(Originally Published as “GOP-A-GANDA” in November, 2011)
In a week filled with news including Jerry Sandusky’s horrible habits, Cairo’s own million man march and the super-committee-cave-in, one seemingly less vital item informs the entire post-2008 tempest that has blown our politics to pieces. Indeed, if there’s one reliable constant in American politics, it’s the singularity of Rush Limbaugh and the lovely zeitgeist he has spawned as a life’s work.
On November 22, ironically the date our 35th President was murdered, it was reported Limbaugh claimed that First Lady Michelle Obama was booed and hissed at the season’s NASCAR finale because she is “uppity.” Never mind that Mrs. Obama and Dr. Jill Biden were at the race to promote the Joining Forces Initiative supporting military families, that no good deed goes unpunished, that Limbaugh would have lost his mind if Laura Bush had been booed anywhere for anything. What the Missouri Mouth did beautifully was to sky-write for all of us the closed circuit he’s carefully created in politics over 25 years: lie shamelessly, demonize the opposition, exhort low-information voters (listeners) to act on the message and complete the language/violence wheel with a historically racial epithet unfit for broadcast, children or other living things.
The Devil’s in the Dissemination
While the concept of free speech has been kicking around since before the Magna Carta, and vicious political messages have been in art and print for our entire history on these shores, the advent of radio brought the power of far-flung broadcast, destructive or otherwise, into clear and careful focus. So then, since 1934 the FCC has existed to a greater or lesser degree “to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and communication services. . . .” and “for the purpose of promoting the safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.”
Pausing here for just a moment, if you abhor even that directive, and find comfort in a world with one media company, or similarly, the World Wide Goebbels Network, perhaps you should stop reading and keep listening to the dulcet tones of your AM Radio heroes and heroines.
Moving along now at a quicker pace, 1949 saw the institution of the Fairness Doctrine, which required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and do same in an honest, equitable and balanced fashion. While it is likely this policy was not as necessary when the Nation was challenged by the Great Depression and WW2, as the Republic was largely more informed and galvanized, the operation of the rule took us through the Cold War and lent itself to the golden age of broadcast journalism with personalities like Murrow, Cronkite and Chancellor.
For good or ill, that all changed in 1987 when FCC Chair and Reagan campaign staffer Mark Fowler did a defacto repeal of the doctrine and its corollary “personal attack” and “political editorial” rules.
The Mouth That Roars
Enter Rush Hudson Limbaugh III, the highest rated talk-radio host in the US, who can be seen as holier and more helpful than Jesus or more destructive and dangerous than Bin Laden; opinions may vary. Indeed, the college dropout bumped along as your normal 5th rate local Top 40 DJ and some-time sports executive until replacing the lunatic Morton Downey Jr. on Sacremento’s KFBK in 1984 as political commentator to the Right.
Timing being everything, with the repeal of the above Fairness Doctrine in ’87, Limbaugh was syndicated and set loose as our National right-wing radio host in ’88 and has dominated the airwaves and minds of millions ever since; a 2008 Zogby International poll found him “the most trusted news personality in America.”
So moving back to our original context, and holding the most trusted “newsman” in America against my Four Favorite Principles of Liberty, Truth, Justice and Equality, let’s take a peek at how an unfettered Rush Limbaugh is contributing to our discourse. The truth detector himself has uttered the following quotes, including but not limited to: “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”; “The NAACP should have a riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies”; “Look, the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it”; (to an African American female caller on-air) “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”
He has most recently taken to referring to the First Lady as “Moochelle” in apparent reference to his opinion of her dress size, and has routinely featured on his program the satirical song “Barak, the Magic Negro” in honor of the 44th President of the United States.
Now, if you’re still with us, but think Lincoln may have been dead wrong about slavery and/or you have no problem with racism as “entertainment,” what about flat out flooding the airwaves with lies? While the thousands of untruths broadcast on the EIB are too myriad to fit anywhere, they include: health care reform is Armageddon; the 911 Commission confirms Iraq is to blame; AIDS has not infected the heterosexual community; cigarettes are safe and non-addictive; banks take all the risks on student loans; women in America were doing quite well before feminism; there are more Amer-Indians alive today than in 1492; Obama is killing Christians on behalf of Muslims; the Justice Department now refuses to prosecute black on white crime.
What’s the Big Deal?
When confronted with the above, verifiable and objective record on his journalistic integrity, Limbaugh supporters are quick to defend on grounds of mistake, culture war casualty, entertainment value or indifference. However, I’m sure if one’s children spent even a week being bombarded with fake facts they then brought home from school, the principal’s phones would light up.
Now, rather than one student and one week, take a rotating average of 20 million listeners and sit them in Rush’s class for 25-plus years, and what might you have? You might have NASCAR fans emboldened to boo dignitaries, Congressmen emboldened to scream “you lie!” at the POTUS on the floor of the House, and a Congresswoman shot in the head. You might have a deadlocked Congress, a GOP favoring party over patriotism, and a handful of old rich white men keeping millions of Americans out of work to put one black man out of a job.
The solution? A reinvigorated Fairness Doctrine and a private marketplace unafraid to put integrity before profit when sponsoring radio programs. Or we will continue the denigration of discourse wherein “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it” and “the receptive power of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble.’” Goebbels said that first bit, and Hitler the second.
And that’s a fact.