Part 1—At the Washington Post, a new morning: Rush Limbaugh has been in a world of hurt—except at the New York Times, a newspaper which is very brave when dealing with less potent figures.
Right through this morning’s edition, the Times hasn’t written an editorial about Limbaugh’s latest breakdown. Have we mentioned the fact that the Times is quite brave about name-calling obscure state legislators in Alabama, but tends to hide beneath its desk when it comes to the conduct of major figures like Limbaugh and Donald Trump?
As of this posting on Monday morning, Andrew Rosenthal hasn’t even discussed Limbaugh’s recent conduct at his own blog, though he did offer this courageous post about “The Bigoted Birther”—Joe Arpaio. With his customary vigor, Rosenthal dropped B-, X- and R-bombs on Sheriff Joe’s head. But when Trump spent weeks purveying this garbage, the hometown Times averted its gaze (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/10/11.) And as of our posting on Monday morning, Rosenthal still hasn’t voiced the very name “Rush” on his own personal blog. (This may change, of course—with us taking the credit!)
The Times hasn’t chosen to speak about Rush. By way of contrast, the Washington Post offered this editorial about Limbaugh’s latest breakdown in Saturday morning’s paper. The editorial was headlined “Bum Rush.” The Post called attention to the piece with a large photo of Limbaugh.
Major newspapers have given Limbaugh extremely wide berth over the past twenty years. In that sense, this editorial was a welcome change in a long-standing practice.
The Times still seems afraid of Rush; the Post was correct to speak up. And yet, we found ourselves puzzled—even annoyed—by some of the editors’ constructions.
This is the way their piece began. Why did the editors say that?
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (3/3/12): In a democracy, standards of civil discourse are as important as they are indefinable. Yet wherever one draws the line, Rush Limbaugh’s vile rants against Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke crossed it. Mr. Limbaugh is angry at President Obama’s efforts to require the provision of contraception under employer-paid health insurance and the White House’s attempts to make some political hay out of the policy. His way of showing this anger was to smear Ms. Fluke, who approached Congress to support the plan, as a “slut” seeking a government subsidy for her promiscuity.The editorial continues from there; we strongly recommend it. The Post should have been doing this long ago.
Like other “shock jocks,” Mr. Limbaugh has committed verbal excesses in the past. But in its wanton vulgarity and cruelty, this episode stands out. Mr. Limbaugh’s audience, and those in politics who seek his favor as a means of reaching that audience, need to take special note.
Question: Does last week’s episode really “stand out” in the sweep of Limbaugh’s career? His conduct last week was stupid, of course. But was this episode more egregious than his work in the past? One example: We’re so old that we can remember the day, eighteen years ago, when we heard Rush excitedly tell the world that Hillary Clinton, then the nation’s “first lady,” may have been involved in the murder of Vince Foster.
We were driving to Huntington, West Virginia. Limbaugh’s comments broke open a whole new chapter in the wanton, vulgar, debased public discourse concerning Clinton and Clinton, the well-known serial killers. His evidence that day was non-existent. His influence was vast.
Were Limbaugh’s “verbal excesses” last week really more egregious than that? Did last week’s episode really “stand out” in the context of Limbaugh’s career?
As the editors continued, they further explained what Limbaugh had done in this most recent case. We agree with every highlighted word. And yet...
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: What we are saying is that Mr. Limbaugh has abused his unique position within the conservative media to smear and vilify a citizen engaged in the exercise of her First Amendment rights, and in the process he debased a national political discourse that needs no further debasing. This is not the way a decent citizen behaves, much less a citizen who wields significant de facto power in a major political party. While Republican leaders owe no apology for Mr. Limbaugh’s comments, they do have a responsibility to repudiate them—and him.We agree. But Limbaugh has been “debasing the national political discourse” for a very long time, in a great many ways. We have said, again and again, that major news orgs and major pundits need to identify Limbaugh (and others) by name when they discuss the failure of our broken, inane public discourse.
The editors were right to criticize Limbaugh in the spirited way they did. But why are the editors doing it now? What made them feel that this episode stands out?
Why has this event stood out? Why has there been so much outrage about this event, when Limbaugh has misbehaved so many times in the past? It may be that a new day is dawning—that the society is finally pushing back against decades of gross misconduct.
That said, do you mind if we offer a few more reactions about this past week’s outrage?
In our view, we’ve really gone down a rabbit hole when we see Chris Matthews fuming on Hardball about Limbaugh’s outrageous conduct. For roughly a decade, Hardball served as Misogyny Central on the cable news channel dial. Much of this conduct was aimed at Hillary Clinton. But liberal women were frequent targets of Matthews' insults and ire.
When the liberal world finally noticed this problem in the spring of 2008, Rachel Maddow ran to the Associated Press to speak up for Matthews’ greatness. And what a coincidence! The very next week, she signed her first MSNBC contract!
When it comes to rabbit holes, it’s hard to top the experience of seeing Maureen Dowd express her outrage at Limbaugh’s behavior. (Headline: “Have You No Shame, Rush?”) We’ll match the start of Sunday’s column with one of her most famous hits:
DOWD (3/4/12): As a woman who has been viciously slashed by Rush Limbaugh, I can tell you, it’s no fun.Might we make an obvious point? When Dowd hiss-spat that famous jibe, she wasn’t just “going after” Candidate Gore “in the most personal and humiliating way.” (On the day of his formal campaign announcement.) She was also expressing her own long-standing hatred of women. She was suggesting there’s something very comical about the kinds of people who might end up lactating!
At first you think, if he objects to the substance of what you’re saying, why can’t he just object to the substance of what you’re saying? Why go after you in the most personal and humiliating way?
DOWD (6/16/99): Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating.
Ick! Imagine that!
Finally, in 2008, Times public editor Clark Hoyt devoted a column to the way this throwback gender nut had savaged Democratic women down through the many long years. Darlings! Dr. Judith Dean had such dowdy clothes! Do you remember the way this horrible person first expressed this critique?
DOWD (1/15/04): In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband's side—the anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.Classic Dowd! She could imagine Limbaugh beating on Dr. Dean—even as she did so herself! These people have toyed with you in these ways down through the many long years.
The “liberal” world has accepted Dowd’s misogyny down through the years—and it continues to do so now. So why all the outrage at Limbaugh’s behavior? And why all the outrage now?
One more observation—although for today, we’ll skip the Olbermann question:
If anything, the Washington Post went easy on Rush in its editorial, understating the sweep of last week’s “verbal excesses.” The editors mentioned the fact that he called Sandra Fluke a “slut.” They omitted other parts of his presentation, including his use of the verbally excessive term, “prostitute.”
If readers learned about this episode from the Post editorial, they encountered a bowdlerized version of Rush’s misconduct.
At any rate, many people have been very upset by Rush’s unpleasant conduct. At the same time, entertainment and culture pages are full of reviews of the new ABC series, GCB. Just so you’ll know:
The B stands for “bitch”—and the C stands for “Christian! IOKWTTAUBUAT! It’s OK when these terms are used by us against them!
It’s true. Last week, Rush Limbaugh really did “debase a national political discourse that needs no further debasing.” The Post’s second judgment is also true: “This is not the way a decent citizen behaves.” Having said that, we’ll also say this: We saw a shitload of highly selective outrage expressed last week.
“Where’s the outrage?” William Bennett once asked. Suddenly, the outrage is here! But Rush has been like this for a very long time.
Why did this episode churn so much rage? We think that question could be instructive. We’ll ponder that topic all week.