Thursday, 18 February 2021


My obit of Rush Limbaugh went up quickly last night on the Guardian's website; you can link to it here. His was the kind of life that tests the obituary writing concept of "nil nisi bonum" to the utmost. I tried to keep my writing balanced while not "normalizing" him as either a political thinker or broadcasting stalwart. This meant that a few points needed to be left out.

I had pointed out then when Limbaugh was a struggling high school student, his parents, pillars of privilege in the Cape Giradeau community, got him an internship at a local radio station--and he was quickly on the air as "Rusty Sharp", which would have been a good stage name for the rest of his career.

Later, when he dropped out of college, he faced the draft, like all of us from the Vietnam era. He appears to have been deferred by a medical condition called a pilonidal cyst, which is on that grows around the cleft in the tailbone cleft just above the buttocks. There appears to be no truth to his sometimes claim that it was a football knee injury; he played only one year in high school and his coach recalled no injury at all. Limbaugh, like many war-mongerers, was himself a "chicken hawk", which did not stop his constant attacks on Bill Clinton for his deferments. 

I mention Limbaugh's link to Morton Downey, and earlier TV talk hosts like Joe Pyne and Alan Burke. They were all right wing; Downey in the 70s, the other two in the 60s: when I was in high school I went along with the other two "smart guys" in my class to be in Burke's studio audience. He was more erudite than Pyne, who looked like Jimmy Hoffa's meaner brother, but part of his shtick was putting down his audience, and some of his guests, with ad hominum insults. The thing was, these guys were never considered legitimate news and not billed as such, and their programmes were not carried on networks (because of the fairness doctrine) but sold in syndication to local stations. I also mentioned Long John Nebel, the greatest of the all-night talk DJs, the model for the Nightfly in Donald Fagen's great record detailing the Sixties. Nebel was proof that weirdness sold, and the lesson was not lost on Limbaugh's predecessors, nor on Limbaugh himself.

He realised that he could turn political discussion into a sort of late-night freak show: equate his political enemies, "liberals" "feminazis" whatever, as loonies just like the people who told Long John at three ayem about being kidnapped by aliens and having pilonidal cyst probes while in their spacecraft.

It was the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine under Reagan that opened the door for right-wing talk radio and eventually Fox News. Roger Ailes was no one's fool, and he saw the opportunity characters like Limbaugh provided now that stations and networks no longer faced an obligation to at least be truthful or let the other side present its own arguments. O'Reilly, Hannity, my namesake but no relation Tucker, Ingraham and the rest all spring from the viagra loins of Limbaugh.

The one case left out, which probably should be in, was his treatment in 2012 of Janet Flake, a Georgetown grad student who testified in Congress about the denial of access to contraception which many health-care plans enforced on women. Limbaugh attacked her and her parent non-stop for weeks, calling her a slut and a prostitute---and it cost his show sponsors. It was not quite a beginning of the end, but from that moment until now, in the obituary season, it was hard to argue Limbaugh was an honest player in the political world, rather than an ideological bully more interested in attacking those in whom he perceived weakness than actually bolstering the right ot the Republicans. But they were grateful for his help--hence Trump's awarding him the tarnished Presidential Medal of "Freedom", which in the end didn't get Limbaugh's support when Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election.

No comments :