Sunday, February 21, 2021


I don't have to tell you that Frank Bruni's column about Rush Limbaugh is terrible, but I'm struggling to understand precisely what he's arguing.
“BIGOT, MISOGYNIST, HOMOPHOBE, CRANK: RUSH LIMBAUGH DEAD.” Those were the words, capitalized and adrenalized, that HuffPost splashed across its home page. Several other left-leaning sites took the same tack and tone....

I ... don’t quibble with the accuracy of the nasty nouns in HuffPost’s damning litany. But were they necessary at that exact moment and in that particular context? All of them were justly and repeatedly slung at Limbaugh when he was alive. In real time his critics labeled his hate and his ignorance — which were his steppingstones to fame and riches — for what they were, exposing them and pushing back at him. That was just. He earned it. If you’re going to fling your opinions at the world, you must be braced for the world to fling its reaction back at you. Those are the terms of the contract.
So Bruni argues that it was fine to attack Limbaugh while he was alive, but it's wrong now, when he's dead. Why? Did the effect of Limbaugh's words cease when he died? If the resentments he stirred up will persist long after he's gone, why shouldn't we talk about him as if the cultural space he occupied is now a toxic waste site that will take many years to clean up?

But Bruni then suggests that that's not really his argument:
... it would be journalistic malpractice and morally wrong to publish obituaries about Limbaugh that merely noted his role in the rise of talk radio and his adoration by millions of listeners. Those appraisals were obliged, for the sake of history and accuracy, to note and be reasonably blunt about how he used his format, what listeners were thrilling to and what impact it had on the country’s political culture.

The Times’s obituary did precisely that....

The headline: “Rush Limbaugh Dies at 70; Turned Talk Radio Into a Right-Wing Attack Machine.” That nails his significance and signals his destructiveness without hurling slurs.
So it's slurs Bruni has a problem with. Notice what Bruni believes: that "bigot," "misogynist," and "homophobe" are slurs. In fact, they're simple nouns that are shown to be accurate by the obituary he praises (and by the undisputed facts of Limbaugh's life).

Bruni also praises another Times piece on Limbaugh:
Remember — who couldn’t? — when Trump cheapened the Presidential Medal of Freedom by bestowing it on Limbaugh? The best response that I read to that was, as it happens, in The Times, by my colleague Talmon Joseph Smith, who didn’t wring his hands and beat his chest and overwork his thesaurus for synonyms for “shameful,” “abomination” and such. He simply put together a greatest-hits compilation of some of Limbaugh’s least charitable statements about women and minorities, laying Limbaugh’s sexism and racism bare without ever affixing those labels to it.
Oooh -- labels! Labels are bad! They're the problem!

And why is that, according to Bruni?
... the nastier stuff that I saw ... accidentally reif[ied Limbaugh's] aspersions against liberals as merciless jurists.... If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Limbaugh was just flattered to a fare thee well. He got posthumous company in the gutter, and I’m hard pressed to identify anyone who benefits from that.
I'll tell you who benefits from that: anyone who's leftist, liberal, or even moderate while stuck in a Republican oupost of the American heartland, someplace full of Trump flags and Limbaugh listeners. When we lash out at Limbaugh, we tell people in that culture that there's another way of looking at the world, and that there are parts of America where that isn't the dominant worldview.

And with his reference to "merciless jurists," Bruni implies that Limbaugh's critics are his equals -- a man who golfed with President Trump, conducted seven interviews with Dick Cheney when he was vice president, was made an honorary member of the House Republican class of 1994 after the GOP gained a majority in the midterms, and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom when George H.W. Bush was president. Limbaugh was a very powerful man with very influential friends in the party that has dominated American politics for more than forty years. Attacking him, even now, is speaking truth to power.

Limbaugh was part of the power structure. He regularly punched down. (Ask Sandra Fluke.) He doesn't need protecting, even in death. Stop treating him like a special snowflake, Frank.

Frank Bruni is 56. Given the fact that a Times op-ed job tends to be a lifetime appointment, Bruni is likely to be a columnist at the paper when we lose Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. There will be very, very nasty responses on the right to all of these deaths.

Will Bruni write a horiified column about the nastiness? No, he won't. Right-wingers are expected to be nasty. We're the ones who supposed to maintain decorum.

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