Rush Limbaugh = Political Peril? So Says PBS

On Friday night’s Washington Week on PBS, the liberal media elites around the table were still finding political perils for the Republicans in the new era of Democratic dominance. NPR anchor Michele (pretentiously pronounced Mee-chelle) Norris substituted for Gwen Ifill, and noted President Obama still faced fire from the "Republican machinery," symbolized by Rush Limbaugh. Former Time reporter John Dickerson suggested there was real "political peril" in associating the GOP with Rush, as Obama masterfully suggested:

NORRIS: The Republicans are going through a certain amount of party building right now. They emerged from this last election with real wounds that they have to tend to. But there are signs that the Republican machinery is still very strong, particularly the thunder at the right that we hear on the airwaves every week and in the name of Rush Limbaugh.

DICKERSON: That’s right, a name that the president was mentioning this week, and it was – you had – it’s extraordinary because some Democrats were saying, wait a minute. Why is the president talking about Rush Limbaugh? President Obama brought it up in the context of talking to Republicans. He said, look, if we descend into something where you’re following what Rush Limbaugh says, we’re not going to get anything done. And some Democrats said, why is he giving Rush Limbaugh all this good air time, making Rush into such an important figure? Isn’t that a big mistake?

Well, no because with George Bush gone, the only – the second most unpopular person in the Republican firmament in the public’s mind is Rush Limbaugh. And so what Obama is doing in a subtle, but also not so subtle way is putting those people who would oppose him in the Rush Limbaugh camp. And so that creates political peril for them and you know, Mr. Limbaugh didn’t seem to mind it. He got lots of publicity, so it seems to be working for both of them.

Aside from the weird notion that Limbaugh doesn't mind imperiling Republican politicians as long as he's publicized, where is this notion coming that Limbaugh is really unpopular? From a Clinton pollster. In an October 24, 2008 survey by Stan Greenberg and his associates, they didn’t ask survey respondents whether they approved or disapproved of Limbaugh and other media figures and media outlets. Here’s the question: "I’d like to rate your feelings toward some people and organizations, with 100 being a VERY WARM, FAVORABLE feeling, and 0 being a VERY COLD, UNFAVORABLE feeling and 50 meaning not particularly hot or cold."

Using this "temperature" test, Limbaugh had a score of 21 "warm" and 58 "cold." Here’s how you can tell this poll is strange (and yet delightful to Rush-haters). Among all voters, Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers scored better than Limbaugh on the "cold" scale: Wright’s numbers were 2 warm and 50 cold; the Ayers score was 4 warm and 51 cold.

Does this reflect which political figures the "mainstream media" has singled out repeatedly as the truly evil characters in America?

Who was delighted by this analysis? Max Blumenthal of The Nation and The Daily Beast, claiming it shows Rush is "less popular than Jeremiah Wright." 

Is Dickerson cribbing from this analysis? If so, can Dickerson relate to the top number on this chart? The "mainstream media" is every bit as "unpopular" on this scale as Rush: 20 warm and 55 cold.

Later in the show, the PBS panel discussed newly elected RNC chairman Michael Steele, and Dickerson again suggested there's real danger that Republicans from "super-conservative districts" will lead the GOP to ruin:  

NORRIS: We also had a big news today at the Republican National Committee meeting. After a long and contentious five-way battle, they’ve elected a new chairman. His name is Michael Steele, former lieutenant governor in Maryland. He has much work to do in trying to rebuild the party, but will he play some role in this continuing battle over the stimulus package?

ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: Well, they’re going to look to him to lead the way in all kinds of party building, but I think for the time being the leadership discussion about stimulus in terms of the pending legislation is Mitch McConnell, who’s the Republican leader in the Senate; John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House. Michael Steele probably has enough to do talking about in terms money and recruiting candidates. And he wants to take that party into much more diversity, talk to the grassroots. That’s where his support came from.

NORRIS: Interesting.

DICKERSON: Yes, although it’s a tricky for him because if the House members, some of whom are in super-conservative districts, end up defining the whole party, that’s part of the problem that Steele was elected to fix, is to fix the national image of the party. And you don’t want the party to be defined by a person who lives in a district that didn’t vote very much at all for Barack Obama. You want the party to be a national party with lots of different moving parts, with lots of different people in it. And so it’s a tough test for him where and when to step in.

This is the entire Steele discussion on the show. What stands out in this (for better or worse) is that none of these journalists ever note for the audience that Steele is a black Republican. Isn't that a strange omission?  

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis