Dec 1 1994

"What I Meant to Say"

Limbaugh Responds to FAIR

For three and a half months, the world waited for Rush Limbaugh’s promised “point-by-point rebuttal” to FAIR’s report, “Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error” (Extra!, 7-8/94). On Oct. 11, Limbaugh’s “rebuttal” finally arrived–not with a bang but a dud.

Limbaugh’s 37-page manuscript addresses only about half of the points on which FAIR had documented his inaccuracy. On those points that he does contest, he tries to hide behind a blizzard of irrelevant quotations, evasive word-games and, in some instances, fresh distortions.

For the most part, the Limbaugh rebuttal consists of Limbaugh explaining what he meant to say. Reinterpreting his false claim that no one had been indicted in the Iran-Contra scandal, Limbaugh declared: “I obviously misspoke when I said there were no indictments — I clearly meant to say there were no convictions, a point I have made on many occasions.”

Limbaugh did not “misspeak”: He had argued at length (TV, 1/19/94) that none of the 14 Iran-contra indictments ever happened. And his fallback position is equally false: Most of the 14 were either convicted or plead guilty, including many felonies. That’s why Limbaugh was already backpedaling in his rebuttal: There were “no convictions on the substantive points,” he claimed — citing Ed Meese as his expert.

To defend his erroneous statement that “we have more acreage of forest land in the United States today than we did at the time the Constitution was written,” Limbaugh can only cite a statistic for forest acreage in 1920–133 years too late. He backs up his wild assertion that “there are more American Indians alive today than there were when Columbus arrived” with a quote from the Heritage Foundation’s magazine that “some Indian groups are more populous today than in 1492.”

On other issues, he admitted he had made a mistake, but argued that it was no big deal. On February 17, 1994, he had said he couldn’t remember a single front-page piece on Whitewater in the New York Times — when the Times had broken the Whitewater story on March 8, 1992.

“The fact that I overlooked one Times article that ran 11 months earlier is hardly indicative of a ‘reign of error,'” Limbaugh sniffed. Well, March 1992 is 23 months before February 1994 — and the New York Times had run more than half a dozen front-page pieces on Whitewater in the two months before Limbaugh made his uninformed comment.

He dismisses his claim that “most Canadian physicians who are themselves in need of surgery…scurry across the border to get it done” as “an obvious humorous exaggeration.” (It wasn’t; you can look it up, on page 153 of his book See, I Told You So.) In three and a half pages of obfuscation on this point, he doesn’t provide evidence that a single Canadian doctor has crossed the border for treatment–much less “most.”

Limbaugh trumpeted the fact that he had finally found a source for his story that Sidwell Friends, Chelsea Clinton’s school, had assigned kids to write an essay on “Why I Feel Guilty Being White”: The essay title originally appeared in an article in D.C. City Paper (7/16/93). “My office did what no journalist did: We tracked the story to its root, and talked to the original reporter,” Limbaugh boasted. “He confirmed the story.”

Unfortunately, as Limbaugh knows full well, he was not the first person to call the City Paper reporter, Bill Gifford. Extra!‘s September/October issue had cited his article — and noted that his anonymous source, a disgruntled parent, was now waffling, saying the essay assignment was something like “Should White People Feel Guilty?” Unlike Limbaugh, FAIR tracked the story to its real source — Sidwell Friends — and discovered that there was no evidence that any such essay had ever been assigned.

Limbaugh’s lie about the City Paper reporter standing by his story was exposed by Washington Post (10/18/94) and even by the right-wing Washington Times (10/11/94) — leading to a memorable rant by Limbaugh against reporters who check information before publishing it (radio show, 10/11/94).

Limbaugh’s evasions would be comical if it were not for his millions of devotees, many of whom are are eager to accept his most absurd claims–even when they are self-contradictory.

When Limbaugh dissects the doubletalk of Bill Clinton, he exhorts his followers: “Words mean things.” It’s one of “35 Undeniable Truths of Life.”

But when it comes to his own claims, Limbaugh sounds more like Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”

Speaking of Humpty Dumpty, didn’t he have a great fall?