Al­ter­na­tive Fact of the Week

Rush Lim­baugh does worse than cry “fire” in a crowded theater

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

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Let’s face it, when it comes to al­ter­na­tive facts and de­lib­er­ate mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions, Rush Lim­baugh is prac­ti­cally in a class by him­self — and one pre­sumes many lis­ten­ers of his Florida-based ra­dio show may even un­der­stand that. Like Don­ald Trump, he is given to ex­ag­ger­a­tion and out­rage, con­spir­acy the­o­ries and me­dia scape­goat­ing; his goal is seem­ingly to en­ter­tain, not in­form. Part of the shtick is to go so far over the top that there’s a kind of naugh­ti­ness that his au­di­ence may find tit­il­lat­ing: Did he re­ally just say that? Will lib­er­als lose their minds? Is he po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect or what? He doesn’t apol­o­gize for his racism (he once sug­gested Martin Luther King Jr.’s as­sas­sin de­served a Medal of Honor) or misog­yny (hav­ing pop­u­lar­ized the term, “fem­i­nazi”); he rev­els in it. He is a shock jock with fewer tunes and an ex­tra heap­ing of brag­gado­cio.

But last week as Hur­ri­cane Irma ap­proached Florida, Mr. Lim­baugh went too far even by his free­wheel­ing stan­dards. In ex­tended re­marks about the ap­proach­ing storm, he sug­gested Irma was a hoax and that its fe­roc­ity and im­pact was be­ing blown out of pro­por­tion by the me­dia in an ef­fort to pro­mote a cli­mate change agenda. This wasn’t some aside, some failed at­tempt at hu­mor but an ex­tended so­lil­o­quy. He spoke of how TV broadcasters have a vested in­ter­est in pub­lic panic, that stores make money when­peo­ple stock up on bot­tled wa­ter and that those re­tail­ers “spend a lot of ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars with lo­cal me­dia.” It was, in Mr. Lim­baugh’s mind, a me­dia-driven con­spir­acy, a “vi­cious cir­cle” from those who sell wa­ter and bat­ter­ies.

And then what hap­pened? Two days later, Mr. Lim­baugh re­vealed he was evac­u­at­ing his Palm Beach man­sion. That storm he re­garded as over-hyped proved just as ter­ri­ble and his­toric as all those me­te­o­rol­o­gists had pre­dicted. And when he was called on the car­pet for his ex­ag­ger­a­tion and ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity (weath­er­man Al Roker warned his au­di­ence on Twit­ter on Sept. 6 that Mr. Lim­baugh’s be­hav­ior “bor­dered on crim­i­nal”), he re­treated back to his me­dia con­spir­acy the­o­ries, telling his au­di­ence this week that, in essence, he never said what he said. "My whole point about this was never that it was fake, that the warn­ings were never fake, that the strength of the hur­ri­cane was fake. I never said any­thing of the sort. I ques­tioned how the me­dia deals with all of this stuff." Of course, the tapes of his ear­lier shows tell a dif­fer­ent story.

It ap­pears what re­ally hap­pened is that an icon­o­clast — although the more apt de­scrip­tion un­der the cir­cum­stances is “blowhard” — was caught do­ing the equiv­a­lent of yelling fire in a crowded theater, only worse. He was yelling at theater pa­trons to ig­nore an ap­proach­ing fire that could eas­ily have killed them. As of this writ­ing, the Irma death toll in the United States is up to 22, and it would surely have been far worse if all those mem­bers of the group Mr. Lim­baugh so fre­quently ridicules as the “main­stream me­dia” and pur­vey­ors of “fake news” had not been giv­ing a more hon­est and au­then­tic eval­u­a­tion of the hur­ri­cane — which amounted to mostly re­flect­ing what sci­en­tists at the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter had to say on the sub­ject.

Ob­vi­ously, Mr. Lim­baugh’s show is not a place to go for re­li­able in­for­ma­tion. That’s par for the course. But in times of emer­gency, show­man­ship is an in­suf­fi­cient ex­cuse for such be­hav­ior. Who knows if one or more of the vic­tims was a lis­tener of his broad­cast and de­cided not to evac­u­ate or take proper pre­cau­tions? Even the usual at­tacks on “fake news” seem out­ra­geously ir­re­spon­si­ble at times like these when so many Amer­i­cans rely on those same broadcasters to keep them in­formed of ap­proach­ing threats. Does any­one se­ri­ously be­lieve the Weather Chan­nel is a tool of the “deep state?” Alas, maybe some do. At what point do the Rush Lim­baughs and Alex Jone­ses of the world get held ac­count­able for their ac­tions? Will it re­quire a law­suit by a vic­tim’s fam­ily to demon­strate the “crowded theater” ex­cep­tion to the First Amend­ment?

Mr. Lim­baugh’s back­track­ing earns him al­ter­na­tive fact of the week hon­ors. He spent a lot of time rail­ing about how the me­dia ex­ag­ger­ates storms as a his­toric storm ap­proached. Peo­ple were right­fully ap­palled. Now, he’s try­ing to run away from what he did. Shame on him.


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