Frum's Review of Rush Book Ignored New Liberal Quotes, For and Against

David Frum has responded on his own site Frum Forum to the NewsBusters post on his nasty Limbaugh book review in The Washington Post. For starters, he claimed that he focused on Limbaugh's ornate digs because this is "really the only news" in the Zev Chafets book.

To claim there’s no news in here is to admit you skimmed it. I wish Frum had plopped in the Post this snippet from pages 139 and 140 and pondered what it says about the Left:

Some, like Professor Todd Gitlin of the Columbia School of Journalism, think the government should take Rush off the air. "Limbaugh is a liar and a demagogue, a brander of enemies, a mobilizer, and a rabble rouser," Gitlin told me. He conceded this would constitute a government limitation of free speech. "The corner that right-wing radio has on the medium is a warping factor in our politics," he says. "Limbaugh is truck-driver radio. His voice is the voice of resentment, or in Nietzche’s sense, ressentiment – it sounds better, more venomous, in French...

On reflection, and after consulting the Media Matters archive, Gitlin contacted me and asked to amend "liar" to "[BS] artist." In the commentary business, [BS] is what you call the opinions of those with whom you disagree.

Or for a surprising liberal endorsement, NPR host Ira Glass, just a few pages after the glitzy-mansion paragraphs, on page 125:

"Rush is just an amazing radio performer," says Ira Glass, the host of This American Life. "Years ago, I used to listen in the car on my way to reporting gigs, and I’d notice that I disagreed with everything he was saying, yet I not only wanted to keep listening, I actually liked him. That is some chops. You can count on two hands the number of public figures in America who can pull that off."

Glass compares Limbaugh to another exception free-form radio monologist, Howard Stern. "A lot of people dismisse them both as pandering and proselytizing and playing to the lowest common denominator, but I think that misses everything important about their shows," he told me. "They both think through their ideas in real time on the air; they both have a lot more warmth than they’re generally given credit for; they both created an entire radio aesthetic.

"Like everyone, I’m a sucker for the smart-ass outsider, which he plays with such glee. That’s what’s great about him at his best: it’s such a happy show! And the idea that he’d just sit there, not take calls, not have guests...is as radical an invention as Howard Stern’s format. Rush is a lone figure. Talking to us in that peculiar way you can over the radio – where he’s our buddy, leaning in for a joke, tugging on our sleeve as he tells us something nobody else knows, but he’s also a preacher, delivering good news to the masses. When I first heard him, I was surprised to hear this tone work in the middle of the day. I’d always thought of that solitary sort of radio as something that works better in the dark, late at night. Something about Rush’s upbeat, triumphal, braggy joy – the happiness of the show– is what make it play when the sun is still up."

Here is Frum's response to my post in full:

Some replies:

1) Hate, jealousy, etc. are strong words. They are visibly not substantiated by the extract Graham quotes, most of which in turn is quoted by Chafets. My advice to Tim: stick to the facts, omit the mind-reading.

2) It is not I who "cannot seem to distinguish between intellectual leaders and political leaders." The claim that Limbaugh has displaced Reagan is made by Limbaugh’s enthusiastic biographer, by Zev Chafets, right up there in black and white.

3) Tim Graham describes Limbaugh as a "great popularizer" and asks why I "can’t appreciate him for what he is"? The answer to that question comes from Limbaugh himself, in words quoted in my review but not in Graham’s blogpost. Limbaugh no longer sees himself as a popularizer. He sees himself – in his own words!" as the "intellectual engine" of the conservative movement. Limbaugh sees himself as the successor and replacement to William Buckley and Irving Kristol. If Graham does not agree – and he indicates that he does not – then his problem is with Limbaugh, not me.

4) Why did my review focus on Limbaugh’s ornate tastes in home decoration? For this reason: because that’s what Chafets’ book focused on! The question any reviewer would ask of a newly published biography is: what does it tell us that we did not know before? In the case of An Army of One, it is precisely these personal details that are the news, really the only news. Limbaugh liked Chafets and gave him access to his house and life. Chafets described what he saw in awe-struck detail. At the same time, Chafets captured in multiple quotations Limbaugh’s intense resentments and his avidity for social status. These are not mind-readings, like Graham’s attempt to analyze me above. They are Limbaugh’s own words. And they make for a jarring juxtaposition – and the most arresting thing in a book that otherwise repackages very familiar material.

Some replies to the replies:

On the mind-reading: Frum challenges the idea that he is a Limbaugh-hater. Let’s go back to the Newsweek cover story for a refresher:

With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence—exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we're cooperating!

And:

There's the perfect culmination of the outlook Rush Limbaugh has taught his fans and followers: we want to transform the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan into a party of unanimous dittoheads—and we don't care how much the party has to shrink to do it. That's not the language of politics. It's the language of a cult.

On Frum’s jealousy that he isn’t the intellectual leader of the Republicans, that may be mind-reading, but his mind is as clear as a glass window with the smell of fresh Windex.

On the popularizer, points 2 and 3: It does not require us to accept Rush Limbaugh's self-designation (or the author's alleged endorsement of same) as the "intellectual engine" of the conservative movement for us to appreciate his role as a popularizer.

But a closer look at the chapter titled "Intellectual Engine" makes it plain when the author explains "Limbaugh is not an original thinker. He belongs to a profession that toils somewhere between Plato's cave and Santa's workshop, hammering perceived Truths into interesting new shapes, wrapping them in shiny paper, and delivering them to the public."

In other words, Limbaugh is not an intellectual leader, he is a popularizer.  

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