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Hanging Medal On Limbaugh, Trump Honors Overt Hate Speech

Rush Limbaugh is a demagogue, an incendiary and malevolent media figure who traffics in the worst of racism and misogyny, coarsens the civic discourse and mainstreams baseless conspiracy theories. Borrowing the playbook of a 1930s Catholic priest whose radio show reveled in anti-Semitism and fascism, Limbaugh is the Father Coughlin of our age. His radio show is vile.

On Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which had previously been reserved for people whose lives and work lifted the nation — people such as Rosa Parks, Jonas Salk and Walter Cronkite. By awarding it to Limbaugh, the president has saluted a bigot and enshrined his ideology as a national treasure.

Many political scientists and news media pundits would still like to believe that the Trump presidency rests largely on economic upheaval, on the sense of dislocation and alienation in working-class regions that have seen well-paying jobs lost to globalization and automation. And there is, no doubt, a despair in those regions that can be traced to the loss of financial security. But those workers are too easily persuaded that their plight is the fault of Mexicans and Muslims, that their jobs went to unqualified black or brown laborers.

And Limbaugh is their media hero, a man whose decades on the radio moved his dedicated followers to call themselves “Dittoheads.” And what inspired commentary sends them into such rapturous agreement? Here’s one Limbaugh nugget: “I think it’s time to get rid of this whole National Basketball Association. Call it the TBA, the Thug Basketball Association, and stop calling them teams. Call ’em gangs.” Here’s another: “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”

The presidency of Barack Obama sent Limbaugh into reactionary overdrive; he was a committed birther, and he derided any Obama policy that expanded government benefits — even when most of the beneficiaries were white — as “reparations.” In one rant during Obama’s first term, Limbaugh claimed that Obama’s presidency represented the opportunity for people of color to “use their power as a means of retribution. That’s what Obama’s about. … He’s angry, he’s gon’ cut this country down to size, he’s gon’ make it pay for … its mistreatment of minorities.”

Limbaugh also has full reservoirs of misogyny with which to drench women who dare seek equal treatment under the law. When a Georgetown University student named Sandra Fluke testified before Congress, seeking to have health insurance cover contraceptives, Limbaugh went on a vicious tear, denouncing her as a “slut” and a “prostitute.” He made the term “feminazi” a mainstream slur describing any woman who believes that she should have full citizenship. “Feminism,” he once declared, “was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.”

To round out his repertoire of abhorrent and baseless attacks, he once mocked the actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, on the air, accusing him of exaggerating his symptoms. Fox had made a political ad in support of stem cell research, which scientists said might lead to a cure for Parkinson’s, and viewers could see his pronounced tremors. “He is moving all around and shaking, and it’s purely an act,” Limbaugh insisted.

Of course, all that bigotry and bullying made him the perfect recipient of an award from Trump, who has channeled the same base impulses to power his way to the presidency. Indeed, Limbaugh helped pave the way for Trump. The talk radio meister made insults, cheap provocations and racist assaults on people of color commonplace — even entertaining — for a certain voting bloc. They were ready to welcome the bombastic reality TV host.

When Trump entered the political arena as a birther — insisting that Obama was not born in the United States and was therefore illegitimate — his base was already primed for it. When Trump was caught on audio tape bragging that he had sexually assaulted women, Limbaugh had already laid the groundwork for a presidency dismissive of common decency.

By awarding Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Trump has not succeeded in cheapening the award. Its distinctions will endure. But he has elevated Limbaugh’s racism, misogyny and free-floating malevolence, enshrining them as centerpieces of his presidency.

CNN Snubbed: Why The Press Is An Easy Target For White House Bullying

Reprinted with permission from PressRun

If journalists won’t stand up for themselves, how are we supposed to stand up for them in the age of Trump?

That question comes up regularly when he lashes out against the press and takes authoritarian steps, like blocking access for specific news outlets, only to have other news organizations sit on their hands and do nothing as they watch the bullying unfold.

That’s what happened on Tuesday, when Trump blocked CNN anchors from attending the traditional, off-the-record White House lunch on the day of the State of the Union. No reason was given for the public slight, an unthinkable act of media aggression had it been done by any previous administration. But instead of taking collective action and standing alongside CNN and boycotting the lunch, network TV anchors gladly filed into the White House in search of access.

Keep in mind this week in London, when the newly elected conservative government under Boris Johnson banned certain reporters from a briefing at No. 10 Downing Street, journalists marched out in protest. Yet it’s been three years since Trump’s team has been randomly punishing reporters by banning them, and nobody in the Beltway has walked out of anything. Instead, we’ve seen occasional letters of protest meekly typed up and delivered to the White House door.

Trump’s lashing out at CNN comes just days after the State Department banned National Public Radio from accompanying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a trip after an NPR reporter had the temerity to ask Pompeo some straight-forward, obvious question about the impeachment scandal during a recent interview. After the Q&A, a furious Pompeo yelled and cursed at the reporter. Then the NPR ban was put in place.

On Monday night, a Bloomberg News reporter was asked to leave a Trump campaign event in Iowa. That same night, reporters from BuzzFeed were also kicked out of a Trump event. No reason was given. It all constitutes a historic, incremental effort by the Trump administration to lock out the news media—and, by extension, the public—from the government’s official duties and business.

Yet news outlets do nothing in response.

In some cases these are extraordinary large and powerful companies — CNN banks one billion dollars in profits each year — with lots of leverage at their disposal. But they just keep taking punch after punch, pretending they have no options.

This remains one of the media’s defining failures under Trump, and it’s easily one of the most distressing. Categorically refusing to stand up to a political bully, news outlets have instead opted to try to play a doomed game of let’s-get-along with Trump, who proudly labels journalists the “enemy of the people.” Rather than taking collective action and flexing their muscle by sending a clear message that the bullying and intimidation won’t work, major news organizations have backed down over and over, to the point where Trump clearly understands there will be no resistance, and he’ll pay no penalty for pushing journalists around.

The pre-SOTU lunch represented a perfect example of how news organizations could have joined forces and said, ‘If CNN’s not invited we’re not showing up.’ And Trump, who lives off media attention, would have been left with a deserted media round-table lunch.  Instead, the networks all sent their anchors to the White House so they could act as extras for Trump’s latest performance.

For years, the SOTU lunch has been something of a White House charade that passes as tradition. There’s no intrinsic news value in sitting for an off-the-record lunch with the president while he previews his State of the Union. That’s been true for decades. There’s absolutely no reason so sit like potted plants through an off-the-record lunch with Trump who’s known to be a committed liar. Instead, the Tuesday event was about protocol, and TV networks pretending that not much has really changed in American politics since Trump took office three years ago.

It was also about access, of course. The proximity to power, which is how many among the Beltway media elite judge their success and preeminence. Once they obtain that access to the highest levels of the White House, there’s nothing that will make them give it up.

Last winter, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger accompanied reporters to a White House interview with Trump in order to press his case that the president’s anti-journalism rhetoric was dangerous. But the opportunity was a wasted one when Sulzberger toothlessly objected to claims of “fake news,” and Trump pretended not to know his words were having consequences.

If today’s editors and producers in positions of power don’t want to stand up to Trump’s bullying, can they hand over the reins of powers to somebody who will?

P.S. Hours after CNN was blocked from attending Trump’s State of the Union lunch, CNN announced that his State of the Union speech was “dazzling.”

Bullying works.


Limbaugh’s Bigotry Set Stage For Trump’s Republican Takeover

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

I have sympathy for Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio host who announced this week that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, and wish him a speedy recovery. Cancer is a brutal scourge that has claimed members of the Media Matters family in recent years, and no one deserves the suffering this disease and its treatment inflict.

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.

#EndorseThis: Putin Responds To The State Of The Union

Delivered in the U.S. Capitol, the State of the Union address is seen around the world — and perhaps nowhere with greater glee these days than in the Kremlin. Can you imagine what was on the mind of Trump fan Vladimir Putin as he heard the American president speak?

The Late Show writers bring us the Putin response. Click for laughs.