Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

What a Rush

Entertainment | President Donald Trump honors conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 2/07/20, 05:23 pm

Though Rush Limbaugh has been on the radio for three hours, five days a week, for more than 30 years, he hasn’t been in the news much lately—until this week. The 69-year-old conservative commentator announced on the air Monday that he had advanced lung cancer and would miss some shows for tests and treatments. The next day, at the State of the Union address, where Limbaugh was a guest, President Donald Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“In recognition of all that you have done for our nation, the millions of people a day that you speak to and that you inspire, and all of the incredible work that you have done for charity, I am proud to announce tonight that you will be receiving our country’s highest civilian honor,” the president said just before first lady Melania Trump presented him with the medal. Typically, the president gives out the Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony with speeches and guests. But the impromptu way in which Limbaugh received the honor seemed fitting for the radio host who transformed the media landscape with his off-the-cuff, no-holds-barred commentary.

A swarm of Limbaugh critics quickly complained he did not deserve the award. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, responded by calling Limbaugh “a conservative media personality who has done as much as Trump himself to divide our nation.” Biden’s statement was one of the milder ones. In a video posted on Twitter, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called Limbaugh a “virulent racist” and said his winning the award was “nauseating.”

Numerous detractors said Limbaugh did not belong in a class of award winners such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Accusations of racism, sexism, and hypocrisy have followed the radio host throughout his career. He has apologized for some of his more controversial remarks, such as the time he called a law student who advocated for free birth control a prostitute (and worse) and his mocking of actor Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease–related movements. He also struggled with an addiction to prescription painkillers, which opponents said disqualified him from critiquing drug abuse and national drug policy.

While Limbaugh’s fans and detractors may debate whether it was for good or ill, none of them can question how he altered the media landscape of the United States forever. But he didn’t do it alone. His big break came in 1987, when the Federal Communications Commission under President Ronald Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine. The rule required broadcast stations to air contrasting views on controversial matters. Once the Fairness Doctrine went away, Limbaugh, who had been on the radio for a few years in Sacramento, Calif., could express his conservative political views unencumbered.

In July 1988, he caught the attention of ABC Radio President Edward McLaughlin, who gave him a nationally syndicated show based at WABC-AM in New York City. Until then, AM radio had struggled to survive as music shifted to FM for its superior sound quality. But talk shows didn’t require such high-fidelity sound, and Limbaugh proved they still had a place in the media landscape.

“It was not until Rush found an audience on WABC in New York City in 1988 that the AM operators knew what to do with their once-mighty stations,” Jon Sinton, the founding president of the liberal Air America Radio network, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2008. But Air America failed where Limbaugh succeeded. It shut down in 2010 after six years of trying to unseat conservative radio.

In 1990, Limbaugh met Roger Ailes at a dinner club in New York. They became close friends, and Limbaugh credited Ailes with helping him adjust to fame and public criticism in the early years of his career. Ailes produced a 30-minute TV show for Limbaugh from 1992 to 1996. Limbaugh went back to just radio because he liked the format better, and Ailes went on to start Fox News in October 1996 but resigned in 2016 amid a sexual harassment scandal and died a year later.

The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, the opportunities on AM radio, and his friendship with Ailes all came at just the right time to help Limbaugh build a blockbuster career. Some would call it providential, but would he?

Limbaugh has often mentioned on his show that he believes in God. His brother David is a devout Christian who has written several books about the Bible and apologetics.

In announcing his lung cancer diagnosis, Limbaugh said on the air that he was relying on God to get him through it: “I told the staff today that I have a deeply personal relationship with God that I do not proselytize about, but I do, and I have been working that relationship tremendously.”

Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer (file) Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer (file) Mary Higgins Clark autographs books at the Simon & Schuster office in New York in 2013.

Popular mystery writer dies

Author Mary Higgins Clark, the “Queen of Suspense,” died last week. She was 92.

Clark wrote or co-wrote more than 50 books, mostly mystery novels. Her stories were often bestsellers, and her sales topped 100 million copies.

“Nobody ever bonded more completely with her readers than Mary did,” said her longtime editor, Michael Korda. “She understood them as if they were members of her own family. She was always absolutely sure of what they wanted to read—and, perhaps more important, what they didn’t want to read—and yet she managed to surprise them with every book.”

A lifelong Catholic, Clark grew up during the Great Depression. She started writing at a young age and continued into her 90s. Five children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren survive her. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne Kurt Warner at a NFL game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills in December 2019

Warner-vision

The life story of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and outspoken Christian Kurt Warner is slated to hit movie screens later this year. Jon and Andrew Erwin will produce American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story, movie site The Wrap reported this week. The Erwins were behind the biopic I Can Only Imagine about lead singer Bart Millard of the Christian band MercyMe. Warner retired from the NFL in 2010 after playing for the St. Louis Rams, the New York Giants, and the Arizona Cardinals. —L.L.

On the stand

The prosecution rested its case in the New York rape trial of Harvey Weinstein this week. Six women who claim the media mogul sexually assaulted them testified over the past two weeks. The defense opened its case with the testimony of a psychology expert who said that memories can fade or become distorted over time—implying that the accusers’ accounts of their assaults were unreliable. —L.L.

Diamond gem

The author of one of the most beloved baseball books of all time died Thursday at the age of 92. Roger Kahn’s 1972 bestseller, The Boys of Summer, looked back at the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s and caught up with the team’s aging stars 20 years later. “At a point in life when one is through with boyhood, but has not yet discovered how to be a man, it was my fortune to travel with the most marvelously appealing of teams,” Kahn wrote. Kahn was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. —Mickey McLean

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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