Using the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing to smear Bill Clinton and coddle the government-hating militia movement, Rush Limbaugh this week did his best to justify Timothy McVeigh's deadly act of right-wing vengeance by shifting the blame onto the former president of the United States.
Even by Limbaugh's baseless standards, the insurrectionist attack was an extraordinary one -- "President Clinton's ties to the domestic terrorism of Oklahoma City are tangible." Yet the contemptible claim didn't generate much news interest. In fact, a search of the Nexis archives for Tuesday failed to turn up a single outlet that highlighted Limbaugh's attack on Clinton as news.
The sad truth is, collectively, the corporate media have let right-wing talkers cross so many lines of common decency and accountability over the past year that it seems most pundits don't think Limbaugh and company should be held to any kind of civilized standard. Nothing he says at this point seems to trigger any sort of visceral response.
But why isn't Limbaugh held accountable for his words and actions? Why wasn't it considered big news that the de facto leader of the Republican Party went to a place previously considered unconscionable and unpardonable by the press corps?
If the New York Times, for instance, is going to prop up Limbaugh as an all-powerful and deeply important figure in American politics the way the newspaper did with a worshipful Sunday magazine cover story, shouldn't it then dutifully chronicle Limbaugh's radical and outrageous rhetoric, as well?
Note that on Tuesday, the Washington Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, didn't bat an eye while reviewing Limbaugh's jaw-dropping claim that the former Democratic president had ties to domestic terrorism and that he was to blame for the 168 people killed in the Oklahoma City blast. Typing up the controversy, Kurtz didn't even comment on the substance of Limbaugh's unhinged hate rhetoric. For the Post, it was just more Rush-being-Rush.
Question: Would Kurtz have been so docile and disinterested if an MSNBC host had claimed that President Bush had ties to foreign terrorism and was personally to blame for the carnage on 9-11?
For the most part, right-talkers have been issued a free pass, and they know it. Aware of the glaring double standard, they use it to dump more hate rhetoric into the public discourse. And they do it without fear of a media backlash.
Remember last summer when Limbaugh compared President Obama to Adolf Hitler? ("Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.") And remember how Limbaugh refused to apologize, and then kept doing it again and again? Recall also the media's response to Limbaugh's crazy Nazi rhetoric: Ho-hum. Nothing to see here, people.
But we know Limbaugh crossed a bright line with his Nazi rhetoric because, back in 2004, a mainstream media maelstrom erupted when it was discovered that two videos submitted to a MoveOn.org anti-Bush ad contest had included Hitler imagery in their 30-second attacks on then-President Bush. (The ads represented just two of the 1,500 clips submitted.) MoveOn never endorsed the efforts or promoted them; the clips simply appeared on MoveOn's crowded contest website. But their mere existence sparked a week-long media controversy, despite the fact that the liberal netroots group quickly pulled the ads, apologized for their inclusion, and denounced the use of Nazi imagery.
Talkers like CNN's Wolf Blitzer were not pleased. After playing one of the offending Hitler clips as news, Blitzer bemoaned the "ugly, ugly ad."
Keep in mind, that was for an obscure Web ad that nobody ever would have seen if not highlighted in the press. But for Limbaugh, who reaches more than 10 million listeners a day? What happened this week on CNN when Limbaugh implied that Clinton had ties to terrorism and was responsible for the death of 168 Americans?
Media Matters has been documenting for more than a year now how the conservative press has embraced and celebrated the anti-government message of the 1990s militia movement and its incendiary campaign calling for resistance against an illegitimate, America-hating president and his "lawless regime" that's intent on overthrowing the country. We've detailed how the GOP Noise Machine has feasted, opportunistically, on the chance to foment hate while creating a chaotic atmosphere of supposed instability.
Fully aware there's virtually no political price to be paid for hyping that kind of revolutionary talk (i.e. the press doesn't say boo about it), Limbaugh decided to retroactively exonerate, or at least justify, McVeigh's horrific terrorist act by pointing the finger at the former president of the United States and blaming him for causing the ghoulish blast.
How could that be? Limbaugh claimed Clinton's policies -- his "deeds" -- pushed the right-wing terrorist too far. McVeigh, among others, became "angered" by Waco, in Limbaugh's words.
That's right, "angered" over Waco, McVeigh drove his rented Ryder truck to Oklahoma City, parked it outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and blew it up, shearing off the entire north side off the building, killing government workers as well as their toddlers inside in daycare. ("I reached the decision to go on the offensive -- to put a check on government abuse of power," McVeigh later wrote.)
But now, 15 years later, it's a former president of the United States and his personal "deeds" that are to blame for that terrorist attack. It's Bill Clinton -- not Timothy McVeigh -- who boasts "ties" to "domestic terrorism."
Question: Doesn't anybody in the Beltway press corps think this is newsworthy and demands comment?
Crossposted at Media Matters' blog, County Fair.