Blusterbomb: New Book on Rush Limbaugh a Puff Piece Rife With Lies
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
When The New York Times Magazine decided it wanted to run a profile of Rush Limbaugh in the summer of 2008, the editors turned to writer Zev Chafets, a former flack for the conservative Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin who had reinvented himself in the United States as a columnist, book author, and freelance journalist. The article contained the usual jokes about the so-called liberal media being out to get Limbaugh—“Are you the guy who’s here to do the hit job on us?” asks one of Limbaugh’s aides at the top of the piece. But its content actually shocked many readers by ignoring virtually of all of the political outrageousness that had made Limbaugh so controversial.
Chafets did have a reputation for being awfully sympathetic to conservatives—he is the author of a rapturous book about the Christian right—but he was not yet known to be such an easy a mark. And if you read that article, you would never have guessed at the combination of racism, resentment, and misinformation that forms the foundation of Limbaugh’s radio show.
Chafets presented Limbaugh as a kind of loveable teddy bear who was naturally “tickled to be taken out to eat on The New York Times .” True, he had a few quirks. Limbaugh launched “Operation Chaos” that year, instructing conservatives to vote for Hillary Clinton in crossover primaries in order to weaken the eventual nominee, Barack Obama. He pronounced his work to have “exceeded all expectations,” which Chafets parenthetically explained was Rush’s “customary self-evaluation.”
But Chafets entirely avoided the kind of sustained analysis of Limbaugh’s politics—as well as the source of his appeal—that the Atlantic’s James Fallows employed when profiling the radio host 14 years earlier. In that piece, entitled “ Talent on Loan from the GOP,” the author noted the following:
Whenever Limbaugh talks about economics in either book he comes out with statements that invite a “Hey, wait a minute!” response. Limbaugh says that liberal politicians gorge at the public trough and don’t know what it means to earn an honest living. He then praises hardworking Republicans like Clarence Thomas and William Bennett, each of whom, of course, has spent most of his career on the public payroll. He inveighs against big-spending Democrats and deficit spending, but barely mentions the largest budget item of all, Social Security. Last year Limbaugh claimed on the air that as President, Bush faced a level of federal debt comparable to that which John Kennedy had faced—in each case the national debt totaled about 55 percent of the annual economic output. President Kennedy was praised for cutting taxes; therefore President Bush should have been too. He didn’t say that 55 percent under President Kennedy was part of a steep downward trend in the debt level. … Bush’s 55 percent was part of a dramatic rise.
Chafets’ article contained no such substance. It accepted almost everything Limbaugh claimed at face value and asked no embarrassing questions about the many, many, many untruths he has spread in the 14 years since Fallows profiled him or about the moral pollution he has poured into our media ecosphere. (Remember “the Clinton’s dog?”)
The notion that The New York Times —which is so hated by Limbaugh and his cronies and allegedly Ground Zero of the liberal media conspiracy—would actually publish a puff piece on the man should have been enough to cause some to question the entire paradigm that automatically places mainstream reporters on the opposite side of the issue as right-wing blowhards. But American conservatives’ ideology proved once again impervious to reality.