HERE’S THE OUTRAGE: Why are we outraged by Rush Limbaugh now?


Part 3—At long last, we take our stand: In our view, the liberal world has given Rush Limbaugh a pass for decades now.

Limbaugh has always had a pernicious effect on the public discourse. He and his ilk have always coarsened that discourse—although major liberals have sometimes behaved in the same way, with few complaints from our side.

Beyond that, perhaps more significantly, he and his ilk have relentlessly disinformed the public about every major policy issue. Voters have heard a steady stream of bogus claims about the most significant matters in American life.

Absent serious attempts at pushback, voters have come to believe these claims, in extremely large numbers. This has terrible consequences. Here are a few examples:
Three of El Rushbo’s greatest hits:
If we lower the tax rate, we get higher revenues!
The Social Security trust fund is just a bunch of worthless IOUs!
European-style health care has failed everywhere it’s been tried!
Rush and Sean keep saying these things; the liberal world peacefully sleeps in the woods. People come to believe these claims, with disastrous effects.

Then too, there are the endless bogus claims about major Democratic figures. Here too, voters have been disinformed over the course of the past twenty years. We will cite just one example, an example we have working on each afternoon in recent weeks. Here was El Rushbo with Wolf Blitzer in March 1999—thirteen long bad years ago:
BLITZER (3/16/99): How much of an effective campaigner do you think Al Gore will be if he faces any Republican?

LIMBAUGH: Look, I don't know, I could only guess. We have some experience, though. We have the 1988 presidential campaign where he sought the nomination, and let's not forget, Wolf, it was that man who we just saw on videotape—"Vice Perpetrator" Al Gore—who brought us Willie Horton. It was he and Mario Cuomo who produced Willie Horton, and it was Al Gore who used Willie Horton in a Democratic primary. So we know that he'll go low. We'll know that he, we know that he'll do what it takes. He'll go dirty if he has to.

BLITZER: Didn't help him much in '88, though.
In fact, Candidate Gore did not “bring us Willie Horton” during the 1988 campaign. For better or worse, he didn’t prove that he would “go dirty is he has to, will go low.” But so what? In this exchange, Blitzer blandly enabled Limbaugh’s characterization. And by the fall of 1999, the discourse was crawling with major pundits repeating this RNC line.

The liberal world just sat there and took it. With respect to this loathsome figure, that’s the way the “liberal” world has behaved for the past twenty years. The liberal world—and the mainstream press corps—have endlessly given El Rushbo a pass for his repellent behavior.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have persistently said that major news orgs should address Limbaugh’s deceptions. But asking liberals to push for such action is like asking the chimp to jump over the moon. Indeed, the New York Times editorial board is still afraid to challenge El Rushbo, as became clear in yesterday’s paper. And let’s be frank:

We liberals have been too lazy, too feckless, too ditto-headed to insist that big news orgs challenge Limbaugh. As it gazes away from Limbaugh, the New York Times drops B- and R-bombs on minor figures’ heads. We liberals seem more than happy to take our pleasure that way.

For the past twenty years, we have been an inept and feckless non-movement, permitting El Rushbo prosper. Suddenly, though, the outrage is general, in response to Limbaugh’s ridiculous comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. Question: Why is this the place where we’ve taken our stand? Why all the outrage now?

Those strike us as very good questions. Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke were inane and coarse—although they certainly weren’t any more coarse than the repulsive conduct of Keith Olbermann which our deeply unprincipled tribe embraced for a good many years. In the present instance, Fox viewers are being told about the giant hypocrisy involved in our current outrage—and Fox still has twice as many viewers as MSNBC, although the gap seems to be narrowing.

Many voters are being told about our gigantic hypocrisy. (Here’s the good news—you'll never have to hear such things as long as you keep watching Rachel and Chris!) Beyond that, Fox viewers are hearing things about the larger issue surrounding Fluke which also seem to make sense.

In the past decade, it has been the rare occasion when Fox News viewers heard commentary which may have been more sensible than the commentary offered elsewhere. As MSNBC learns to ape Fox, we may have reached the point, in this particular case, where the accuracy of their tribe’s presentations has eclipsed our own.

This isn’t a criticism of Fluke, although there are several things about her general position we simply don’t understand. This doesn’t mean that she is “wrong” in her desire to see Georgetown students receiving contraception as part of their health insurance.

As a general matter, that seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.

But Limbaugh has been a scourge for decades. Why are we so outraged now—and was this the place to take our stand?

We will return to the liberal world’s grotesque hypocrisy in Friday’s post. A few weeks ago, it was congressional Democrats who thrust Fluke into the spotlight. For decades, these Democrats have failed to mount an effective response to Limbaugh’s endless depredations.

Tomorrow, let’s review the Democratic thinking which cast Fluke into the spotlight. On Friday, let’s return to MSNBC, letting columnist Connie Schultz explain why she’s outraged about Limbaugh’s conduct—why this upper-class player is finally outraged, outraged after all these years.

“Looks like we’ve made it,” Barry Manilow sang. It has always been hard to make less sense than Fox.

After all these feckless years, have we liberals finally made it?

Tomorrow: Welcome to the Balkans! (Things folk are hearing on Fox.)

Mouthing the wisdom of Rush: Actually, no. Candidate Gore didn’t “bring us Willie Horton.” He didn't prove that “he'll do what it takes, he'll go dirty if he has to.”

1988, Gore never mentioned Horton, and he never referred to his crimes. He mentioned the Massachusetts furlough program in one lonely question at one sole debate, a question he posed to Candidate Dukakis.

Gore's question took about thirty seconds. This represented Gore's complete discussion of the furlough issue. There was nothing “dirty” or “low” about it—and Horton wasn’t mentioned. In reality, the Democratic Party would have been much better served if Gore, or one of the other candidates, had challenged Dukakis about this program at more length during the primaries. (For the record, we’re big fans of Dukakis.)

There was nothing “dirty” or “low” about it—and Horton wasn’t mentioned. But so what? As early as 1991, the Republican Party was working hard to create the talking-point Limbaugh voiced to Blitzer eight years later. Initially, this effort was designed to help President Bush in his re-election campaign. It was designed to absolve him from blame for the use of Willie Horton in 1988.

By 1999, this talking-point had been repurposed; it was now being used as a direct attack against Candidate Gore. In March, Limbaugh mouthed it to the compliant Blitzer. By the fall of that year, it had gone viral within the mainstream “press corps.” Here were two of the high-ranking chimps, mouthing the wisdom of El Rushbo on ABC’s This Week:
DONALDSON (11/28/99): Al Gore does use fear. Remember 1988, it was Al Gore when he was running in the primaries for president who found Willie Horton, and he used Willie Horton against Dukakis.

By this time, the RNC was working hard to create a theme which would prove very useful: Al Gore is a brutal and ruthless campaigner! Sam and George helped out this day—just as another panelist had done on this same program five weeks before:
KRISTOL (10/24/99): Gore's a mean, tough political fighter. Gore is the one who introduced Willie Horton to American politics in the 1988 primary against Mike Dukakis.
Actually, no—that wasn’t true. But in the fall of 1999, a wide range of pundits recited this point. Voters heard it again and again—and they heard it linked to other claims about Gore’s ruthless conduct. (It showed that Gore was like Bill Clinton, “Kit” Seelye scriptedly wrote.) Seamlessly, this talking-point passed from El Rushbo’s lips to those of the mainstream press. When Bill Bradley baldly lied about this in January 2000, the “press corps” agreed not to tattle.

The Democratic Party said squat. Dittos for our fiery “career liberals,” the ones who are outraged this week.

E. J. Dionne is currently outraged. On Monday night, he explained his vast anger. Back then, he kept his trap tightly shut.

This is the way the press corps' frauds earn their standing and their incomes. Your lizard brain will now seek ways to convince you that this can’t be right.

(If we might quote your lizard brain: “But E.J. Dionne is on my side! He cares about the same things I do!”)


  1. The Real AnonymousMarch 7, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    At this point it's fair to ask who has the bigger obsession, Mr. Somerby with Gore and the 2000 election or Collins with Romney's dog.

    To posit anybody should engage Limbaugh in a policy debate totally misses the point as does limiting criticism of Limbaugh to his endorsing positions held by the Republican party.

    I'm sure Brent Bozell of the "I stand with Rush" site would approve of Mr. Somerby comparing Olbermann to Limbaugh.

    The rest of us know it's just the latest false equivalency Mr. Somerby is trying to foist on us.

    Does Mr. Somerby really believe Limbaugh's claim his error was to stoop to the level of his critics?

    It seems so doesn't it?

    1. I guess that I’m just not as smart as “Real.” You regularly toss out the “false equivalency” charge. It seems to me repellent, inappropriate behavior and/or language, no matter the “tribe,” should not be condoned. That is what I understand to be Mr. Somerby’s point.
      As to Mr. Somerby’s “obsession” with the 2000 election, I think his major point is that the bad behavior of the media resulted in GWB becoming our fearless leader, thereby creating the mess we are in today. I am certain that, had Al Gore become president, despite whatever Ralph Nader thought and said, we would not be in this mess today.
      But, as I said, I’m not that smart; I could be wrong.

    2. I love it! Thanks for your comment! I love The Daily Howler, but every so often I want to scream at Bob that despite the poor job that the media did, and in some cases actively rooted against Gore, he STILL WON THE POPULAR VOTE!!! And Gore would have won the election outright had the Supreme Court not intervened to stop the vote count.

    3. The Real AnonymousMarch 7, 2012 at 2:21 PM

      "It seems to me repellent, inappropriate behavior and/or language, no matter the “tribe,” should not be condoned. That is what I understand to be Mr. Somerby’s point."

      Nobody is condoning anything.

      However, any fair analysis must allow for degrees and number of offenses.

      Take a look at this list and tell me any broadcaster anywhere is Limbaugh's equal:

      Its simply false equivalency to claim anyone is unless they're from Limbaugh's own tribe and are trying to garner ratings by topping him.

  2. The Real AnonymousMarch 7, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    Mr. Somerby writes:

    "Three of El Rushbo’s greatest hits:
    If we lower the tax rate, we get higher revenues!
    The Social Security trust fund is just a bunch of worthless IOUs!
    European-style health care has failed everywhere it’s been tried!"

    This is absolute nonsense.

    For a more accurate list of Limbaugh's greatest hits read this:

    Here's an example from that list:

    "Obama's entire economic program is reparations."

    and another:

    "People are finally standing up to this little boy, this little man-child president."

    Mr. Somerby needs to explain why he is trying to cast the uneducated and proud of it Limbaugh as some kind of policy wonk when he clearly isn't.

    1. RE: "Mr. Somerby needs to explain why he is trying to cast the uneducated and proud of it Limbaugh as some kind of policy wonk when he clearly isn't."

      If you have listened to what Limbaugh has been pontificating & ranting & regurgitating on his radio show *daily* for the past *20+ years*, and *read his loathesome books*, and if you paid attention to what the GOP, dittoheads, conservatives, Born-Agains and news media/commentariat, yes, even many so-called lib'ruls, have been endlessly repeating as incontrovertible "conventional wisdom" on the airwaves during those same two decades, then you would clearly understand what Somersby is talking about, as well as the prevailing damage that these Limbaugh myths have done to the politics of the nation. Just because Limbaugh is a nasty stupid dick, doesn't mean he hasn't been an effective nasty stupid dick.


      Anyways... Great piece Bob!

  3. I'm disappointed, Bob. A false equivalency? What has Keith ever done that equates to the posting the video so we can watch stuff? How often do we see the face or hear the name of anyone in Worst Persons if said person isn't a public figure?

    1. Why is the worst person in the world never like Viktor Bout, or Kim Il Jung? Or monsters like Omar al-Bashir? Why does Keef focus on Carrie Prejean?

  4. In no way do I defend Rush Limbaugh's outrageous statements about Sandra Fluke. However, this sort of ugly comment has been arguably more typical of the left than the right. Here are some examples from Michelle Malkin

    The fact is, "slut" is one of the nicer things I've been called over 20 years of public life. In college during the late 1980s, it was "race traitor," "coconut" (brown on the outside white on the inside) and "white man's puppet." After my first book, "Invasion," came out in 2001, it was "immigrant-hater," the "Radical Right's Asian Pitbull," "Tokyo Rose" and "Aunt Tomasina." In my third book, 2005's "Unhinged," I published entire chapters of hate mail rife with degrading, unprintable sexual epithets and mockery of my Filipino heritage.

    If I had a dollar for every time libs have called me a "Manila whore" and "Subic Bay bar girl," I'd be able to pay for a ticket to a Hollywood-for-Obama fundraiser. was feminist godmother Gloria Steinem who called Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison a "female impersonator." It was NOW leader Patricia Ireland who commanded her flock to only vote for "authentic" female political candidates. It was...Naomi Wolf who accused the late Jeane Kirkpatrick of being "uninflected by the experiences of the female body."

    It was Matt Taibbi, now of Rolling Stone magazine, who mocked my early championing of the tea party movement by jibing: "Now when I read her stuff, I imagine her narrating her text, book-on-tape style, with a big, hairy set of (redacted) in her mouth. It vastly improves her prose."

    It was Keith Olbermann... who wrote on Twitter that columnist S.E. Cupp was "a perfect demonstration of the necessity of the work Planned Parenthood does" and who called me a "mashed up bag of meat with lipstick on it." He stands by those remarks. Olbermann has been a special guest at the White House.

    Some of us have not forgotten when liberal Wisconsin radio host John "Sly" Sylvester outrageously accused GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch of performing "fellatio on all the talk-show hosts in Milwaukee" and sneered that she had "pulled a train" (a crude phrase for gang sex). (Earlier, he called former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a "black trophy" and "Aunt Jemima.")

    Or when MSNBC misogynist Ed Schultz called talk show host Laura Ingraham a "talk slut" for criticizing Obama's petty beer summit. Or when Playboy published a list of the top 10 conservative women who deserved to be "hate-f**ked." The article, which was promoted by Anne Schroeder Mullins at, included Ingraham, "The View's" Elisabeth Hasselbeck, former Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann and others. Yours truly topped the list with the following description: a "highly f**kable Filipina" and "a regular on Fox News, where her tight body and get-off-my-lawn stare just scream, 'Do me!'"

    And then there's the left's war on Sarah Palin, which would require an entire national forest of trees to publish.

    1. Yes, you do defend Rush's statements, by using the well-worn schoolyard defense, "Everyone else was doing it, too!" Which begs the retort, if everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?

      Why not list all the sexist offenses committed by both the left and right against Hillary Clinton? You could fill a book with those, but I think the tally would come out longer on the right side of the aisle. Michelle Malkin and Sarah Palin got some sexist crap, but no one accused them of being lesbian murderesses. Nor were all the sexist critiques of Malkin and Palin from the left only.

      But that aside, who ever said left-leaning male commentators weren't also sexist? Certainly not Bob Somerby. One thing the left and right have in common is their woman hatred. Feminist blogs defended both Palin and Clinton at the time, but you wouldn't know that, because you don't read them.

    2. David:

      What's the point of mentioning this. Lets assume "the left" is worse. So what? Wrong is wrong.

      For the record, I and every liberal I know has vociferously objected to each of the public examples you cite above (in particular Schultz, Olbermann, and Playboy - as if Playboy is in any sense liberal). You are commenting on a website written by a liberal who documented and condemned many of the examples you cite.

      I would also add that the particular hate unleashed on Michelle Malkin, while indefensible, ought to be considered in context. Malkin is a well-known purveyor of extreme hate:

      She wrote a book defending the internment of Japanese Americans duirng World-War II.

      She slandered a Vietnam veteran (John Kerry), without a shred of evidence, accusing him of shooting himself during Vietnam in order to get out of service.

      She stalked a 9 year old boy (Graeme Frost) who dared to testify about S-Chip, creeping up to his family's house, peering into the window, and then publicly accused him(without evidence)of "lying" about his family's inability to afford health insurance because she saw that they had granite countertops.

      She published the private contact information of members of "Students Against the War" in a blog column entitled "Seditious Santa Cruz vs. America". The students asked Malkin to remove the contact details from her blog, but Malkin re-posted them several times writing in her blog: "I am leaving it up."

      In short, she is a raving hate-filled lunatic who has repeatedly slandered, harassed and lied about public and nonpublic figures and has explicitly defended what has been recognized for over 40 years as one of our nation's most shameful and indefensible actions.

      This does not in any way justify the use of gendered or racial epithets against her, nor does it excuse the use of threats, intimidation, etc.

      However, it is not surprising that a frequent purveyor of hate-filled rhetoric and abusive tactics is subject to hate filled rhetoric and abusive tactics in return.

    3. DiC:

      All of that is fair comment, and not defensible. Malkin is an awful character, but I wouldn't want to read her mail.

    4. The Real AnonymousMarch 7, 2012 at 2:37 PM

      "Malkin is an awful character"

      Malikin is like a boxer who gets in the ring then complains about getting hit. She thought her opponents were going to act like punching bags.

      Comparing her to Fluke is just ridiculous.

      Fluke never ever mentioned Limbaugh in her remarks before being subject to a 3-day fusillade filled with personal attacks from him. Limbaugh's claim Fluke was having "too much sex" which he repeated a couple dozen times and his requests for her to post sex tapes online were beyond all reasonable boundries of debate. If it were a boxing match he'd have been disqualified for low blows.

      Malkin's atrocious behavior towards the Frost family during the sChip debate elevated her to first-class bully status in the right wing pantheon filled with first-class bullies. Now she's complaining about the rules of engagement.

    5. In other words, the bitch had it coming to her. It's wrong to demean innocent young girls, caught in the crossfire but totally cool if the bitch is asking for it.

    6. David in Cal, where are the attributions to Malkin's claims? Do we just take her word for it? Malkin has proven herself to be less than honest in her career. She is beyond hyperbolic and often flat-out wrong. Malkin is not a credible source and rarely does she have any proof of what she claims.

    7. As has been said repeatedly, the attacks listed above agaisnt Malkin are indefensible and cannot be condoned.

      However, as also demonstrated above, Malkin herself has made a career out of nasty, dangerous, vile behavior. She doesn't deserve the abuse she receives, but she is absolutely not in a position to complain about it.

      Ana analogy:

      If I punched your friend in the face and then you punched me in the face in retaliation (not self defense or defense of your friend), your punch would be utterly unjustified and inappropriate. However, wouldn't you find it a little ridiculous if I made a big scene, complaining that you punched me and that I wrote a whole book about it and then went on TV and accused you of being a violent sociopath?

  5. David in Cal apparently approves of Malkin's attacks on that little 9-year-old boy, it seems.

    Why would you approve of someone who encourages violence against a little boy? What normal, sane person would do that? Really a sicko, a deep, deep sick person even to be citing her as a counter-example.

    Scary, but what do you expect from conservatives like David in Cal? Just sick.

  6. Mr. Real, what has greater significance, the election of George W Bush or Mitt's novel Dog transport? I think we will be much longer in cleaning to poop off our back windshield in the case of the former....

    This post gets a little tricky because of the gradations between "progressives" and "liberals." Seems to me the liberals did some fairly effective pushing back against Rush, for all of Tim Russart's attempts to legitimize the guy. Al Franken did rather well with it, no?
    On the other hand, many "progressives" couldn't be happier not answering back the Gore/Horton nonsense, but will repeated it themselves! Ariana's boy Marc Cooper repeated this early and often. Alex Cockburn, at least can be can credited an equal opportunity (if ethically challenged) offender, no doubt did also. It's true, other liberals won't take these guys to task for it, they're afraid of being called Democratic Tools. There is an interesting piece on the HP where a guy challenges the supposedly huge audience Limbaugh draws. But most on the left don't answer Rush back because they just don't listen to him. It's likely to spoil Thanksgiving, or force you to face that sweet old Uncle Jim, the families big Ditto Head, is really a racist moron.

    1. The Real AnonymousMarch 7, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      "Mr. Real, what has greater significance, the election of George W Bush or Mitt's novel Dog transport?"

      Obviously W's election.

      However, that doesn't mean the media landscape of 1999 compares to what exists in 2012 (the web was 5 years old, didn't exist, huffingtonpost didn't exist, msnbc wasn't msnbc yet, in fact they would fire their top rated host, Phil Donohue for being too liberal, blogging was still in its infancy etc.).

      Mr. Somerby's question "why be outraged now" can be answered simply by saying plenty of people have been outraged by Limbaugh for a long time but it wasn't until starting in 2004 or so that those people had any outlet for their voices outside of the mainstream media who saw Limbaugh as a media figure speaking to the fringes. It wouldn't be the first time they underestimated someone.

      Now let me pose a question: which is more significant the way "liberal" outlets like MSNBC and huffingtonpost skewered Hillary Clinton, often in a sexist manner, or Limbaugh's remarks about Fluke and why has Mr. Somerby let that slip by while concentrating on 2000?

    2. Real,

      I think Bob keeps bringing up the 2000 election because we haven't learned the lesson yet. When it is widely acknowledged that the press corp themselves have destroyed policy discussion and replaced it with sensationalist trivia, then Bob might stop trying to shine a light upon the time when the reporters went wilding.

    3. Al Gore was Bob's roommate at Harvard. It's only natural that Bob would be particularly focused on the media's unfair treatment of Gore.

    4. Malign idiocy wins again. If you have a complaint about the press giving us W, it must be because you're fond of your old roomie.

      What other insights have you got, wise David-in-CA?

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. " A few weeks ago, it was congressional Democrats who thrust Fluke into the spotlight."

    Now that's not quite true. It was Rep. Issa, who wouldn't let her sit on a Congressional panel on contraception, who thrust her into the spotlight. The Democrats have just taken advantage of the GOP's stupidity on this issue. Is that so wrong?

  9. What bob somerby seems (to me) to want is not a properly liberal press but a properly honest and journalistically professional press. Which is why I respect and learn from his posts. But I wish he'd more often make that clear, to himself and to his readers. I also wish he'd recognize that many people who identify as liberals or progressives or, certainly, leftists, do not in fact hold as their fellows any of the people bob regularly identifies as considered by "liberals" to be "liberal" -- Matthews, Maddow, Dionne, so forth. Serious liberals/leftists do not look to these people. They scoff at cable generally, including MSNBC, and at the NYT, the WaPo, so forth.

    It's a big world out there.

    And ignore Dave in Cal.

  10. It's as Mr Somerby writes. Suddenly in 2012 Rush Limbaugh who has been spewing his filth for twenty years is getting fellow liberals riled up to act only now? What were Liberals waiting for?

    Where have been the so called "Liberal Media" that supposedly dominates TV, Movies, Newspapers and Magazines?

    Recently Sarah Palin said she infiltrated the "Today" show. She spewed her vile bile while Matt Lauer smiles and the rest of the crew joked, laughed and listened to Sarah Palin call those who agree with her "Real Americans". And Matt Lauer kept on smiling...