Whether you loved, hated or were completely indifferent about right-wing radio giant Rush Limbaugh, there is no denying he substantially impacted the media and political landscape of this country.
And not in a positive way. Before you say, “I bet you never listened to his show,” save your money. I’m a multi-viewpoint consumer. There are about two of us left in America — me and some lady named Gladys from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, I think.
Limbaugh said racist things — on multiple occasions. He mocked people with disabilities and AIDS. He convinced the wealthy that the poor had it too easy. He convinced straight white Christian men that they were the most oppressed people in America. He was a kingmaker in Republican politics, and he was one of the people most responsible for the Trumpenstein monster that is now terrorizing the GOP’s quiet little village, forcing folks like Mitch McConnell and Ben Sasse to scramble for their pitchforks.
Sorry, fellas — it’s too late for that.
For such efforts, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But the worst thing he did to America was to usher in the age of perpetual punditry, particularly in national broadcast “journalism.” Some have oversimplified it to say that without Rush, there would have been no Fox News — or today’s Newsmax and OANN for those who consider Fox News a little too lefty. But CNN and MSNBC also have been afflicted by the perpetual punditry problem. In fact, I’d say that CNN should get as much credit for Trump’s 2016 victory as does Rush because they could not stop talking about him. Heck, they still can’t.
The major cable “news” networks’ current concept of reporting news is actually to pontificate about what the news means. And when they’re done pontificating, they bring in predictable pundits to back them up or one opposing punching bag of thought to interrupt constantly. They then lather, rinse, repeat every hour. At least we’ve got Headline News to keep us updated on the many things actually happening in the world. No, wait. Never mind, that’s now “Forensic Files” and “Forensic Files” followed by more “Forensic Files.” I guess that’s easier than creating a news program called “Never Mind, We Give Up.”
Limbaugh’s springboard to fame was the FCC’s 1987 rescinding of the Fairness Doctrine, which had required broadcasters to give air time to conflicting viewpoints about controversial issues of public importance. I don’t like the idea of the government telling a station what they can and can’t say, but it’s undeniable that Limbaugh’s one-sided commentary style was perfectly timed. He rocketed to national prominence when the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. His approach was simple — the conservative view is always right, I’m always right, and if you “ditto” me you’ll be on the right side, too. His skills on the microphone were undeniable. He could make the ridiculous sound plausible. He could make wrong seem right.
Unless you are a critical thinker, that is.
Limbaugh also ushered in the “pick a side” bubble thinking of today. The vast majority of people get their information or disinformation from one side or the other. They revolt when their preconceived notions are challenged by the other side. I like to hear both sides of every issue, even if one turns out to be wrong. If your ideas are strong, they can withstand — and perhaps even be improved by — hearing an opposing argument. And if you’re are a liberal or conservative who truly hears out the other side and never thinks, “Well, that’s actually a good point,” then you’re either not listening or your ability to reason is willfully constricted.
Limbaugh’s harmful commentaries shall be fleeting. But his legacy of perpetual punditry in broadcast journalism and bubble-thinking among the American people will be long lasting.
For those things alone, he left us worse off.