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Terry Krepel Headshot

Brent Bozell's Profile in Cowardice on Rush Limbaugh

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The Media Research Center has long been in the tank for Rush Limbaugh, defending him and giving him a pass on his behavior, no matter how offensive. For instance:

  • The MRC defended Limbaugh regarding his failed bid to be part of an investor group that wants to buy the NFL's St. Louis Rams by engaging in a selective reading of history and blurring the line between apparently false racially charged statements attributed to Limbaugh and undeniably true racially charged things Limbaugh actually did say.
  • The MRC stayed mum about Limbaugh's repeated references to anal sex on his radio show, despite its longtime criticism of such references elsewhere in the media and popular culture.
  • The MRC gave Limbaugh its inaugural "William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence" in 2007.

That gives you an idea of how the MRC and its leader, Brent Bozell, would deal with Limbaugh's sleazy attacks on Sandra Fluke, a law school student testifying on Capitol Hill to advocate for President Obama's policy of requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of contraception for women, calling Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" and repeatedly asserting that she sleeps around. (At no point during her testimony did Fluke discuss her sexual behavior.)

Limbaugh's tirade was inspired by an MRC product -- a Feb. 29 CNSNews.com blog post by CNS director of communications Craig Bannister, in which he slimed Fluke as a "sex-crazed co-ed" who is "having so much sex that it's hard to make ends meet."

Despite Limbaugh's offensiveness and one of its employees serving as his inspiration, the MRC's initial response was silence. Then, rather than actually criticize what Limbaugh said, the MRC played the equivocation game, claiming that remarks by liberals were much worse.

The MRC even tried to dismiss Limbaugh's remarks as "a bit of humor which escaped the overly-sensitive left-wing/media axis always looking to be offended." Funny, the humor defense didn't fly with the MRC a few days earlier, when Bozell sent an outraged letter to the Huffington Post over a satirical piece by Larry Doyle, clearly labeled as "comedy," about the Catholic Church. "What cowardice. What a double standard," Bozell huffed.

Speaking of cowardice and double standards: Completely absent from the discussion at the MRC was Bozell. That silence continued for five days after Limbaugh's original attack on Fluke. In that time, buried on a Saturday afternoon, in the face of an advertiser exodus from his show, Limbaugh issued a so-called apology for his sleazy attacks.

That "apology" is apparently what finally moved Bozell to speak out. Unfortunately, what he said was lame, and he didn't originally publish it at his own website, doing so instead at Fox News (reposted a couple hours later at the MRC's NewsBusters). Here is sum total of Bozell's outrage over Limbaugh denigrating Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute":

Let's all agree Limbaugh crossed a line.

He agrees. He posted an apology to Fluke "for the insulting word choices."

That's it. Never mind that the MRC treated MSNBC's Ed Schultz much more harshly for calling Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut," then deemed his apology to be insufficiently comprehensive.

If we can "all agree Limbaugh crossed a line," why did it take five days for Bozell to decide if he agreed?

Bozell then declared the "scandal-ette" to be "over," complained that "the Left and the media" are trying to end Limbaugh's career, then changed the subject by listing a long string of offenses committed by liberals, citing in particular remarks by Bill Maher about Sarah Palin.

But Bozell wasn't done. The same day, the MRC launched IStandWithRush.org, a petition site stating:

I stand with Rush Limbaugh and appreciate the massive contribution that he has made to the conservative movement and our nation over the last 25 years. Rush has apologized. But the radical left will never accept it because they despise him and want him off the air. I condemn attempts by radical left-wing organizations and the media to censor Rush and his commonsense conservative message.

In other words, Bozell is effectively rewarding Limbaugh's hate.

(Interestingly, a week after its creation, the "I Stand With Rush" site now redirects to the MRC's "Tell the Truth!" campaign -- a sentiment that doesn't apply to reporting on right-wing scandals, in which case the MRC does not want the truth told -- which contains no reference to the petition.)

In an accompanying video, Bozell declared: "It isn't about what Rush said last week. It's about roaring hypocrisy and about censorship." But that's just a lame copout from someone who knows very well that it's precisely about what Rush said. But it is about roaring hypocrisy too -- Bozell's.

Bozell has an right-wing agenda to push, and it certainly doesn't involve explaining why three days of slut-shaming by Limbaugh received not only the most tepid criticism possible but earned Limbaugh a website to praise him, while a single instance of the word out of Ed Schultz's mouth drew howls of protest.

Why has Bozell refused to speak out in any meaningful way on Limbaugh? Does he think it's weakness for conservatives to apologize when they've clearly done wrong? Does Limbaugh have something on him that he will unleash if Bozell commits the offense of criticizing him too harshly, even for an offense that begs for harsh criticism?

Bozell is not a stupid man. He knows what Limbaugh said was offensive. Yet this man who is all too eager to issue moral judgment on others for their offensive words couldn't be moved to criticize Limbaugh in public until five days had passed -- and even then, the criticism was so milquetoast as to be meaningless.

Bozell's cowardice and desperation to turn the conversation away from Limbaugh demonstrates that his personal morality is completely malleable and tied to the political winds. A man of true moral conviction would have criticized Limbaugh as sharply as Ed Schultz or Bill Maher; Bozell won't.

We already know that Bozell's MRC is too biased be trusted on the subject of media research. With this shameful Limbaugh episode, Bozell has demonstrated beyond a doubt that he and his organization can't be trusted on matters of basic decency, either.

(An expanded version of this article can be found at ConWebWatch.)