CNN Rushes Rush*
I probably should listen to Rush Limbaugh, but I don't. The way I figure it, I did my time while researching my book Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.
But every so often, Rush is back in the news. Last year, you may remember, Rush was considered for the color-commentator spot on Monday Night Football, so I wrote a short piece for this publication ["Block That Rush!" June 19, 2000]. Even though I hadn't listened to Rush in years, I went out on a limb and said I thought it would be a mistake for ABC to hire him.
Well, recently it was announced that CNN has started discussions with Rush, and The Nation has asked me to comment. So, to be fair to Rush, while driving down to North Carolina on vacation with my family, I turned on the radio and gave Rush a listen.
Rush was scoffing at concerns that the schools of sharks gathering off the coast of Florida might be an indication of some harmful ecological change. He insisted that the sharks were gathering close to shore because the federal government had been discouraging the killing of sharks, and so they were no longer "intimidated" and were simply going to "the food," meaning us human beings. "It's just common sense!" Rush bellowed. This is plain dumb on so many levels that I'm not going to go into it. But it's a little like saying that the reason people from New Guinea are making more trips to New York is to be near the Rockefellers, because they ate Michael Rockefeller in the late 1960s.
The point of Rush's spew was to pooh-pooh global warming, which Rush has insisted for years does not exist. And even if it did, it wouldn't be a big deal. In 1992, he told his audience, "Even if the polar icecaps melted, there would be no rise in ocean levels.... After all, if you take a glass of water with ice cubes in it, as the ice melts, it simply turns to liquid and the water level in the glass remains the same." It's just common sense! Except that Antarctica is not an ice cube. It's a continent.
In some quarters it is thought that CNN went to Limbaugh as a response to the (ridiculous) charge that the network is liberally biased. Rush himself has called CNN the "Clinton Network News"--I guess because during the whole Monica thing, CNN only went with it twenty-three hours a day.
The fact is that CNN has been losing viewers to the Fox News Channel, which purports to be "fair and balanced." That's why I was a little surprised to hear from Rush that Tony Snow, host of Fox News Sunday, would be substituting for him the next day. What an odd thing for a fair and balanced journalist to do. Of course, Snow, like Fox, is shamelessly conservative. Here's his column from September 2000, describing the Gore prescription drug program: "Gore is fighting to make working families fill out forms and stand in long lines so they can battle over scraps of 'targeted' help he proposes to give." In fact, Gore's prescription drug program worked like this: You go to your doctor, he prescribes your drugs, you pick them up at your pharmacy and Medicare pays half until a certain threshold, after which Medicare pays in full.
Don't let idiots get away with saying there's a liberal bias in the media. Take the presidential election. When Gore made a mistake, the press was all over him. Remember when he said that his mother-in-law pays three times as much for her arthritis medicine as the Gores pay for the same medicine for their dog? And it turned out that it was only 2.1 times as much? The media jumped on the guy. (Ironically, Gore could have used much more dramatic numbers: His mother-in-law pays six times as much for her flea-and-tick collar.) But in the second debate, Bush said, "By far, the vast majority of my tax cut goes to those at the bottom." (Actually, only 13 percent of his proposed tax cut went to the bottom 60 percent.) Did the press say anything? No. Why? Because their attitude was, shrug, "He doesn't know."
So, I'm hoping that CNN, which I think at least attempts to be unbiased, is after Rush for purely crass reasons: ratings. There are no guarantees, though. Rush's one real failure was his TV show, which may be because TV is a visual medium, and at that time Rush was morbidly obese. Since my book came out, Rush has lost more than a hundred pounds. I saved the man's life. And he's never thanked me.
* About the title: We thought it was a clever play on words. As you know, The Nation is America's oldest political weekly, and we came up with the idea of using clever plays on words as titles for articles. And you, our readers, are the beneficiaries.