In Defense of Rush … And Others Before Him

We've always had terrible examples to defend. And Rush Limbaugh has given us another stellar specimen of vulgar discourse. But defend it we must. Not the hateful, demeaning and discomfiting words. But the right of our colleague — the social commentator — to be heard.  And the right of the people to decide.

Howard Stern … Don Imus … Opie and Anthony … Lisa Lampanelli … Chris Rock … George Lopez … Kathy Griffin … Bill Maher … Roseanne Barr … Sarah Silverman … and George Carlin, of sainted memory. 

We’ve always had terrible examples to defend. And Rush Limbaugh has given us another stellar specimen of vulgar discourse. But defend it we must. 

Not the hateful, demeaning and discomfiting words. But the right of our colleague — the social commentator — to be heard.  And the right of the people to decide.

Rush misfired. But he should not be fired or denied his podium.  

Here’s a baseball analogy. Suppose you had a pitcher with remarkable stamina who, during the course of a long career threw some 8,000 innings.  Many of his pitches will miss the strike zone. A few may even hit the poor batter. And during those 8,000 innings spanning some 20 or 30 seasons, he may even bean the damn umpire! But he’s still a great pitcher. 

Rush Limbaugh forgot that the young woman from Georgetown — no shrinking violet she, who bemoaned the fact, for all the world to hear, that contraception costs some $1,300 annually — was someone’s daughter.


Her candid and sincere congressional testimony thus provoked Limbaugh’s unfortunate, regrettable and completely inappropriate attack that was all too personal and mean-spirited. 

Rush Limbaugh is a performer, an entertainer, a provocateur, a social commentator and, in his worst moments, a carnival barker for the hard right.  But the sanctimonious holier-than-thou campaign to destroy and silence him has an agenda that transcends the hurt feelings of one individual.

Phil Reisman, the brilliant and astute Gannett feature columnist, says it’s entirely appropriate to remind Rush that chivalry, respectful discourse and gentlemanly behavior still matter. And I would sign up for that.

To be sure, in this whole dreary matter we’re confronted by a civility issue which is valid, necessary and altogether appropriate. But the mission of the liberal sharks like Ed Shultz and other windbags who smell blood in the water, is not to address the wrong, but to drive Limbaugh off the air.

In other words, when you separate the civility, or lack thereof, from the politics, it’s all too clear that Limbaugh’s enemies are using this contretemps as a weapon to knock him off his platform — permanently. 

It drives them — and us — crazy that Limbaugh represents a significant chunk of the Republican Party.  So, as Rockefeller Republicans, he’s not at all our cup of tea. Over the years I’ve listened only very occasionally to his ranting and raving since the great Ed McLaughlin plucked Limbaugh from an obscure broadcasting station in Sacramento, Calif., and gave him a national podium. 

Truth to tell, if my friends at the New York Post had not already dubbed Alec Baldwin “The Bloviator,” I would suggest that appellation might be more appropriately applied to Mr. Limbaugh. 

Like I said, Rush misfired. And like that pitcher, he may have hit the poor umpire this time or some poor bastard behind home plate. (Actually, he hit someone’s daughter!) But he should not be fired … even if the whole cannon of his work is filled with raucous vulgarity and incendiary right-wing rhetoric directed at immigrants, illegal aliens and even presidents of the United States.  

We broadcasters are ever alert to incursions against free speech from government bureaucrats. But censorship from corporate timidity in the face of economic boycotts is just as dangerous as the stifling of creative and artistic expression by government fiat, decree, sanction or regulation. 

You don’t have to be a First Amendment voluptuary to realize this is just as treacherous as any racism, sexism, bigotry or vulgarity. 

Let the SOB be heard. And trust only the people to censure him with a flick of the wrist and a changing of the dial. 

I’m uncomfortable as hell about it. But I’m with Limbaugh.

He makes his living with words.

William O’Shaughnessy is owner of WVOX-AM and WVIP-FM in New Rochelle, N.Y., and a longtime advocate of full First Amendment rights for broadcasters.O’Shaughnessy broadcast this commentary before distributing to the press.

Comments (8)

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Jay Miller says:

March 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm

What you saw last week was the left and Obamma’s, and make no mistake this is coming from the White House, recurring effort to silence talk radio from the right. It won’t happen and I am glad to see that Rush is more committed than ever upon his return this week. Can you imagine parading out a wack job traitor like Jane Fonda to carry your torch. What we have in the White house is perhaps the most unctuous group of people in the history of mankind, who all think we are really stupid.We’re not! Obama loses by >5 points in November and quite possibly a landslide.

Gene Johnson says:

March 14, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Let’s put aside Rush’s hateful, demeaning and distasteful words (not to mention defamatory and libelous). What I don’t see discussed is the gross ignorance Rush displayed with respect to contraception in general (e.g., just because a pill is taken daily does not mean someone is having sex every night), and his ignorance or distortion of the facts (Ms. Fluke’s testimony was largely about medicinal uses of contraception – that is, treatment of other health issues unrelated to birth control). While I find Rush’s opinion’s obnoxious, I don’t begrudge him his right to hold them or to speak them. But, that does not entitle him to his own facts. If we really ant a better informed public or electorate, we should hold our public speakers (and Rush is most certainly that) to some kind of standard when it comes to facts. Is someone who continually misstates, distorts or dissembles regarding factual matters really entitled to such a high profile soap box?

Then again, we don’t hold candidates too responsible for their misstatements and dissembling about factual matters, so I guess one could ask why Rush, or any other public speaker, should be held to a higher standard. But then, that may be why we have such a misinformed public about so many matters.

Jay Miller says:

March 14, 2012 at 4:34 pm

James V. There is some real estae in Iran you should consider buying! You are going to have a rude awakening in November!!!

Carl Schulman says:

March 14, 2012 at 5:14 pm

What I get tired of, from both the left and right, is people mistaking feedback for censorship. Rush made some asinine comments, he got called on it, and now his followers are whining about “censorship” and “stifling free speech”. This is how free speech works: you say something I think is stupid, I say you’re remarks are stupid, you tell me my analysis is moronic, I tell you to shut the hell up. Guess what? THAT’S NOT CENSORSHIP! IT’S DEBATE!! Maybe not on the order of Lincoln-Douglas, but nevertheless …

Carl Schulman says:

March 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm

By the same token, if Rush loses advertisers (and possibly his show) because of his content, how is that different than a TV network losing advertisers because of pressure from social conservative watchdog groups over sexual content? I know – when it’s Rush, it’s censorship, when it’s NYPD Blue, it’s protecting the children.

Gene Johnson says:

March 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Brilliant comment tjxx. We all shall see what November brings, but it certainly won’t stop people from holding their own opinions. It is, however, very dangerous for the continued health of a democracy when so many people in the electorate are so uninformed. Just one example: among those voting in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, a huge majority either believed President Obama is a Muslim (he’s not) or did not know if he’s a Christian (he is). Why is it that so many people can’t get that simple fact straight? And let’s not even go to the birth certificate allegations.

We all would be far better of if our opinions and political debates were based on facts, not falsehoods or mistaken beliefs about facts. It is entirely reasonable for people to come to different conclusions on various issues, but people are not entitled to their own facts (to paraphrase the late Senator/Professor Moynihan). it is the widespread dissemination of so much misinformation that is so dangerous, whether from the right or left.

Peter Grewar says:

March 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Free speech gives Rush Limbaugh the right to say pretty much whatever he wants to say. It also gives those who dislike him the right to say whatever they want — and that includes the right to go to his advertisers and stations and ask them to drop his program. Broadcasters, in turn, have the right to decide what will go over their stations — and, again, that includes the right to either choose or not choose to air any particular program. So, really, I don’t see why the need to “defend” anyone in this particular instance, since Rush Limbaugh’s rights of free speech certainly don’t trump those of the other parties involved (or vice versa). Let them all battle it at, and the chips can fall where they may — the First Amendment allows, and even encourages, this sort of conflict by keeping it between the various parties without government intervention.

Kerron Warrick says:

March 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm

No Way! Rush should be banned. Probably even jailed for heresy.

We all know that Obama is truth and light. Rush is essentially a return to the dark ages.

All hail Obama, our master!