Although Rush Limbaugh doesn't actually work from a bunker, he does have a bunker mentality. His studio is on the third floor of a (purposefully) anonymous building 100 yards off the white sands of Palm Beach, Florida, and about a mile from his gated mansion (the one next to Chuck Norris's). Along with the Gulfstream jet (cost: $54 million), fleet of sports cars and eight-year contract, worth $400 million, this mansion is his reward for being the most listened-to talk-radio host in America, a title he has held for 20 years.
But it is also his compensation. Professional Right-wing controversialists do tend to upset people, and Limbaugh has had his share of death threats. He has also had his quota of criticism from the media, or the liberal media, as he tends to call it. He hates interviews and has rarely given any, though he does have a soft spot for this newspaper, because it was once owned by his sometime friend and neighbour Conrad Black (currently serving a 6-year jail sentence for fraud; Limbaugh wrote a letter to the judge attesting to Lord Black's good character).
The 'drive-by media', as Limbaugh also calls it, came down to Florida looking for him when he insulted Michael J.Fox a couple of years ago -- by saying the actor was hamming up his Parkinson's disease for political gain after he appeared in an appeal for embryonic stem-cell research. They came back a few months later when Limbaugh was arrested for 'doctor shopping' painkiller prescriptions; that is, persuading several doctors to give him overlapping ones. He pleaded not guilty and cut a deal; the charges were dismissed after 18 months on condition that he continue rehabilitation and treatment with a therapist. The press staked out his mansion on both occasions, but never found his studio on this palm-fringed boulevard. You wouldn't know it was here.
He calls it his 'Southern Command', having spent most of his career broadcasting from New York, and describes it on air as 'heavily fortified', yet when you travel up in a lift and step into a glass and leather reception area, there isn't even a receptionist, let alone a security guard, just several white locked doors and a CCTV camera that follows you. One of the doors buzzes. I am expected.
On the walls of the corridor there is evidence of Limbaugh's considerable power and influence, and his friends in high places. Here a framed picture of him with George Bush. Here one of him with Donald Rumsfeld. Here he is with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan.
There is a humidor --- Limbaugh is a connoisseur of cigars -- and a bust of Churchill. There is also a bust of Beethoven, which has a plaque reading: 'A genius who produced masterpieces without hearing.'
Limbaugh became almost completely deaf at the age of 50, but is able to hear callers now thanks to a cochlear implant -- an electronic device which stimulates nerves in the inner ear. It explains his way with a monologue, which actually is a dialogue with himself. But even if he could hear, he probably wouldn't listen. Rush Limbaugh is a talker, not a listener. He keeps it up for three hours at a stretch, five days a week from noon until three. There are commercial breaks and phone-ins, but mostly it is him delivering homilies on politics and current affairs, extemporaneously. His fluency is breathtaking.