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A Rush to Judgment on Limbaugh?

I take exception to Kevin Baxter’s commentary on Rush Limbaugh (“E.I.B.? You Bet,” Calendar, May 7). Limbaugh, Baxter assures us, “calls himself the ‘truth detector,’ but that’s all part of the shtick, too, and as long as you realize that going in, there’s no real harm done.” Limbaugh, is an “entertainer, not a politician.”

Listening to him, Baxter feels “is like watching Picasso paint or listening to Pavarotti sing. How many times do you get to experience a master at work?”

Like Baxter, I too listen to Limbaugh. However, I experience something quite different. Baxter correctly cites Limbaugh’s start in Sacramento, where “he was a hit.”

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What he doesn’t mention is that part of being a hit was saying things like, “Feminism was established so that unattractive ugly broads could have easy access to the mainstream. A bunch of cows.” Sacramento was where unwanted callers were dispatched with “caller abortions"--a vacuum cleaner sound followed by a scream. And where he said, “Gays deserved their fate,” and had a popular routine with the “AIDS Update,” complete with a theme song, Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll Never Love That Way Again.”

Far from being a harmless entertainer, Limbaugh is credited by many Republicans with giving them control of Congress. His daily diatribes helped defeat both universal health care and lobbyist reform. Regarding the former, he contended that the Clinton plan would deny physician choice, and regarding the latter, he read a last-minute fax sent to him from House Speaker Newt Gingrich--just before the lobby reform measure was to be voted on--implying that people who contact their representatives about a pending bill might be subject to a huge fine. Neither was true.

Baxter does say that Limbaugh’s “absolutely not” fair and straight with the facts, but that he’s concerned with “declining morality, lax educational standards [and] the hypocrisy of politicians.” But what about the declining standards of talk-show hosts and their hypocrisy?

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Limbaugh proclaims the virtues of self-reliance. In his book, “The Way Things Ought to Be,” he said, “The poor in this country are the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples. . . . We need to stop giving them coupons where they can go buy all kinds of junk. . . . I don’t have compassion for the poor.”

He said, “At no time did it ever cross my mind to ever go to some federal or state building and say, ‘I need some assistance.’ ” He has failed to adequately explain why, then, he once filed for unemployment, choosing to blame it on his wife, whom he said “made him” do it.

For years, Limbaugh has excoriated Bill Clinton, calling him a draft-dodging coward. Yet Limbaugh has not explained what kept him from the jungles of South Vietnam and a war he strongly supported. At various times, Limbaugh has claimed the following as reasons for his draft deferment: a “football injury,” “a student deferment,” an “inoperable pilonidal cyst,” a “high lottery number” and “a 4-F classification.” When a reporter for the New York Observer asked for documentation, he was told to “find it.”

Then there’s his cruelty. Take, for example, his ridicule of Chelsea Clinton. Shortly after the Clintons took office, Limbaugh did a sketch on his television show. Seated before a TV monitor, he said, “Could we see the cute kid? Let’s see who’s the cute kid in the White House.”

A close-up photo of a dog flashes on the monitor. No audience reaction. Limbaugh in mock horror: “No, no, no--that’s not the kid!” A close-up photo of Chelsea flashes on the screen. “That’s the kid!” The audience is shown laughing and clapping. Chelsea was 12 years old at the time.

Hamlet said: “One can smile and smile and still be a villain.” In Limbaugh’s case, one can leer and smear with abandon and be celebrated by Baxter for being “the embodiment of excellence in broadcasting.”

At least he didn’t compare Limbaugh to Will Rogers or Johnny Carson. These days, one has to be thankful for press restraint, however misplaced.

James D. Retter is a writer and producer and author of “Anatomy of a Scandal; An Investigation Into the Campaign to Undermine the Clinton Presidency,” released this month (General Publishing Group Inc.).

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