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Limbaugh Backs Clinton (for a While) : Conservative Talk-Show Host Shocks His Audience With Bogus Announcement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh pulled a hoax on his radio audience Thursday morning by announcing on the air that he was withdrawing support for President Bush and endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton.

The charade shocked many listeners and even drew a call from the Bush campaign.

In a solemn, almost funereal voice, Limbaugh proclaimed at the outset of his broadcast: “I can no longer ignore what is becoming obvious. I’ve decided to endorse Bill Clinton. It’s necessary to have the courage to change.”

Calls from stunned listeners poured in, demanding to know how he could abandon his outspoken support of Bush. Some threatened to return copies of Limbaugh’s book; others canceled tickets to sit in the audience for his television show.

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Among those who called was a member of Bush’s reelection campaign, according to Ed McLaughlin, chairman of EFM Media, which syndicates Limbaugh’s show to more than 500 stations nationwide, including KFI-AM (640) in Los Angeles.

“They were panicking,” McLaughlin said. “They said their phones were jumping off the hook.”

Though he initially denied it was a joke, after about half an hour Limbaugh began asking callers: “How can you hold me to something I said 17 minutes ago? That was in the past.”

Then to the next caller: “That was 23 minutes ago. I never said that.” Then he accused listeners of challenging his character and denied having endorsed Clinton. “Can we look forward now?” he asked. “People want to keep looking into my past. How can you keep bringing up my past?”

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It wasn’t until the final 20 minutes of the program that he explained to his audience that he was pulling their leg in an effort to ridicule Clinton.

“It just hit me this morning to do this,” Limbaugh said in a telephone interview later. “Gov. Clinton has been doing for 20 years what I did on my show today: saying things and denying them. The whole reason I’m a success is because people trust me and believe me. Character does matter, even for a lowly talk-show host, and it should even more for a presidential candidate.”

Limbaugh said that he pulled a similar stunt once before, in 1990: “I tried to make people believe I had changed my mind and become a sensitive liberal.”


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