Monday, July 07, 2008


VDH after reading the Rush Limbaugh cover story in The New York Times Magazine:

[Limbaugh] is not impressed by the Columbia School of Journalism types who, for all their degrees, write so many silly and untrue things for Newsweek or the New York Times. And he doesn’t think being a CBS or NBC anchor is de facto proof of any Edward R. Murrow gravitas.

Er, not exactly. This is from the story itself:

In 1988, Limbaugh moved to New York and took his show national. He came to the city with the usual make-it-there, make-it-anywhere expectations. The show, carried locally on WABC-AM, was a national hit. But socially, he flopped.

"I assumed there was a fraternity of broadcasting guys in New York," he told me. "I thought my success would launch me into a circle of accomplished people. Look, I admired these people. Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather -- people watched these guys. I thought they would welcome me as one of them. I was wrong."



Apart from that and a couple of other fleeting passages, however, the story was -- as RedState put it -- a "puff piece." Limbaugh himself calls it "a nice piece."

And we shouldn't be surprised. Limbaugh's no idiot, after all, so he fed the writer of the piece, Zev Chafets, his undiluted myth of himself, and Chafets swallowed it whole, and regurgitated exactly what he was fed.

Limbaugh is skilled at what he does. I'm not defending him morally; I'm just saying it takes certain skills to be the #1 mountebank of your generation, and he's got those skills. His ideas are wrong, but they're not stupid wrong; his belief system is internally consistent and he knows how the news of the day fits into it. He's mixes cornball and mean-spiritedness in a way that, to a lot of people, seems convivial and jolly and entertaining and edifying. He's a lot better than Kanye West or most pro wrestlers at fake-but-not-really-fake bombastic egomania. It's a clever package.

Chafets clearly went into the story underestimating Limbaugh, found him a larger, more significant figure than he expected, then wrote that up.

The thing is, Limbaugh is good, but he's not that good; a great deal of his success comes from the fact that he gets treated this way -- i.e., as a marginal figure -- so he turns that to his advantage, persuading his audience that they're consuming a product that comes from well off the beaten path, something the powers that be consider dangerous and illicit, which makes listeners feel they're part of some daringly countercultural movement. If big-league media and political types actually took Limbaugh seriously -- if they covered him regularly and picked apart his arguments and generally demystified him -- he'd shrink in stature. But no elitist ever listens to him or even reads transcripts of his broadcasts; no one knows what his philosophy is or his shtick is. So he thrives on being underestimated, year in and year out.

Chafets clearly didn't know anything about Limbaugh going in. He showed little interest in the content of the show and barely engaged Limbaugh on politics; he was much more interested in Limbaugh's wealth and home furnishings, and in the fact that Limbaugh is an elusive "get" -- in fact, the peg of Chafets's story was his own success, as a mainstream journalist, in getting Limbaugh to agree to an interview.

Thus, Limbaugh played Chafets for a sucker. Chafets traveled to the strange land known as Florida, far outside the centers of the media universe, and found that people don't walk on their knuckles there, and one man in particular has money and fancy cars and goes to restaurants where he tips generously and everyone loves him. And Chafets came away impressed. So now Limbaugh can say he impressed the fancy-schmancy guy from the MSM. Which is exactly what happened.

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