Media Matters: Trump gives Rush Limbaugh The Medal of Freedom for career of hate
During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom to talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was given a special invitation to the speech in the wake of his recently announced diagnosis of lung cancer.
In doing so, Trump conferred one of the nation’s great civilian honors upon a man who has trafficked in hate and is responsible for some of the most vile degradations of the nation’s political discourse. Limbaugh’s history makes it all the more ironic that the medal and ribbon were conferred upon him on the spot by first lady Melania Trump, who heads up the purported “Be Best” initiative.
During a series of public appearances he called the “Rush to Excellence Tour,” from 1989 to 1991, Limbaugh joked about AIDS and suicide, among other subjects, and declared that “feminism was established so that unattractive ugly broads could have easy access to the mainstream.” Starting in the 1990s, he began referring to feminists as “feminazis,” and he’s also regularly referred to prominent women as “babes.” He also attempted to popularize a term, the “new castrati,” for “men with no guts who have just been bullied by women and the power structure and liberalism in general.”
On his short-lived TV show in the 1990s, Limbaugh compared 12-year-old presidential daughter Chelsea Clinton to a dog and sarcastically apologized for having previously called Amy Carter, daughter of President Jimmy Carter, “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.”
Limbaugh’s history of racist invective includes him saying, “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons” and dismissing the suffering of Native Americans by claiming, “‘Holocaust?’ Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what's to complain about?”
He has also frequently mocked human suffering, ranging from victims of natural disasters to those living in extreme poverty.
In October 2006, when actor Michael J. Fox recorded a series of political ads endorsing candidates in the midterm elections who supported stem cell research, Limbaugh mocked Fox’s physical shaking from Parkinson’s disease and accused him of “exaggerating the effects of the disease.” He continued: “He is moving all around and shaking. And it's purely an act. ... Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting, one of the two.” (Limbaugh revisited this topic just recently, saying that Democrats “go out and they find disabled people” like Fox or teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.)
Limbaugh also referred to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a “Hafrican American,” and played a mocking song called “Barack the Magic Negro.” Barely nine months in the Obama presidency, Limbaugh declared, “In Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the Black kids cheering.” In 2011, he accused then-first lady Michelle Obama of “uppity-ism,” and he also promoted a conspiracy theory that “race riots are part of the plan that this regime has.”
Indeed, there were many other conspiracy theories that Limbaugh has promoted in his career, including one about the death of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster. He also claimed that Obama might cancel the 2012 elections or that Obama was both an “African Colonial” or an anti-colonialist (both of which were bad). In 2018, he suggested that mass shootings in New Zealand might have been a false flag attack to smear conservatives. (On that subject, he also alleged, “The people that are shooting up schools more than likely vote Democrat when you get right down to it, if they vote.”) He also suggested that Al Qaeda may have given up Osama Bin Laden “for the express purpose of making Obama look good.”
Limbaugh bled advertisers after his sustained sexist attacks on then-law student Sandra Fluke in early 2012 who had testified before a congressional committee about the impact of new health care regulations on expanding contraception coverage.
In October 2016, in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape of Trump bragging back in 2005 about sexually assaulting women, Limbaugh came to the Republican nominee’s defense, declaring, “If the left ever senses and smells that there's no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police.”
In a truly dangerous act in September 2017, Limbaugh publicly dismissed the safety warnings from government officials about Hurricane Irma. “The reason that I am leery of forecasts this far out, folks, is because I see how the system works,” he said, going on to explain: “So there is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic.”
Limbaugh’s attacks against immigrant communities are prolific. In 2019 alone, he said that “the Democrat party has imported the third world into this country and they have not assimilated,” compared asylum-seekers coming to the U.S. border to the invasion of Normandy, and quipped that “maybe toilet water is a step up for” some migrants.
Oh, yeah, he was also a birther.
Media Matters: Rush Limbaugh's bigotry set the stage for Trump's takeover of the Republican Party
But Limbaugh received the Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump during Tuesday night’s State of the Union not because he shares a terrible disease with many Americans, or because of his admirable charity work, but as a reward for what he accomplished for the conservative movement and the Republican Party over his decades-long career.
The stunt was a diminution of an honor established by President John F. Kennedy for those “who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” It is nonetheless revealing that it was Trump who awarded Limbaugh the medal. You can draw a straight line between Limbaugh’s rise to prominence and his acceptance by the Republican establishment and the president’s own conquest of the party.
Limbaugh has had a virtually unmatched influence on Republican politics for the last 30 years, rising from obscurity to become a kingmaker who described himself as “the titular head” of the GOP. Speaking daily to an audience which grew to tens of millions, he converted listeners, often working-class whites who in the past might have been Democratic voters, into loyal “dittoheads” who spouted the platitudes of conservatism and supported Republicans. Party leaders -- from the previous three GOP presidents on down -- learned to praise and cater to him, while those who crossed him quickly reversed themselves.
All the while, from the dawn of his career into the present day, Limbaugh’s program has been fueled by unhinged vitriol against progressives, conspiracy theories, and bigotry -- at times winkingly transgressive, at times spittle-flecked with rage. It’s impossible to fully address in a single piece the incredible range of his depravity over the decades, from asking listeners in the early 1990s whether they had “ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson” to suggesting in 2018 that mail bombs sent to Democrats and CNN were a false flag. (Eric Kleefeld covered some of the highlights in his piece last night.) I’d also recommend reviews of Limbaugh’s diatribes about women and racial and ethnic minorities from the late Simon Maloy.
Limbaugh’s right-wing media colleagues responded to the firestorms his ugly commentary would unleash with excuses or rationalizations or silence. They may have agreed with him, or thought that his words had been misinterpreted. Or they might have considered that Limbaugh was too big to fail, too important to their movement to be successfully branded a bigot. Making common cause with bigotry was the price they paid for the converts Limbaugh brought them.
Limbaugh’s career shows that by relying on a toxic slurry of bigotry, conspiracy theories, smears, and right-wing talking points, you can win a massive audience of devoted fans who will shower you with lucre and hang on your every word. And it demonstrates that once you achieve a certain trajectory in conservative politics, you become effectively inured to the costs that disgusting remarks might otherwise bring. Once that standard was set in right-wing media, it was only a matter of time before a political entrepreneur tested the same mix in a national political context.
What strikes me the most as an observer of Limbaugh’s career over the past 12 years is his frequent jaw-dropping cruelty. He mocks the suffering of others and trains his audience not to sympathize with people different from themselves.
Imagine what it might feel like to be Sandra Fluke.
Imagine the pride you might feel as a law student testifying to members of Congress about how making birth-control pills more widely available could aid people like your friend, who takes the medication to prevent cysts from growing on her ovaries. Imagine that pride turning to ash when you hear that Limbaugh has responded to your testimony by lying to his national audience that you have essentially said you “must be paid for sex” and are thus a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Imagine trying to seize control of your life’s narrative as that middle-aged man tells his audience of millions over and over, day after day, that you “want to have all the sex you want all day long,” that you are “having so much sex” you “can’t pay for” contraception and need the government to pick up the tab. Imagine walking down the street and not knowing who had heard that about you. Imagine watching a political party and movement rise to that man's defense.
Imagine hearing, years later, that the president of the United States gave that man the nation’s highest civilian honor, before the assembled members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and other notables, with millions of people watching from home.
Limbaugh’s vile smears of Fluke -- again, not a major public figure but a law student who had given testimony to members of Congress -- cost him his advertisers, but not his audience or his support from Republican politicians or members of the conservative media. The defenses they offered at the time were instructive. Some said that he hadn’t said anything wrong because Fluke really was a “slut.” Others suggested that he had been taken out of context and unfairly targeted by the left, or questioned whether particular Limbaugh statements might have been intended as jokes. A handful, like Washington Post columnist George Will, said that Limbaugh had gone too far. But their voices were drowned out by a chorus more concerned with maintaining the Republican political power Limbaugh helped support.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Do the endless defenses from the right for the indefensible conduct of one of its most powerful members remind you of anything?
As the firestorm crescendoed and his advertisers abandoned him, Limbaugh tried to stop the bleeding. He offered what he called a “sincere apolog[y]” to Fluke -- but only for “two words,” calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” disappearing all his other smears of her character. That apology -- insufficient as it was -- was striking. Limbaugh’s usual practice was to deny comments he had said, falsely claim he had been taken out of context by the left, or laugh off criticism when his virulent remarks caught the attention of the press by arguing that he had engaged in a deliberate “media tweak.”
Have you seen this type of gaslighting before?
Conservatives of all stripes made their choice long ago. They tallied up the value Limbaugh brought to their movement, compared it to the social cost of his commentary, and decided that any tradeoff was worthwhile.
The staid, patrician President George H.W. Bush, famed for his handwritten thank-you notes, decided that the impact Limbaugh’s audience could have on his 1992 re-election bid outweighed his transgressions. He invited the radio host to stay at the White House, hosted him in the presidential box at the Republican convention, and took him on the campaign trail.
Twenty years later, Mitt Romney made the very same calculation with a different powerful yet bigoted figure. He accepted Trump’s endorsement at a heavily promoted event at his Las Vegas casino -- just months after Trump’s public descent into birtherism.
And so, when Trump himself became the party’s nominee four years later, is it any wonder that he was able to defeat Republican dissenters so easily? The trail had already been blazed for accepting a bigot who offered the party power, the permission structure assembled for looking the other way at the costs to seize hold of the benefits. Limbaugh himself was happy to lead the way. “If Donald Trump didn't exist and if the Republican Party actually does want to win someday, they'd have to invent him,” he said at one point, emphasizing the importance of obtaining power above all else.
Of course the president gave Limbaugh an award. None of this would have been possible without him.
Media, as usual, shows its pro-GOP lies bias;
Headlines about Rush Limbaugh's Medal of Freedom downplay his overwhelming history of bigotry
After President Donald Trump awarded radio host Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address, several mainstream media headlines downplayed Limbaugh’s extensive career of hate.
The radio career of Rush Limbaugh, who was recently diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, has been a never-ending parade of bigotry and hatred aimed at people who do not look or think like him. Americans who don’t listen to Limbaugh’s radio show may have been introduced to him when he repeatedly told his millions of devoted listeners that then-law student Sandra Fluke was a “slut” and a “prostitute” for defending birth control.
Before, during, and since the significant backlash to Limbaugh’s attacks against Fluke, the newest recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom has maintained a remarkable record of hatred. Limbaugh compared a then-12-year-old Chelsea Clinton to a dog, claimed actor Michael J. Fox was exaggerating the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease, attacked criticism of the Constitution for permitting slavery, defended his alleged right to say the n-word, and for years promoted an extremely racist song called “Barack The Magic Negro.”
Despite all this and more, headlines from USA Today and The Associated Press -- whose content is reprinted daily in thousands of news outlets all over the world -- erased Limbaugh’s decades-long record of hate. As Media Matters’ Parker Malloy has explained, the viral nature of headlines underscores how important it is that they convey as much relevant information as possible -- including, in this case, the fact that Trump’s honoree has been one of the most bigoted figures in political media for decades.
With its headline comparing Limbaugh to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, The Washington Post arguably suggested that the bigoted radio host is an outlier among Medal of Freedom recipients, as the article itself strongly suggests. However, the piece couches criticism of Limbaugh’s record in rhetoric of “critics say” and “has been accused of” instead of speaking the plain truth that Limbaugh is a public bigot and has been for decades.
Vox’s headline was one of the very few that didn’t mince words when reporting on Limbaugh: “One of America’s most prominent racists just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
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