Rush Limbaugh has tried to defend a few of the dozens of inaccuracies FAIR documented in "Limbaugh's Reign of Error" (Extra!, 7-8/94). Unfortunately, his responses to charges of inaccuracy were filled with the same sorts of inaccuracies that our original report documented.
Limbaugh's most extended response was made on his July 5 radio show, where he took issue with four of FAIR's 42 items. In a July 14 USA Today column, where he referred to us four separate times as a "far-left media attack-dog group," Limbaugh defended one other item and repeated his response to another. The other "charges will be refuted in due course," Limbaugh promised.
As Extra! went to press, here's all that Limbaugh had to say in defending his errors.
1. Congress vs. the United States
FAIR quoted Limbaugh from his TV show talking about the Gulf War: "Everybody in the world was aligned with the United States except who? The United States Congress." We pointed out that both houses of Congress had voted to authorize use of force in the Gulf.
Limbaugh singled this out on his radio show as "an example of what they've done in this report": "They claim that I said the only institutions who did not support George Bush in the Gulf War were the United States Congress, the United States House and Senate.... I did say that, and when I said it, it was true."
Good answer--except it's a lie. Limbaugh made the remark on April 18, 1994--more than three years after Congress voted to authorize force.
2. The World's Best Health Care
In his book See, I Told You So, Limbaugh issued this invitation: "If you have any doubts about the status of American health care, just compare it with that in other industrialized nations." When we compared the U.S. with other industrialized nations--life expectancy and infant mortality--we found that the U.S. ranked near the bottom on both counts.
Limbaugh felt this was unfair. "Those two areas, those stats have almost nothing to do with the quality of American medical care," he remarked. "All the stats reflect is the epidemic of low-birth weight babies born to teenage and drug-addicted mothers, as well as the large numbers of homicides in American cities and drug-related deaths."
The comment shows how little Limbaugh knows about health care. Infant mortality, far from having "almost nothing to do" with the quality of health care, is closely linked with the availability of prenatal care. The mortality rate for infants whose mothers received little or no prenatal care is almost 10 times that of mothers who received frequent prenatal care, according to figures from the National Center for Health Statistics.
And the Centers for Disease Control estimate that homicide lowers U.S. life expectancy by about three months--which would do almost nothing to improve our rank. (The CDC did not calculate the effects of "drug-related deaths, "but since illegal drugs kill far fewer people than homicide, they have even less impact on life expectancy.)
3. The Vanishing Forest Statistic
Limbaugh seemed irate that we corrected his claims about forest land. "Then they try to claim I'm wrong about the amount of acreage of forest land in this country," he said on his radio show. "They're wrong. I mean, I'm--we're in the process of researching it, all this, and it would take me from now 'til when the program's over to read some of this stuff. Here are the current facts. In 1952, the U.S. had 664 million acres of forest land; in 1987, the number had climbed to 731 million acres."
This is a good example of Limbaugh trying to change the subject when he knows he's wrong. Here's what he said on his Feb. 18, 1994 radio show: "Do you know we have more acreage of forest land in the United States today than we did at the time the Constitution was written?"
The Constitution was not written in 1952, but in 1789. "We have about two-thirds of the forest area we had then," Douglas MacCleery, a historian with the U.S. Forest Service, told FAIR.
4. Chelsea's White Guilt
Limbaugh tried to pass the buck on his claim that students at Chelsea Clinton's school had to write an essay called "Why I Feel Guilty Being White." It's a silly claim, given that 28 percent of the students at the school are not white. "My source for this story is CBS News," he had originally said. "I am not making this up."
In response to FAIR's report, Limbaugh said, "They say I'm wrong, it never happened, and that I made it up. But my quote was--my source was a CBS News fax, CBS News Service, that was sent to WABC radio in New York, which alerted me to this alleged incident. CBS cited Playboy magazine's February article, 'Unbearable Whiteness of Being,' and Playboy had cited Heterodoxy magazine, September of 1993."
He refined this explanation in his USA Today column, where he now described his source as "CBS Morning Resource, a wire service for radio talk shows run by CBS's radio networks." "Playboy, Heterodoxy, and CBS may well have been wrong," Limbaugh wrote, "but I quoted the story accurately and accurately cited my source."
But the source he had originally cited was CBS News--not CBS Morning Resource, an "infotainment" service. "CBS News never reported such a story," CBS News Vice President Larry Cooper wrote in a letter to USA Today(7/20/94). "Limbaugh's source was actually Playboy magazine. The story, crediting Playboy, was distributed to radio stations via the CBS Radio Morning Resource.... Morning Resource is not associated with CBS News."
Limbaugh reported a false claim and misidentified his source. But to hear Limbaugh tell it, quoting an inaccurate source somehow means that you are accurate. What it really means is that you failed to check out your source.
Heterodoxy, a right-wing tabloid, cited no source for the story, and couldn't remember where they got it from when we called them. But the first reference seems to be a story on Sidwell Friends in City Paper, a D.C. weekly (7/16/93). After rechecking with his (anonymous) source--a parent of a Sidwell student--reporter Paul Gifford now says that the actual title of the essay assigned to one class of 7th and 8th graders was "Should White People Feel Guilty and Why."
5. Discouraging political activism
After FAIR debunked Limbaugh's denials that he encourages political activism by his listeners, he came back with this in his USA Today column: "I don't have 'troops.' I do not encourage listeners to call anybody. In fact, I do just the opposite."
He discourages listeners from making political phone calls? That's not what he did last July 16, when he urged listeners to call the Democratic National Committee to ask who told Hillary to say she tried to go into the military. Or on June 30, when he twice read through a list of U.S. representatives who hadn't signed on to a Limbaugh-endorsed deficit cutting plan, adding coyly: "If you heard your congressman's name--you heard your congressman's name."
Day after day, Limbaugh organized opposition to the pro-Clinton health care caravans. Here he is on July 27: "The new location, for those of you in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex is the Arlington Convention Center. Sometime tomorrow, the health security express will show up at the Arlington Convention Center and have their rally. Now, you know what to do.... Why don't a bunch of people get together and offer for sale home remedies?... And keep in mind that the real snake oil is on these buses. The health security express, due in to the Arlington Convention Center tomorrow."
Of course, there's nothing wrong with media figures encouraging people to get involved politically--as long as commentators across the political spectrum are allowed to do that. But why does Limbaugh have to lie about it?