Hell FM’s new hire: Rush Limbaugh is dead but we still live in a world shaped by his lies

Unfortunately Limbaugh's influence leapt the Atlantic and can be heard every day on talkRadio and LBC...

“Don’t speak ill of the dead” is a familiar refrain but it presumes that a) the person who has died is worthy of that respect and b) you wouldn’t have called them a sack of shit when they were still alive. It’s a call for civility and, like so many demands for politeness, it expects you to opt for hypocrisy over the harshness of truth.

Rush Limbaugh is dead and the world is materially better for not having him in it. Piss-weak obituaries describe him as “provocative” or “divisive” but a more truthful adjective is ‘evil’. If an open sewer could speak and slime its way up to a microphone, it would sound like Rush Limbaugh.

A scion of a powerful Missouri political family, Limbaugh didn’t go into the law or politics like his grandfather (Rush Snr), father (Rush II) and many other relatives, but he managed to achieve more power than all of them. He began his ascent to the top of the poisonous pile in February 1971, when, aged 20, he became a DJ on a Top 40 station in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. He lasted 18 months before getting fired over a “personality conflict” with the programme director.

After more firings and some time living with his parents, Limbaugh was back on air in 1975, presenting an afternoon show on another Top 40 station in Kansas City. When he was given a talk show to host on weekend mornings he started to develop his famously abrasive and unpleasant style. After 2 years, he was fired again and moved to a rival station. That slot lasted weeks and Limbaugh nearly abandoned radio for good. It was a sliding doors moment that could have led to a much better America but sadly his disillusionment wasn’t to last.

In 1979, Limbaugh started working part-time as a salesman for the Kansa City Royals baseball team and ended up promoted to Director of Group Sales and Special Events. He claimed that business trips to Europe and Asia during this period crystallised his conservative views — as if he wasn’t already part of a staunchly Republican family — because he thought the countries he visited were much worse than the United States.

By November 1983, Limbaugh was back on the radio in Kansas City and finally broadcasting under his own name. He was fired again but managed to find a new job on KFBK, a station in Sacramento, California. His new show launched on October 14, 1984, but Limbaugh was reborn in his final monstrous form in 1987 when the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine which had required balance in on-air discussions.

In a 2005 Wall Street Journal editorial, Daniel Henninger reflected on how Limbaugh exploited the change in regulations:

The Fairness Doctrine was a federal regulation, dating to 1949, which mandated "contrasting viewpoints" from broadcasters. In reality, [it] ensured that incumbents got "free" TV coverage across their terms while challengers got crumbs. The Fairness Doctrine was also an early nuclear option: If a local broadcaster's news operation made the local congressman or his party look bad, Washington could threaten to blow up his broadcast license.

Ronald Reagan tore down this wall in 1987 (maybe as spring training for Berlin) and Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from the East Germany of liberal media domination.

After seeing success in Sacramento and finally managing not to be fired, Limbaugh was hired in July 1988, to host a show on New York City’s WABC. His show started to catch fire in syndication and he undertook a successful 45-city two year ‘Rush to Excellence Tour’ which increased his fame and his bank balance in equal measure.

Limbaugh was now famous and infamous. A December 1990 profile in The New York Times described him as “bouncing between earnest lecturer and political vaudevillian,” with the understatement that centrist outlets tended to apply to the shock jock for fear of seeming snide towards his millions of eager listeners.

The Gulf War was catnip for Limbaugh who took the opportunity to ratchet up the jingoism while also relentlessly ridiculing peace activists. But it was the election of Bill Clinton in November 1992 delivered the enemy he had been waiting for; he attacked the new President and First Lady relentlessly and was seen as so effective by the Republicans that they awarded him honorary membership of their Congressional caucus following their big success in the 1994 midterms. Limbaugh stuck to the same game plan for the next 29 years.

Limbaugh was an unrepentant racist and his radio show gave him a megaphone to blast his disgusting views across the US, a giant mouth spluttering bile over every state in the nation. He said all composite pictures of criminals printed in newspapers “[resembled] Jesse Jackson” and that “the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.”

During the 2008 Presidental Election, as part of his efforts to prevent the election of Barack Obama, Limbaugh claimed repeatedly that African Americans were “left behind” because they hate the United States. Alongside Donald Trump, he pushed the birther conspiracy and predicted there was no way Obama could win. He also played a song called ‘Barack the Magic Negro’. On January 16, 2009, ahead of Obama’s inauguration, he said, “I hope he fails,” before later claiming he just meant the President’s policies.

Throughout the Obama era, Limbaugh called the administration a “regime” and a “junta”. Limbaugh spread conspiracy theories around the 2012 Benghazi attack, claimed Obama has allowed Ebola to spread in the US because of “guilt over slavery”, and claimed that the 2010 eruptions of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull were God’s response to the Affordable Care Act passing.

Limbaugh was also a virulent homophobe. He attacked people with HIV/AIDs on-air throughout the 80s and 90s, calling the virus “Rock Hudson’s disease” and declaring that it was a “federally-protected virus”.

In the 90s, Limbaugh ran a regular AIDS Update feature in which he named and mocked gay and bisexual men who had died with AIDS. While he made a weak and frankly unbelievable apology for that feature years later (“It’s the single most regretful thing I have ever done.”) Limbaugh continued to attack LGBT people for the rest of his broadcasting career.

Limbaugh mocked the concept of sexual consent time and time again. In 2014, he laughed at a policy from Ohio State University that encourage students to get verbal consent before having sex, crowing: “How many of you guys have learned that ‘no’ means ‘yes’ if you know how to spot it?” But that came as no surprise since as well as being a racist and a homophobe, good ol’ Rush was also talk radio’s premier misogynist.

In a Time magazine interview in 1992, Limbaugh said that feminism was created “so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society”. And if you’ve heard some right-wing chud say “feminazi”, he deserves the ‘credit’ While Limbaugh credited Professor Thomas Hazlett with coining the term, it was him who made it a common insult, repeating it time and time again on his show. As late as 2017, Limbaugh was using the word to demonise women, calling the 2017 Women’s March a “deranged Feminazi march”.

If you’re feeling that it’s ‘too soon’ to say that Limbaugh was a toxic boil on the arse of humanity, let’s take a look at just two occasions when he attacked individuals during his long and disgusting career.

In October 2006, Limbaugh lashed out at Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson’s disease, after the actor appeared in a political ad calling for increased funding for stem cell research. Limbaugh called the ad “shameless” and accused Fox of "not taking his medication or… acting, one of the two.” In 2012, Fox correctly identified Limbaugh’s motivations:

“He didn’t like the way I delivered the message and his bullying instincts [were] to shut down and marginalize that voice…”

Six years later, while discussing contraceptive mandates — which required health insurers to cover some of the cost of contraceptives — Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke, a law student who had delivered a speech in favour of mandating insurance coverage of contraceptives, a “slut” and a “prostitute”. He also got her name wrong, showing his famous attention to detail:

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.

She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We're the pimps. (interruption) The johns? We would be the johns? No! We're not the johns. (interruption) Yeah, that's right. Pimp's not the right word. Okay, so she's not a slut. She's "round heeled". I take it back.

Limbaugh doubled down the next day, screeching:

Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she cannot afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope…

So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.

Somewhere between 45 and 100 sponsors dropped Limbaugh’s show, but he made a feeble meaningless apology, saying he was sorry for his choice of words rather than the content of his rants, and kept on broadcasting.

You could say that none of this matters in the UK. Rush Limbaugh was a toxic presence in American broadcasting but that’s their problem, right? No. Limbaugh’s influence drips all over British talk radio like glowing green toxic waste in an episode of Captain Planet.

It’s there in the rants of aggrieved egg James Whale, the daily personal attacks perpetrated by ‘Iron’ Mike Graham on talkRadio, and the culture war screeds of Julia Hartley-Brewer. And while he would deny it to his dying day, it’s there in the emotionally incontinent performances of James O’Brien on LBC.

Rush Limbaugh is dead, but his ghastly ghost haunts every tabloid talk radio debate. Still, I hope Hell FM is delighted with its new morning show host.