When The New York Times Magazine decided it wanted to run a profile of Rush Limbaugh in the summer of 2008, the editors turned to writer Zev Chafets, a former flack for the conservative Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin who had reinvented himself in the United States as a columnist, book author, and freelance journalist. The article contained the usual jokes about the so-called liberal media being out to get Limbaugh--"Are you the guy who's here to do the hit job on us?" asks one of Limbaugh's aides at the top of the piece. But its content actually shocked many readers by ignoring virtually of all of the political outrageousness that had made Limbaugh so controversial.
Chafets did have a reputation for being awfully sympathetic to conservatives--he is the author of a rapturous book about the Christian right--but he was not yet known to be such an easy a mark. And if you read that article, you would never have guessed at the combination of racism, resentment, and misinformation that forms the foundation of Limbaugh's radio show.
Chafets presented Limbaugh as a kind of loveable teddy bear who was naturally "tickled to be taken out to eat on The New York Times." True, he had a few quirks. Limbaugh launched "Operation Chaos" that year, instructing conservatives to vote for Hillary Clinton in crossover primaries in order to weaken the eventual nominee, Barack Obama. He pronounced his work to have "exceeded all expectations," which Chafets parenthetically explained was Rush's "customary self-evaluation."
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