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Listening to Limbaugh

Steve Rendall

In his op-ed "Take the Limbaugh Challenge," (L.A. Times, 3/29/09), conservative writer Andrew Klavan states as a "certainty" that L.A. Times readers don't listen to Rush Limbaugh's show:

If you are reading this newspaper, the likelihood is that you agree with the Obama administration's recent attacks on conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh. That's the likelihood; here's the certainty: You've never listened to Rush Limbaugh.

What's more, Klavan claims to listen to Limbaugh frequently, and says he has never heard him "utter a single racist, hateful or stupid word."

To someone like me who has been talking about racist, hateful and stupid Limbaugh remarks since the mid-'90s, and who co-authored FAIR's book The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, Klavan's charge that Limbaugh critics don't listen to his show is a familiar one. In dozens of appearances on conservative radio shows to talk about our book, it was rare that I was not confronted with this now-hackneyed charge, even though I have been listening to Limbaugh for 25 years, starting with his local show on Sacramento's KFBK.

As for Klavan's claim that Limbaugh doesn't say racist, stupid or hateful things, FAIR's book documents scores of Limbaugh statements fitting those categories, including such stupidly false claims as "the poorest people in America are better off than the mainstream families of Europe"; that "there are more acres of forest land in America today than when Columbus discovered America in 1492"; and that "not one indictment" resulted from the Iran/Contra scandal investigation.

As one of the Bush administration's most credulous media stooges, Limbaugh enthusiastically repeated raw government propaganda. For instance, after the invasion, Limbaugh trumpeted Iraq's nonexistent WMDs (4/7/03): "We're discovering WMDs all over Iraq.... You know it killed NPR to report that the 101st Airborne found a stockpile of up to 20 rockets tipped with sarin and mustard gas.... Our troops have found dozens of barrels of chemicals in an agricultural facility 30 miles northwest of Baghdad."

Limbaugh's gullibility also leaves him vulnerable to wacky far-right conspiracy theories. Shortly after Obama's election, Limbaugh attempted to work up his listeners with the ridiculous rumor that the new administration was planning to take over their retirement accounts: "They're going to take your 401(k), put it in the Social Security trust fund."

Limbaugh's falsehood was so egregious that it prompted L.A. Times reporter James Rainey to write:

To broadcast such a report--so drained of context as to constitute a lie--would be a shameless act at any time. But Limbaugh needlessly stirred the fears of the millions he holds in his thrall--making the 401(k) thievery sound like nearly a done deal. Shameless.

And why isn't Klavan familiar with years of hateful broadcasts where Limbaugh heaped abuse on homeless people and those with HIV, using his "Homeless Updates" to propose a "Homeless Olympics" with events including "the Dumpster dig and the hop, skip and trip"; and "AIDS Updates" where he talked about "Rock Hudson's disease" and introduced segments with the Dionne Warwick song "I Know I'll Never Love This Way Again"?

And what is it if not hateful to hope to see an American political convention erupt in violence? That's what Limbaugh said was the aim of his "Operation Chaos," which urged his listeners to support Hillary Clinton in order to divide the Democratic Party:

The dream end of this is that this keeps up to the convention, and that we have a recreation of Chicago 1968 with burning cars, protests, fire and literal riots and all of that. That is the objective here.

And speaking of racism, what about this gem where Limbaugh favorably compared victims of flooding in Illinois and Iowa, to Katrina victims in New Orleans, repeating discredited claims about rampant rape and murder in New Orleans in the process?

I want to know. I look at Iowa, I look at Illinois--I want to see the murders. I want to see the looting. I want to see all the stuff that happened in New Orleans. I see devastation in Iowa and Illinois that dwarfs what happened in New Orleans. I see people working together. I see people trying to save their property.... I don't see a bunch of people running around waving guns at helicopters, I don't see a bunch of people running shooting cops. I don't see a bunch of people raping people on the street. I don't see a bunch of people doing everything they can...whining and moaning---where's FEMA, where's Bush. I see the heartland of America. When I look at Iowa and when I look at Illinois, I see the backbone of America.

And has Klavan heard Limbaugh's commentary on Barack Obama? In his response to criticism of his expressed hope that Obama fails, Limbaugh notoriously declared:

We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president.

For more examples of Limbaugh racism, Klavan might have read this L.A. Times op-ed, written by FAIR founder Jeff Cohen and myself. We document many instances of outright racism, including his admission that he once told a black caller to "take that bone out of your nose," asserted that "all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson," and said of a group with a 90-year commitment to nonviolence: "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies."

At this late date, no one who's listened to Limbaugh can honestly say that he doesn't say racist, hateful or stupid things. Which raises the possibility that Klavan doesn't actually listen to Limbaugh, at least with any real care. But what's the L.A. Times' excuse for publishing nonsense which has been debunked in its own pages for at least two decades?

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Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst and co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show.

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