With a killer hurricane approaching fast, the right-wing provocateur chose to bash TV stations for their weather coverage and suggest to his listeners that the threat of Irma was being overblown. This was right before he fled his Florida studio. You would think the man never sat in front of a live microphone before.
Broadcasters in South Florida are doing what they always do when their communities are threatened by deadly storms. They are getting out the word, warning the public to hunker down or, better yet, get out of town.
Well, not all broadcasters in South Florida. There’s Rush Limbaugh and the mindless radio stations that broadcast his show.
On Tuesday, in a segment that has generated considerable blowback, the Great Bloviator, who broadcasts from Palm Beach, Fla., went on the air to suggest that televised hurricane warnings are fake news cooked up by TV stations and local retailers to panic the populace and sell more bottled water and batteries.
It’s another one of those conspiracy, Limbaugh said. “So, the media benefits with the panic with increased eyeballs, and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they’re getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers.”
You can listen to the entire segment or read the transcript on Media Matters, one of Limbaugh’s many critics.
True, newsrooms tend to hype up approaching storms with over-the-top graphics and breathless copy. Many a blizzard here in New York has failed to materialize.
But on Tuesday there was no danger of anyone overstating the danger of Irma.
Limbaugh went into his rant the day after the governor of the Florida, Rick Scott, declared a state-wide state of emergency, calling Irma a “major and life-threatening storm.”
And that, as every broadcaster other than perhaps Alex Jones knows, is the simple message that Limbaugh should have relayed to his listeners on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Instead, Limbaugh doubled down. On Wednesday, he opted for double talk. First, he said that the “the situation here in south Florida is dire,” then he went into a big rap about the unpredictability of hurricane tracks and how the experts really don‘t know where the thing will end up by week’s end.
At one point, he said “they claim” Irma has 175-mile-per-hour winds as it approaches St. Thomas. What? Was he implying that the National Weather Service may be exaggerating the power of the storm?
It’s the kind of talk that confuses people when there should be no confusion. When the storm is at the door, people need to take immediate action to protect their property and lives.
On the Wednesday broadcast, Limbaugh also repeated that TV stations’ principal interest in weather coverage is driving ratings and sales for advertisers — of shovels and chains now (can’t forget about his listeners in the North) as well as batteries and water. “It’s always been money,” he says. “It will always be money.”
What an idiot. This all comes just one week after TV broadcasters like Graham and Tegna blew out their entire commercial load for the better part of a week to cover the devastating flooding in the wake of Harvey. Others will do the same this week.
Limbaugh spewed more of this kind of nonsense on Thursday. He’s just like our president. He can’t admit he screwed up and then shut up about it. He portrays himself as a victim of the liberal media that mischaracterizes all he says. Once again, he whined, he’s “being slimed and smeared with fake news coverage.”
All this was prelude to his big announcement on Thursday — that he was evacuating his Florida studio because of the storm, but would return to the airwaves next week “from parts unknown.” Mark Steyn sat in for him today.
It seems that Limbaugh can accept a scientific fact if it’s wider than Florida and possessing enough wind and water to decimate the entire state.
As Limbaugh now realizes, Irma is a killer.
It’s going to be a tough week in Florida and possibly in Georgia and South Carolina. How tough, we don’t know. But the folks in those states should prepare for the worst.
Limbaugh has demonstrated that he cannot be trusted with a microphone when a natural disaster looms. He failed as a broadcaster. He choked in the clutch and then ran for cover.
My advice for all his radio outlets without newsrooms in the path of Irma is to preempt his show next week and simulcast the storm coverage of the nearest network affiliated TV station where grown-up, gutsy broadcasters still work. You just may save a life or two.
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My condolences to the family of Tom Draper, who died Thursday after a pickup truck struck the bicycle he was riding near his home in Delaware the day before.
I did not know him well, but I’ve admired him and what he represented, the broadcaster who is actually of the community he serves. It’s the ideal, but a rarity is today’s corporate and consolidated industry.
He had just the one TV station, CBS affiliate WBOC Salisbury, Md., but it dominated the market through his personal nurturing of it.
“I’m absolutely involved in the marketplace as are all the people who work here,” Draper told me for a 2002 column I wrote about him when I was editor of B&C. “It’s really old-time broadcasting.”
The headline for that column summed it up perfectly: “The Joy of Broadcasting: Tom Draper Lives His Dream — and the FCC’s.”