC News, being championed by Rush Limbaugh is akin to being seen huddling with a child molester.”
— Writer Jeffrey Goodell in the January 1994 Elle magazine.
■ “[Rush Limbaugh] is, above all, a sophisticated propagandist, an avatar of the politics of meanness and envy....He must, like all demagogues, scare his listeners, get them to believe in conspiracy, rumor....Like Reagan, Limbaugh is neither curious nor brave; he would rather tell his audiences fairy tales than have them face the world; he would rather sneer at the weak than trouble the strong.”
— Former Washington Post reporter David Remnick in the Post, February 20, 1994.
■ “Why does anyone take Rush Limbaugh seriously?...He’s entertaining. But, come on, he is to truthfulness as President Clinton is to faithfulness -- he has but a passing acquaintance with it. He’s toying with you, folks, getting you all riled up with a stew of half-truths and non-truths. He’s making fools of you, feeding you swill -- and you’re taking it in....So keep listening if you want. But just remember that he’s a charlatan.”
— Former NBC News President Michael Gartner in a USA Today column, July 12, 1994.
■ “I have no doubt that if Rush Limbaugh or Pat Robertson or Ollie North ever got real power, there would be concentration camps and mass death.”
—Radical poet Allen Ginsberg in The Progressive, August 1994.
■ “The bombing shows how dangerous it really is to inflame twisted minds with statements that suggest political opponents are enemies. For two years, Rush Limbaugh described this nation as ‘America held hostage’ to the policies of the liberal Democrats, as if the duly elected President and Congress were equivalent to the regime in Tehran. I think there will be less tolerance and fewer cheers for that kind of rhetoric.”
—Washington Post reporter David Broder in his April 25, 1995 column.
■ “The bomb in Oklahoma was not ignited by Rush Limbaugh or G. Gordon Liddy, but they are significant as well as highly visible fomenters of a mood that is fairly described as hateful, i.e., full of hate...The distance between speech and action is wide and it is exceedingly difficult for anyone to understand how and why it is closed. But anyone who thinks that the right-wing zealots are merely mouthing off is fooling himself.”
—Washington Post columnist and chief book critic Jonathan Yardley, May 1, 1995.
■ “Rush Limbaugh is the king. He is also a cretinous liar, with off-the-wall opinions. And he has the audacity to call himself a journalist.”— Infamous anti-American CNN and MSNBC foreign correspondent Peter Arnett quoted by John Corry in The American Spectator, May 1995 issue.
■ “The bombing in Oklahoma City has focused renewed attention on the rhetoric that’s been coming from the right and those who cater to angry white men. While no one’s suggesting that right-wing radio jocks approve of violence, the extent to which their approach fosters violence is being questioned by many observers, including the President.... Right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan, and others take to the air every day with basically the same format: detail a problem, blame the government or a group, and invite invective from like-minded people....Never do most of the radio hosts encourage outright violence, but the extent to which their attitudes may embolden or encourage some extremists has clearly become an issue.”
— Today co-host Bryant Gumbel adding to President Clinton’s pointed criticism of talk radio six days after the Oklahoma City bombing, April 25, 1995.
■ “Bill Clinton has not done everything right, but at least he cares for the common man. And tries to help everyone, not just the chosen rich and big business who support the conservative point of view. Anyone who would use a sticker ‘Hail to Rush Limbaugh’ shows me an incredible lack of intelligence and understanding of what needs to be done.”
— Then-NBC Sports anchor Greg Gumbel responding to a February 6, 1996 letter from Bob Wagner of Homer City, Pennsylvania (who forwarded a copy to the Media Research Center).
■ “Limbaugh's draft-avoiding, non-churchgoing, non-voting, non-fact-checking, painfully insecure triple-wife lifestyle all are topics delicately touched upon by Franken. Where I think he really hits the jackpot, though, is when he actually quotes Limbaugh directly as in: ...’I'm sick and tired of playing the one phony game I’ve had to play and that is this so-called compassion for the poor. I don't have compassion for the poor.’ He may not have cancer, either, and I would pray that he never have to walk that particular path of pain: Yet who am I to say, or how can any of us know, the ways of God in unlocking a heart grown hard? It could happen more gently; I notice a couple of weeks ago, for instance, they shut down that ‘Rush Room’ at Blackie’s House of Beef. Limbaugh is fading right now in popularity among the restaurants patrons, according to catering manager Paul DeKoning. Is this a great country, or what?”
— Washington Post reporter Phil McCombs on comedian Al Franken’s then-new book Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, January 19, 1996 Style section.
■ “Kurtz dutifully recounts the extremist ravings of radio hosts, from the provincial Howie Carr to that nationally syndicated phenomenon Rush Limbaugh. These are nothing new, but Kurtz draws a few fresh conclusions....he looks beyond the controversy over Limbaugh’s half-truths and lies (which sway listeners by the millions)...”
— Boston Globe TV critic Frederic Biddle reviewing Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz's book, Hot Air: All Talk, All the Time, February 26, 1996.