For more than a decade, Rush Limbaugh has manned the loudest megaphone the human race has ever known. His three hour talk radio program is heard on more than six hundred radio stations, five days a week. That is 15-18 hours a week of preaching to a "dittohead" audience numbering in the millions. Every profound, controversial, or profoundly controversial statement Rush makes is subsequently echoed by a plethora of right wing and news concentrator websites, all of which are followed by true believers who disseminate the new truth in letters to the editor, in comments after online articles, and in other ways throughout the right wing echo chamber. After attacking Sandra Fluke, Rush saw a need for a direct presence on Facebook and Twitter, but he quickly gave up these efforts. One might conclude that with such a fanatic following, indirect dissemination via dittohead works fine.
What's wrong with one person having such a Godzilla microphone? Nothing at all, so long as they avoid using it to disturb the public interest. But then, there's the rub. Fomenting violence is an astonishingly obvious way to damage the public interest. And while Rush may not be nearly so guilty in that regard as some others, having the only radio talk show carried on 600 stations makes a weighty issue of what he does say.
There's significant reason to be concerned. A blogger activist who goes by the nick of Spocko has offered the alarming example of three Rwandan radio personalities who were convicted of genocide for inciting the murder of about 800,000 Rwandan citizens. Free speech is fine, but hate speech can have very serious consequences.
Now consider this: the three Rwandans had one radio station with two transmitters. Rush has more than six hundred radio stations.
Does Limbaugh foment violence? Yes, without question — but conditionally, and via dog whistle. Just last week Limbaugh asserted,
RUSH: I have to say, though, folks, terrorism is the greatest threat, because we can still defeat liberals without violence. So terrorism still, of course, represents a greater threat than the Democrat Party. We can handle them without violence. So far. [emphasis added]This contemptible language not only dog-whistles the need to be prepared to conduct a civil war against liberals when and if it becomes "necessary", it simultaneously equates liberals with terrorists.
—Rush Limbaugh: Trick Question on Terrorists and Liberals, October 3, 2012
|"The radio encouraged people to participate (in mass genocide) because it said 'the enemy is the Tutsi'. If the radio had not declared things, people would not have gone into the attacks."
—Rwandan Genocide perpetrator, interviewed by Straus (2007)
Propaganda and Confict: Theory and Evidence from the Rwandan Genocide by David Yanagizawa-Drott, Harvard University, August 2012
Limbaugh presents this argument in two different ways — according to Rush, liberals and terrorists are alike:
Both liberals and terrorists have a lot in common. The one thing that they hate the most is freedom.Rush also routinely claims that liberals consider conservatives to be worse than terrorists:
—Rush Limbaugh: Pearls of Wisdom, October 3, 2012
Conservatives and conservatism pose a much greater threat to liberals than terrorists do. Check their language against the terrorists versus their language against George W. Bush, or me...Limbaugh does routinely couch his most contemptible pronouncements as throwaways that he can pass off as nothing more than sick humor. He tells stories that sound far-fetched, yet drive impressions among his followers. A veteran broadcaster of 25 years, he knows very well how closely he can tiptoe to the edge of flagrant racist or misogynistic invective without prompting a monumental backlash. (Rush obviously miscalculated when he attacked Sandra Fluke, but that may have been a rare exception.)
—Rush Limbaugh: Why Don't More Liberal Jews Support Israel?, July 28, 2006
On the anniversary of Hurricante Katrina, he "joked" about tricking the poor in New Orleans — especially poor Democrats — into drowning themselves. Many of the poor at greatest risk of drowning in New Orleans are people of color. Yet Rush was cautious enough to leave that part of the message unstated, even as it was implicitly understood by anyone who had seen video from the Katrina flood.
There are a lot of adjectives that could be applied to Limbaugh. One of them is duplicitous. Consider the wording of his written apology to Sandra Fluke on Saturday, the very day after he had attacked her relentlessly for fifteen hours of straight radio time:
For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke... [emphasis added]"I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke..."
—Rush Limbaugh: A Statement from Rush, March 3, 2012
Then why did he attack her in the most personal ways for fifteen hours? Even when Limbaugh ostensibly apologized to Fluke "in person" on the following Monday radio show, his apology was couched in the language of continuous attack.
But let us focus on "absurdity". Rush has explained,
November 12, 2008: You know, ladies and gentlemen, on this program we have a phrase that sometimes describes one of the strategeries we use to communicate here. It's called "illustrating absurdity by being absurd..." —Rush LimbaughTake a look at some examples:
February 2, 2012: I was just being facetious with the guy when I said, "Well, they're laying off 13,000 people 'cause they hate people, 'cause they hate unions." That's just one of these attempts to illustrate absurdity by being absurd. —Rush LimbaughNotice the underlying theme of hate and violence? Rush routinely uses this "absurdity" claim so that he always has a ready explanation for the hate and violence that he conjures. By such double talk he sends two different messages: to his detractors and those who might seek to hold him accountable, the message is: don't take me so seriously. I'm telling a joke. (And his many defenders repeat the canard: "That's just Rush joking; you don't understand him...") Yet to his millions of listeners, the message is clear: these targets are worthy of your hate and your disdain. And they're dangerous to your beliefs, so you should prepare for violence, for the coming clash of ideologies.
March 16, 2012: The poor are still poor. The homeless are still homeless. Despite all these great liberal programs, the numbers, the percentages never change. Liberalism doesn't solve problems. It doesn't fix anything. It just exacerbates them. I am often illustrating absurdity by being absurd. —Rush Limbaugh
August 24, 2012: "We're Illustrating Absurdity by Being Absurd: Did Obama's Anti-Boss Rhetoric Inspire [The] Empire State Building Shooter?" —Rush Limbaugh
Rush acknowledges that his audience is able to evaluate different messages that he sends:
The audience is very smart, sir. They know the difference between entertainment, and they know the difference between deadly serious issues that affect their country.Of course if he suggests that his followers should be prepared to commit violence against you — whether by tricking you into drowning in New Orleans, or just as general preparation for the insurrection should conservatives suddenly prove "unable to handle" you by more traditional means — he's just using absurdity to illustrate the absurd. No reason for you to take him seriously.
—Rush Limbaugh: A Few Words for Michael Steele, March 2, 2009
Whether you're liberal, a minority, female, foreign, Muslim, poor, whatever — you all know who you are.
|Rush Limbaugh's talk radio career is in a slow downward spiral in part because of the activism of consumers, volunteers, and activists who seek to hold Rush accountable for his hate speech. One very active group in this cause is Flush Rush on Facebook. Flush Rush and other, similar groups use the StopRush Database to inform advertisers about where their ads are appearing.
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