The nearly-8,000 word cover story on radio talker Rush Limbaugh in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday drew surprised approval from many conservatives -- and, now, condemnation from many others. Eric Boehlert at Media Matters, for example, ripped the Times today for "duping" its readers by assigning a conservative "dittohead" staffer, Zev Chafets, to write the piece without informing its readers of this "alliance." He asked for Public Editor Clark Hoyt to look into it.
Chafets appeared with host Bob Garfield on the weekly NPR program "On the Media" last weekend, and the show has now posted the revealing transcript.
Here is an excerpt. It is up in its entirety at www.onthemedia.org. Garfield also probed Chafets on Limbaugh's effort to not seem like a racist in attacking Obama....I should mention here that I have had the honor of being attacked by Limbaugh on his show more than once.
BOB GARFIELD: Your piece on Limbaugh was very generous, I would say even flattering. You seem to give him a pass for his excesses. And when I'm talking about excesses, I'm talking about ad hominum attacks, truly mean-spirited stuff that goes way beyond satire and into the politics of vilification, and also playing fast and loose with the truth, seizing on some news item and grossly misrepresenting it and creating a lot of hubbub, using as the kernel of his satire something that is just fundamentally untrue.
ZEV CHAFETS: Well, do you have an example of that? I'm not an apologist for Rush Limbaugh, but I'm a little bit defensive because I think that the liberal media takes such an unfair view of him.
I hear people being vilified on the radio, on all sorts of radio stations by all sorts of people all day long. And Limbaugh is not worse than many of the ones I hear, even on NPR. He just has a different point of view.
GARFIELD: "The NAACP should have a riot rehearsal, they should get a liquor store and practice robberies?"
CHAFETS: Not my sense of humor, but it's not a lie.
GARFIELD: Did Limbaugh not say that Abu Ghraib was no worse than a Skull and Bones initiation?
CHAFETS: Yeah, he did. It's his opinion.
GARFIELD: Yeah. Did he not deny that genocide was committed against the American Indian and state that the population is higher now than it was before Christopher Columbus -- of Native Americans?
CHAFETS: Mm, I don't know. I didn't ask him that either. I don't know what the population was before Christopher Columbus.
GARFIELD: Yeah, it was about 15 million and, you know, by the 19th century it was 250,000. I mean, that's what -- that's the numbers.
Okay, now I know [LAUGHS] you don't want to be an apologist for Rush Limbaugh or his spokesmen.
GARFIELD: But do you not think that he is answerable for things that are, at minimum, offensive and obnoxious and mean spirited that he has said on the air?
CHAFETS: Yeah, you know, I do think that, and I think he's answerable to the public. And I think that for people who find him more obnoxious and more mean spirited than other people that they prefer to listen to, then they should answer him by turning him off.
I wouldn't say that I see Limbaugh as an unmixed, you know, blessing, but I do think that it's good for the American media climate to have at least one very strong conservative Republican voice that is heard, you know, across the country. Now, there's more than one today, but they're all there only because Limbaugh was the first.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. It includes a chapter on Limbaugh. Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher.