The Media's Dilemma

Rush Limbaugh’s political jiu-jitsu masterstroke comes to a climax at 1 PM, EDT today, when the ebay auction  for the letter sent by 41 Senate Democrats to the CEO of his syndicator Clear Channel ends. With four hours left, the bid has already toppped two million dollars, with the purchase price to be donated to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, benefitting the education of children of deceased Marines and federal law enforcement personnel. Because Rush Limbaugh has offered to match the purchase price, the total donation will possibly exceed four million dollars.

The Mainstream Media have so far virtually* blacked out the story, but when the auction is over and a highly impressive sum is paid, will they continue to ignore it? After all, the auction of a grilled cheese sandwich claimed to display the image of the Virgin Mary fetched only $28,000 and received widespread publicity in the US and overseas. Someone paying a million bucks or more for a contemporary letter is pretty big news, even without the charity angle. And this is no food product bearing a resemblance to sacred art, this is a historic document signed by 80% of the majority caucus of what is commonly alleged to be the world’s greatest deliberative body.


Rush Limbaugh has outsmarted the Democratic Leadership of the Senate and cornered the media. If the media do not cover the auction results, they will look ridiculous. The letter is easy enough to explain that it will inevitably be discussed at water coolers, sports events, churches, parties, and other get-togethers. But if the media do cover it, they must include some explanation for the high price, and that will make Reid and the Democrats look silly or worse. Capitalizing on their rhetoric, the letter is to be delivered in an attaché case made by a company carrying the name Halliburton.* 

In case your media diet does not include talk radio and the conservative commentariat, the backstory is fairly simple, which makes the auction all the harder to ignore.

The blowback from the “General Betray Us” left the Democrats and their Soros-funded allies smarting, and they were anxious to demonstrate to their own supporters that conservatives behave reprehensively. Accordingly Media Matters (which Hillary bragged she “helped start” took out of context a phrase Rush Limbaugh spoke, “phony soldiers” and alleged he had smeared good patriotic American soldiers and veterans who disagree with him.

In an effort to promote the fabricated media storm and perhaps force change on Rush, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got 40 other Senate Democrats to sign a letter to Mark P. Mays, CEO of the syndicator of Rush’s show, calling on him to publicly repudiate Rush and to ask Mr. Limbaugh to apologize.

Instead of cowering, Mr. Mays turned the letter over to Rush, who came up with the brilliant plan to make the Democrats regret their hasty attempt to intimidate a private citizen who is their critic.  Invoking the majesty of the United States Senate to intimidate a private citizen demonstrates a remarkable degree of self-absorption. A simple thought experiment:

What if Newt Gingrich, while he was Speaker, had enlisted 80% of the House majority as signatories of a letter to the CEO of General Electric asking Jack Welch to apologize for a sin of NBC News? Do you think Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Paul Krugman would have ignored it? How about CBS and ABC? There was no Media Matters back then, but fax machines were in widespread use. How long would it take for everyone to be pointing out that broadcasting is a regulated industry, and that the evil politicians were muzzling the free press?

Reid & Company never for a moment imagined that anyone would characterize their act as bullying a free press and possibly even raising First Amendment issues. Because Clear Channel hold many radio licenses from the federal government, it is very vulnerable to pressure from the government, and the words “chilling effect” do not seem outrageously out of place in evaluating the intended consequence of the Senate Majority Leader’s letter. Interviewed on Hannity & Colmes Thursday evening, Rush called the letter “neo-Stalinist.”

The letter is, in fact, an important historical document, representing an attempt to silence the single most prominent private citizen critic of the Democratic Party, written on official stationery of the Majority Leader of the United States Senate and bearing the signatures of the vast majority of his caucus, including the front-runner and other candidates for the Party’s presidential nomination. Should the purchaser be so-minded, it may someday be donated to the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives or some other nonprofit library or archive.

The mainstream media have taken a beating in viewership and readership and in credibility the past two decades that Rush Limbaugh has been on the air, and the Democrats are perpetually outraged that he dominates the entire medium of talk radio, while no liberal host has ever been able to mount a halfway comparable performance on the public airwaves.

Arrogance combined with the emotion of hate leads to dangerous mistakes. Reid and the media which gave initial credence to the Media Matters-generated smear of Rush have stepped in something whose smell may linger in the history of American politics.

Photo illustration Copyright © 2003 David Monniaux

* Reader Steve Swinehart informed us that the maker of the attache case is not part of Halliburton, the oil services giant


Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of American Thinker.