The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

09 July 2008

Rush Limbaugh Enemies Turn Against NYT Interviewer


Lefties Focus Rage On NYT Interviewer Chafets


Changing course after a week of attacking Rush Limbaugh over his new deal, "progressives" have suddenly turned against New York Times interviewer Zev Chafets, who wrote the widely- read piece on the talk titan that ran in Sunday's paper.

Like a pack of rabid dogs, the unhinged left has labeled Chafets "creepy" and a "dittohead", among other insults. Media Matters, Alternet, the Huffington Post and other liberal sites all went after the author and columnist Tuesday, while a newly- released transcript of a weekend radio interview only served to fuel their rage.

Editor & Publisher has taken note of the controversy here.

Could this line of "reasoning" prove any more effective than the now- seemingly abandoned attacks on Rush himself over the piece? That's only if the public can be led to believe the New York Times is part of the Vast Right- Wing Conspiracy, which seems more than unlikely. From Media Matters:

Limbaugh had nothing to fear from the toothless tiger that came to Palm Beach to profile one of the most controversial media figures in politics today. The Times' resulting valentine was couched in such a creepy, tell-me-more-Uncle-Rush vibe (he was crowned "a singular political force") that readers could almost picture the reporter at Limbaugh's knee, eager to record the next morsel of wisdom.


But let's go back to that mock stare-down inside Limbaugh's control room for a moment. Because there was another layer of humor involved, but one that was lost on readers -- because they weren't made aware of the fact that the writer who profiled Limbaugh for the Times is pretty much a Dittohead, a Limbaugh devotee. So of course there was no reason to fear a "hit job." The whole notion was literally laughable.

I assume Chafets' right-leaning politics explain why Limbaugh referred to the writer as "a friend" in the article and why Limbaugh allowed Chafets unprecedented access not only to Limbaugh's studio, but to Limbaugh's house ("the first journalist ever to enter his home") and to his friends and his shrink. Limbaugh granted the access because he pretty much knew exactly what the outcome of the profile would be (or at least what the glowing tone of the piece would be), and he knew that Chafets wouldn't come within a country mile of making even a passing reference to the hate speech and unhinged attacks that Limbaugh routinely engages in on the airwaves.

Indeed, out of the 7,700-plus words Chafets wrote about Limbaugh, I counted exactly two in the entire piece in which the writer quoted a Limbaugh critic (apparently secondhand) saying something unkind about Limbaugh's craft.

Does every Limbaugh profile need to be a hit piece? Of course not. Should every serious Limbaugh profile at least try to convey to readers what's so controversial about the host and what he says on his radio program? Of course. And that's where the Times, rather obliviously, took the pratfall with its Limbaugh article.

The problem with this argument is that most New York Times readers already have a fairly good idea of why Rush is controversial. That's been covered hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past twenty years.

What Chafets brought to the table was a fresh perspective, new insight into Limbaugh's personal life and career that we hadn't previously encountered.

Why must the piece turn into a debate on political issues between the author and interview subject? That would be ridiculous and journalistically inappropriate.

But NPR's On The Media certainly doesn't subscribe to that viewpoint. Instead, the weekend radio program felt the need to chastise Chafets for failing to question and challenge virtually everything Limbaugh has said over the past twenty years. From the transcript:

BOB GARFIELD: Your piece on Limbaugh was very generous, I would say even flattering. You seem to give him a pass for his excesses. And when I'm talking about excesses, I'm talking about ad hominum attacks, truly mean-spirited stuff that goes way beyond satire and into the politics of vilification, and also playing fast and loose with the truth, seizing on some news item and grossly misrepresenting it and creating a lot of hubbub, using as the kernel of his satire something that is just fundamentally untrue.

ZEV CHAFETS: Well, do you have an example of that? I'm not an apologist for Rush Limbaugh, but I'm a little bit defensive because I think that the liberal media takes such an unfair view of him.

I hear people being vilified on the radio, on all sorts of radio stations by all sorts of people all day long. And Limbaugh is not worse than many of the ones I hear, even on NPR. He just has a different point of view.

BOB GARFIELD: The NAACP should have a riot rehearsal, they should get a liquor store and practice robberies?

ZEV CHAFETS: Not my sense of humor, but it's not a lie.

BOB GARFIELD: Did Limbaugh not say that Abu Ghraib was no worse than a Skull and Bones initiation?

ZEV CHAFETS: Yeah, he did. It's his opinion.

BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. Did he not deny that genocide was committed against the American Indian and state that the population is higher now than it was before Christopher Columbus -- of Native Americans?

ZEV CHAFETS: Mm, I don't know. I didn't ask him that either. I don't know what the population was before Christopher Columbus.

BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, it was about 15 million and, you know, by the 19th century it was 250,000. I mean, that's what – that’s the numbers.

Okay, now I know [LAUGHS] you don't want to be an apologist for Rush Limbaugh or his spokesmen.


BOB GARFIELD: But do you not think that he is answerable for things that are, at minimum, offensive and obnoxious and mean spirited that he has said on the air?

ZEV CHAFETS: Yeah, you know, I do think that, and I think he's answerable to the public. And I think that for people who find him more obnoxious and more mean spirited than other people that they prefer to listen to, then they should answer him by turning him off.

Clearly, Chafets was placed in an impossible position: confronted with what Limbaugh may or may not have said on past programs, without necessary context, he was seemingly expected to defend or explain the talk titan's reasoning. Was this reasonable?

Whether Chafets is really a "dittohead" is known only to himself and shouldn't disqualify him from covering El Rushbo for a Sunday magazine piece. And with significant knowledge of his background (he's written for them many times in the past), the New York Times obviously didn't see an issue with it, either.

From here, the real question is just how long the left intends to scream bloody murder just because it wasn't allowed to exercise editorial control over an interview in a Sunday newspaper.

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  • Where can I get census figures for 500 years ago?

    By Anonymous Michael, at 09 July, 2008 10:39  

  • Prior to 9/11/2001 I used to be one who aped the saying 'Rush Limbaugh is a right-wing nut case out to destroy America' even though I never listened to his show.

    Since 2003 I cannot get enough of the man, he's brilliant; time to turn on his show.

    All that said; hearing my former self though MSM reminds me daily that I once was a brain-dead liberal who has been liberated from the life of ignornant misery I once lived.

    Rush, you brought Change to my life and I now have Hope for a beter future.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 July, 2008 12:10  

  • Where is Bob Garfield's "journalistic integrity" when he pulls a number like 15 million out of his butt and doesn't site any sources?

    By Blogger Ken, at 09 July, 2008 12:16  

  • In college I didn't think much of Limbaugh and I'm not really sure I had any clue as to why. I'm not a regular listener now but from what I've heard he's not that scary.

    Having conservative political views is not "controversial" I realize now. Someone on the air hundreds of hours a year is going to have gaffs from time to time of course but I see no reason to see him in a negative light.

    He's no more controversial to me then Stephen Colbert.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 July, 2008 12:25  

  • It is a bad afternoon when I cannot listen to at least Rush's opening hour online.

    He has been consistent in calling it like it is and exposing hypocrisy on the left and the right. A clear headed thinker and eternal conservative.

    And, unlike many of his detractors, he is an optimist underneath it all.

    What many don't know is his respect for Life and in our Creator. Listen to him enough and this all comes through.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 July, 2008 12:44  

  • "And when I'm talking about excesses, I'm talking about ad hominum attacks, truly mean-spirited stuff that goes way beyond satire and into the politics of vilification, and also playing fast and loose with the truth, seizing on some news item and grossly misrepresenting it and creating a lot of hubbub, using as the kernel of his satire something that is just fundamentally untrue."
    Sounds like he's talking about Bob Garfield

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 09 July, 2008 12:49  

  • By that standard then anyone interviewing Al Franken, Rachael Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, etc....must be Conservatives. According to these leftists the only person qualified to interview Dan Rather or Katie Couric would be Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.

    By Blogger Capitalist Infidel, at 09 July, 2008 13:18  

  • Well, to be fair, since Columbus never touched North America, CC alone was responsible for the deaths of many Indians in the Caribbean.

    Now in this century, Indians are destroying themselves from within. Tribes are terminating members after their casinos are opened leaving many tribal members destitute and without health coverage.

    Guess you don't here about that on CNN and MSNBC

    My blog discusses this, come take a look. Google Original Pechanga's Blog.

    Congratulations to Rush on his huge contract. How much does Katie Couric receive for a dwindling audience? For 22 minutes a night, is SHE overpaid?

    By Blogger O Pechanga, at 09 July, 2008 13:45  

  • Bob Garfield is a huge weenie. He would not have the balls to confront anything more intimidating than a stuffed toy.

    Read about him here

    By Blogger paul a'barge, at 09 July, 2008 13:49  

  • The funny thing is that I was once a guest on this show and felt I was treated fairly.

    But I don't think Zev was extended the same courtesy.

    By Blogger Brian Maloney, at 09 July, 2008 13:58  

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