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Sunday, October 12, 2003
On Limbaugh and Newsweek

By Steven Taylor @ 9:20 pm

Newsweek has a rather gleeful expose on Rush Limbaugh as their cover story this week (as noted by Drudge).

I must admit, the first line of the story: “ Rush Limbaugh has always had far more followers than friends” sets the tone, to some degree (plus it hit me as “no duh”, as it rather hard to have millions of friend, no matter how affable one is). I suppose that the thesis is: “no wonder the guy got addicted to drugs, his personal life sucks.” However, the tone of the story seems to be mostly a somewhat pleased: “gee, is this guy a wreck, or what?”

Not only that, there are subtle (and not so subtle) suggestions that really, Limbaugh’s a fraud, i.e., not only is he a hypocrite concerning drugs, he really doesn’t believe anything that he says.

But Limbaugh’s story owes more to the “Wizard of Oz” than “The Scarlet Letter.” 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. (emphasis theirs).


Granted, Limbaugh’s act has won over, or fooled, a lot of people.

First, Limbaugh never made any bones about his failed marriages (or his failures at jobs, school, and a variety of other things). Further, the Motel 6 line (which he has stated for years, and always sounded a bit silly to me) is clearly meant to be shtick. (ed.: does anyone know what a “schlub” is? Websters online apparently is unfamiliar). And I don’t think most people considered him a high priest of morality, but rather a commentator on politics. While he makes paeans to God and supported religiosity generically, it was clear that he was no hardcore evangelical. It was quite obvious that his theology was rather vague at best. Indeed, he used to speak of being a conservative “above the neck”. However, I will say that as someone who has listened to his show since 1988, I don’t recall this little revelation:

Despite his fervent moralizing, he smoked a little pot and watched a little porn (as he has publicly admitted).

Now, I don’t doubt either, but the presentation makes it sound like it was a normal weekend for the man. Perhaps it was, but the likelihood that any such admission were about his past. Further, they seem (like the water balloon story from his youth) rather gratuitous, and not furthering the story, per se. Perhaps it is my propensity to like essays to have a thesis that is getting my hackles up here, but I must say that one balance this story reads like a string of negative anecdotes.

Much of what is written doesn’t surprise me (i.e., that he isn’t brimming with friends, that he is a loner in many ways), but I would say that the slant is clearly meant to paint a rather pathetic picture of Limbaugh. For example, it doesn’t mention that he is currently married (and, as far as I know, happily so) until the last third of the piece, and he must have some friends (I know I have seen several folks on TV lately, such as Brent Bozell, who at least claim to be Limbaugh’s friend—plus, the man has to play golf with somebody-although granted, golf doesn’t require friends). Indeed, like the mention of his current wife, there are references to friends in the last third of the story.

I recognize the legitimacy of noting that when someone who has been a “moralizer” does something immoral that this creates a reasonable and understandable line of attack. However, I am not sure if that is what this story’s purpose really is. Indeed, aside from
two references that I have seen in the press (a 1995 quotation and a ref from 1997), I don’t recall Limbaugh being particularly rabid on the drug issue, which would have made for a better story, no doubt (although I know he was pro-Drug War). I will concur, that he as clearly been a law-and-order type, so there is a clear hypocrisy issue there. I will note (and the press has yet not noted this one, he often sarcastically refers to “long-haired, maggot-infest, dope-smoking FM types” on his program.

It is interesting to see the dichotomy that emerged rather quickly in the press, where hard-core detractors of Limbaugh want to paint him as a big mouth actor, and those who support him discuss him as a serious commentator. I think it is fair to note that he has done something clearly wrong, and may well face criminal sanctions as a result.

I am a fan of talk radio, especially political talk. I have been listening to NPR news programs since I was I in fourth grade. I have listened to straight news, and various types of political and non-political talk for years. I found Rush Limbaugh on KFI 640-AM in Los Angeles when I was in college during Limbaugh’s first year on national radio. Living in SoCal means lots of time in the car and I listened to a variety of programs, and still do. One thing is for sure: Rush Limbaugh essentially created talk radio as we currently know it and that fact is something that his detractors don’t give him enough credit for. And I don’t mean conservative talk, but political talk period.

I would agree that his shtick gets to be a bit much at times, and that his analytical skills are not almost as well honed as he may think, however he actually is a pretty good commentator, and he can be amusing. I also concede that I can full well understand why liberals wouldn’t like him, or, indeed, why he could turn people of a variety of political persuasions off.

On balance it is difficult not to read stories such as this one (rather than the fairly newsy stories in WaPo and the NYT when the news broke) without recalling that there is a great deal of dislike for Limbaugh on the left-and I don’t mean because he is annoying, but because he is actually effective in communicating his politics. As such, the desire seems to be not to do a legitimate story, but to do a hit piece, which is an unfortunate choice for Newsweek to make>

I agree that this is a legit news story, and I concur that Limbaugh may well deserve legal sanction. However, it strikes me as unnecessary to crudly rejoice in his predicament.

Filed under: US Politics
  • Signifying Nothing linked with Rush's drug problem

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  1. really- did you expect any less?

    Comment by Paul — Monday, October 13, 2003 @ 7:54 am

  2. Would Limbaugh have done anything different if any of the evil liberals admitted an alcohol problem?

    Comment by Eric — Monday, October 13, 2003 @ 10:37 am

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