Media Claim White House has Thrust Limbaugh into Limelight

But Limbaugh and GOP have done this for years

Recently, media figures have echoed the charge made by Republican leaders that the White House has cast a spotlight on Rush Limbaugh in order to distract attention from the nation’s economic situation. In fact, Limbaugh himself, and Republican Party officials have repeatedly thrust him into the spotlight — Limbaugh with outrageous commentary, and the GOP by emphasizing his importance to the Republican Party and the conservative movement. The media have also praised or promoted him repeatedly.

Citing a March 4 Politico article that stated that “top Democrats” are “depicting Rush Limbaugh as the new face of the Republican Party,” Time White House correspondent Michael Scherer wrote in a March 4 Swampland blog post that “[a]t a time of unprecedented threats to the United States,” the White House has “asked the American people to focus their attention not on solving the problems, but on a big-mouthed entertainer in Florida.” Scherer continued: “This may be smart politics. But it is also the same petty strategy that John McCain employed during the presidential campaign, the one that our new president promised to rise above.” Similarly, Fox News host Sean Hannity said on March 4: “Now, it took quite a bit of coordination between the White House and the liberal media, but they have succeeded in distracting the attention of the American people away from President Obama’s freewheeling spending spree and towards Rush Limbaugh and the leadership of the Republican Party.” And Limbaugh himself said on March 4: “It is on the record — thanks to Politico.com — since last fall, the White House, led by Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff to Barack Obama, has been targeting me, your host, your harmless, lovable little fuzzball. Their standard operating procedure: They need a demon to distract and divert from what their agenda is.”

In fact, for the last 15 years at least, Limbaugh and the GOP have needed no help from the Democratic Party to thrust Limbaugh into the spotlight.

As far back as the early years of the Clinton presidency, Limbaugh was commanding attention from Republicans:

  • In a September 6, 1993, article, headlined “The Leader of the Opposition,” National Review reported that following then-President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 re-election defeat, former President Ronald Reagan sent Limbaugh an “unsolicited note” in which he called Limbaugh “the Number One voice for conservatism in our Country” and stated, “Keep up the good work. America needs to hear the way things ought to be.” The article also quoted then-Vice President Dan Quayle saying of Limbaugh: “I know the Republican Party listens to him. He’s got the pulse of our rank and file.”
  • Following the GOP’s takeover of Congress in 1994, the freshman class of House Republicans reportedly made Limbaugh an honorary member and reportedly gave him credit for their victory.

Limbaugh has received favorable attention from the media as well. For example:

  • In a December 26, 2004, interview, NBC News managing editor and Nightly News anchor Brian Williams stated, “I think it’s my duty to listen to Rush,” adding: “I think Rush has actually yet to get the credit he is due.” As Media Matters for America noted at the time, Limbaugh was repeatedly featured on the MSNBC and CNBC programs Williams hosted before Williams became Nightly News anchor. In 2006, Limbaugh was one of the first persons featured on the CBS Evening News‘ short-lived “Free Speech” segment, in which he attacked unnamed Americans who did not conform to his definition of “patriotism.”
  • On January 29, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Limbaugh on the economic recovery package in which he offered his own “Bipartisan Stimulus” plan for the economy. Limbaugh’s op-ed drew praise from CNBC host Erin Burnett, who said Limbaugh had “serious things to say” and offered “interesting ideas,” such as “cutting the corporate tax” and “slashing capital gains [taxes].” Unmentioned by Burnett were the numerous economists who do not view corporate tax rate cuts and capital gains tax rate cuts as particularly “serious” or effective methods for stimulating the economy. In addition, on January 29, under the headline “Limbaugh Wants Meeting With Obama,” Time editor-at-large Mark Halperin stated on his Time.com website, The Page: “The talk radio king says Thursday he wants to personally present a stimulus proposal to the president.” Halperin frequently publishes snippets of Limbaugh’s commentary on his Time.com website.

Limbaugh himself has claimed great influence over the media:

LIMBAUGH: Bernie, I honestly believe the following: I believe that I, Rush Limbaugh, am responsible for the mainstream media’s behavior today because they think I am the one who destroyed their monopoly beginning in 1988 when I started my show. Back then, we had the three nets, CNN, and the big papers. They owned commentary. Now they don’t. I believe the creation of the New Media has made the mainstream media now openly competitive with the New Media, which is why they are so open now about choosing sides.

This is not my ego speaking, Bernie, but since I started in 1988, look at what has happened. There were 125 talk stations in 1988. Now there are over 2,000. Right-wing blogs have sprung up. Fox News prime time is simply talk radio on TV.

Even recently, Republicans have genuflected:

  • Days after calling Limbaugh “an entertainer” whose commentary can be “incendiary” and “ugly,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele apologized, telling the Politico: “I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. … I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.” Later in a March 4 appearance on NBC’s Today, co-host Matt Lauer asked about being “put in a position where you’ve got to run and apologize to him.” Steele responded, “Look, that’s the nature of this job, baby.” Later that day, Steele denied attacking Limbaugh altogether.
  • In a March 2 appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) stated, “I think Rush is a great leader for conservatives. I think he articulates what a lot of people are concerned about.”
  • As blogger Greg Sargent noted, after Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) stated that “it’s easy if you’re Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks,” Gingrey issued a statement in which he sought to “clarify” his comments by stating, in part, that Republicans “need to articulate a clear conservative message that distinguishes our values and our approach from those of liberal Democrats.” In his statement, Gingrey described Limbaugh as one of the “conservative giants [who] are the voices of the conservative movement’s conscience.” Also, as Think Progress noted, Gingrey called into Limbaugh’s radio show to express his “very sincere regret for those comments.” Gingrey reportedly said: “I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments. … I regret those stupid comments.”
  • At the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), sponsored by the American Conservative Union, Limbaugh gave the keynote address and received CPAC’s “Defender of the Constitution” award. In presenting the award, author Brad O’Leary stated that “the only way we will be successful is if we listen to Rush Limbaugh.”

Limbaugh has also thrust himself in the spotlight time and again, including with numerous outrageous comments and actions:

  • During the campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Limbaugh launched “Operation Chaos” with the stated goal of creating a lengthy campaign battle between Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton in order to benefit the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, by urging supporters to vote for Clinton in Democratic primaries and caucuses.
  • In September 2007, Limbaugh characterized service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq “phony soldiers.” He later argued he had been taken out of context by Media Matters and claimed he was not talking about “the anti-war movement generally,” but rather about “one soldier … Jesse MacBeth.” To support this, Limbaugh purported to air the “entire” segment in question from the September 26, 2007, broadcast of his show, but, in fact, the clip he aired had been selectively edited. Limbaugh later included Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), a Vietnam veteran, in the group of “phony soldiers.” As Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert noted, numerous Republicans defended Limbaugh over the remarks. For instance, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (TN) supported legislation that commended Limbaugh following his “phony soldiers” crack. Cantor even unveiled a “Stand With Rush” e-petition, urging “conservatives around the country” to fight for Limbaugh.
  • Following the disclosure of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, Limbaugh claimed in 2004 that the U.S. military personnel involved were just “having a good time,” and that their actions served as an “emotional release.” Limbaugh called the abuse “hazing,” referred to it as “an out-of-control fraternity prank,” and agreed with a caller that the abuse “was like a college fraternity prank.” Citing Limbaugh’s remarks about Abu Ghraib and the fact that portions of Limbaugh’s show are broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, Sen. Tom Harkin sponsored an amendment in 2004 expressing the sense of the Senate that Armed Forces Radio programming should “present[] all sides of important public questions fairly and with balance.” The Senate passed the amendment by voice vote.
  • Limbaugh has repeatedly referenced Fort Marcy Park, invoking right-wing conspiracy theories that the Clintons were involved in the death of then-deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, whose body was found in that park on July 20, 1993. Multiple official investigations have determined Foster committed suicide. On July 8, 2008, while discussing reports that a plane carrying then-Sen. Obama had been forced to make an emergency landing in St. Louis, Limbaugh referred to Obama’s flight “aboard Fort Marcy Airlines.” Limbaugh went on to say that the incident, along with other things, presented “a ripe opportunity here for Operation Chaos.”
  • In October 2006, Limbaugh accused actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, of “exaggerating the effects of the disease” in a campaign advertisement for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who was then a Senate candidate. In the ad, Fox endorsed McCaskill for supporting embryonic stem cell research, which her opponent at the time, then-incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent, opposed. Noting that Fox is “moving all around and shaking” in the ad, Limbaugh declared: “And it’s purely an act. This is the only time I have ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has.” Limbaugh later added that “this is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn’t take his medication or he’s acting, one of the two.” Later in the broadcast, Limbaugh stated, “I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act, especially since people are telling me they have seen him this way on other interviews and in other television appearances.” However, Limbaugh subsequently returned to criticizing Fox, stating that “Michael J. Fox is using his illness as a way to mislead voters into thinking that their vote for a single United States senator has a direct impact on stem cell research in Missouri. It doesn’t, and it won’t.”

Limbaugh has frequently served as an unofficial spokesperson for conservatives and the Republican Party:

  • Following the Republicans’ loss of control of Congress in 2006, Limbaugh claimed to “feel liberated” because he was “no longer going to have to carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water carried.” Limbaugh added that the Republican Congress had produced “some of this legislation coming out of there that I have just cringed at, and it has been difficult coming in here, trying to make the case for it when the people who are supposedly in favor of it can’t even make the case themselves — and to have to come in here and try to do their jobs.” Limbaugh also said: “I understand what this program has become in America and I understand the leadership position it has. I was doing what I thought best, but at this point, people who don’t deserve to have their water carried, or have themselves explained as they would like to say things but somehow don’t be — aren’t able to, I’m not under that kind of pressure.”
  • During the recent congressional debate over Obama’s economic recovery plan, Limbaugh — along with Fox News host Sean Hannity — devoted much of his show to advancing Republican talking points and misinformation about the plan. On February 10, Limbaugh took credit for spreading a false story about health care provisions in the recovery plan, telling listeners: “I found it. I detailed it for you, and now it’s all over mainstream media. Well, it’s — it headlined Drudge for a while last night and today. Fox News is talking about it.”

From the March 4 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: It is on the record — thanks to Politico.com — since last fall, the White House, led by Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff to Barack Obama, has been targeting me, your host, your harmless, lovable little fuzzball. Their standard operating procedure: They need a demon to distract and divert from what their agenda is. They need a demon about whom they can lie so as to persuade average Americans that they’re the good guys, the benevolent good guys, and the mean SOBs are their enemies stopping — trying to stop this great young little president from doing miraculous and wonderful things.

From the March 4 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:

HANNITY: And our headline on this Wednesday night, day number 44 of government expansion, the “Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.” Now, it took quite a bit of coordination between the White House and the liberal media, but they have succeeded in distracting the attention of the American people away from President Obama’s freewheeling spending spree and towards Rush Limbaugh and the leadership of the Republican Party.

—T.A. & A.H.S.
Media Matters for America