Revenge of the Liberal Media

     "Limbaugh's long-running act as a paragon of virtue 
is over," crows Evan Thomas in NEWSWEEK. The magazine 
devotes its October 20 cover story to a snide portrait of 
the talk-radio superstar, who has been illegally buying 
prescription painkillers and publicly confessed his 

     Its columnist Jonathan Alter also chimes in, 
predicting that Limbaugh will receive "the compassion he 
routinely denies to other people" and hoping he'll now 
offer "a more tolerant and less vitriolic message."

     Say what you will, over the past decade or so Rush 
Limbaugh has had a truly remarkable impact on American 
public life. He has totally shattered the old liberal 
media monopoly. Even conservatives (like me) who now find 
him disappointing are judging him by standards he himself 
has done so much to change. He has come to seem routine, 
almost conventional; but not so long ago liberals were 
portraying him as sinister, dangerous, possibly 

     Since Limbaugh is far too familiar and genial to 
paint the swastika on, Thomas and his team of crack 
investigative reporters are now showing him as a shy, 
overweight, pathetic loser, and near-recluse, from high 
school onward. We learn that he never finished college, 
and is "a childless, twice-divorced, thrice-married 
schlub." We are even told that (unnamed) women who have 
dated him complained that he "talked about himself and 
didn't seem interested in them at all," the brute!

     No stone is left unturned, or unthrown: "He was not 
much of a success as a disc jockey, either." His father 
urged him to become a lawyer and tried to dissuade him 
from pursuing a career in radio; after phone calls from 
him, Limbaugh would be "depressed and deflated." He also 
"smoked a little pot and watched a little porn."

     I have my own reservations about Limbaugh, but I 
could never wish this on him: an ugly dose of liberal 
tolerance. I think his jocose boasting is tiresome, but 
after all, it's a joke. He has never posed as "a paragon 
of virtue." He argues for more-or-less conservative 
public standards without pretending to exemplify them.

     As John O'Sullivan has put it, "The defense of 
virtue must not be left to the virtuous." There aren't 
enough of them. Some of the best people in the world are 
inarticulate, and they need the support of those who, 
though imperfect, have the polemical skills to make the 
case for God's law in the public forum.

     The liberal charges of hypocrisy against Limbaugh 
are totally false, as were those against Limbaugh's pal 
William Bennett when he turned out to be a serious 
gambler. Bennett's fabulously successful book THE BOOK OF 
VIRTUES was a collection of aspirations, not a claim of 
sanctity. The truth is that liberals in the media have 
been yearning to destroy these prominent conservatives, 
and now they think they finally see their chance.

     No doubt Limbaugh, like Bennett, will be chastened 
by the experience, but, like Bennett, he is taking his 
embarrassment like a man. Most of us don't have to pay 
for our faults in the public eye, thank Heaven.

     I love the story related by the French 
writer-statesman Andre Malraux. Malraux once asked an 
old priest what he'd learned about human nature from 
listening to thousands of people's darkest secrets in 
the confessional.

     The priest was naturally reluctant to answer. 
Malraux stressed that he wasn't asking him to violate the 
seal of the confessional, merely seeking generalizations. 
Finally, the priest said he'd learned two basic things. 
First, people are more unhappy than they seem. Second, 
nobody ever really grows up.

     To me that's a priceless observation. This is a 
world of children trying to act like adults. Now and then 
we get a glimpse of the real child behind the grownup 
facade. You can take a malicious glee in what you see; or 
you can say, "There but for the grace of God go I." 
Liberals are now gloating like little brats at Limbaugh's 

     Limbaugh is actually proving he's the opposite of a 
hypocrite. He's following his own advice, which is to 
take your medicine without blaming others for your fate. 
He doesn't deny people compassion; he just refuses to 
equate compassion with government programs. The liberals' 
great hypocrisy is to claim a monopoly of compassion for 
referring all social problems to the state. Talk about 
posing as paragons of virtue!

     So part of Limbaugh's punishment is an ordeal by 
slander. It's not even as if he were smoking pot or 
taking "recreational" drugs. Like many other people, he 
got addicted to painkillers after surgery. How much he is 
to blame for this, only God knows; but NEWSWEEK is ready, 
willing, and eager to assume the worst. Liberal 
tolerance! Liberal compassion! Take a good look.

Limbaugh and Buchanan

     In all my years of producing and suffering 
journalism, I've seldom seen such a hatchet job on a 
man's character. But one parallel comes to mind, from 
NEWSWEEK itself: Some years ago the magazine ran a 
similar story on Patrick Buchanan, labeling him a "bully" 
on its cover.

     This too was the precise opposite of the truth: I've 
never known anyone in public life who surpassed Buchanan 
in the courage to fight alone against all odds.

     But when you defy this herd, they feel bullied. The 
one virtue the Grand Confederation of Cowards will never 
honor is courage. It puts them to shame, and they must 
have their revenge on it.

     Limbaugh and Buchanan also have this in common: It's 
hard to imagine either of them kicking a man when he's 
down. As a friend of mine puts it, the men Limbaugh kicks 
are very much up. Judging by the kicking he's now getting 
in the media, the liberal attitude is very different.

     I almost hate to say it at just this moment, but 
Limbaugh's brand of conservatism strikes me as 
essentially timid. He plays it safe and stays well within 
the neoconservative guidelines for "respectable" 
conservatives. He's more a Republican apologist than a 
principled conservative. But, unlike his enemies (and 
even some of his allies), he's too decent to attack the 
weak. His foes rarely attack anyone else.

     NEWSWEEK inadvertently makes Limbaugh a sympathetic 
figure. It wasn't able to dredge up anything shocking. 
Instead, it found a rather sad, shy loner, discouraged by 
his own father, who dreamed of success in radio and was 
resilient enough to achieve it.

     Straining, however, to put the pretty tame facts in 
the worst light, the magazine only underlines the 
magnitude of Limbaugh's achievement and its own 
irrational hatred of anyone who looks like a 

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                                        --- Joseph Sobran


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