When Limbaugh Demonizes Obama, Some Listeners Take Him Literally

Rush Limbaugh (10/18/10), holding a photo montage from Drudge up to the “Dittocam,” went off on a bizarre rant that suggested that Obama was possessed by supernatural evil (Mediaite, 10/19/10):

Folks, these pictures, they look demonic. And I don’t say this lightly. There are a couple pictures, and the eyes, I’m not saying anything here, but just look. It is strange that these pictures would be released…. It’s very, very, very strange. An American president has never had facial expressions like this. At least we’ve never seen photos of an American president with facial expressions like this.

It’s not the first time that Limbaugh has literally demonized a Democratic politician; in 2001 (FAIR Press Release, 11/22/02), he gave Senate majority leader Tom Daschle the nickname “El Diablo,” going on at length (7/20/01) about his diabolical tendencies: “How many different versions of Satan, the devil, have you seen in your life?… We’ve seen the comic devil of TV shows. We’ve even seen the smooth, tempting devil in Hollywood movies. Is Tom Daschle simply another way to portray a devil?”

When Daschle complained that after such attacks, “the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically, on our families and on us, in a way that’s very disconcerting,” Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz (WashingtonPost.com, 11/21/02) stuck up for Limbaugh, saying, “Sure, he aggressively pokes fun at Democrats and lionizes Republicans, but mainly about policy.”

In 2010, it’s hard to deny that hate-filled rhetoric can move unstable individuals to violence–though Limbaugh seems to be playing catch-up here with his rival on the right, Glenn Beck. Both hosts know full well that there’s a large segment of their audience for whom demons and devils are not Halloween costumes but all too real supernatural threats.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.