ABC: Limbaugh Got Off Easy, Without Proof Paint Him as Intolerant of “Drug Addiction”

ABC's World News Tonight on Saturday contended that Rush Limbaugh got off easy because he could afford a high-priced lawyer and painted him as a hypocrite for previously condemning drug users, but ABC didn't offer any evidence Limbaugh has ever denounced those hooked on prescription pain medication. "Rush Limbaugh cuts a deal,” anchor Jim Avila teased at the top of his newscast, propounding: “Was this drug suspect treated like any other Florida first offender?"

After a soundbite from Limbaugh's lawyer, Roy Black, who contended that “with anybody...addicted to pain medication, it is really unfair to prosecute them or to make some sort of a big case out of it. The idea is to help the person overcome the addiction," ABC reporter Jeffrey Kofman countered: "But Limbaugh himself has not been so tolerant of other people's problems with drug addiction." Viewers then heard an audio clip of Limbaugh from more than ten years ago: "The people who are caught doing this stuff ought to be sent away. They ought to be punished." What, however, was the “stuff” to which Limbaugh referred? Kofman did not specify in delivering his broadside, but if Limbaugh was condemning users of illegal hallucinogenic substances, such as cocaine or heroin, that's quite a bit different than obtaining an excessive level of legal drugs to control pain. Kofman also suggested Limbaugh bought his deal: “Limbaugh received the lightest of punishments. Criminal defense specialists tell ABC News that a man without Limbaugh's access to top lawyers would likely have seen a harsher outcome." Yet earlier in the story Kofman had related how Limbaugh "benefitted from a state program that gives first-time offenders a second chance." (Transcript follows)

Like Kofman, in Saturday's New York Times, reporter Jeff Leeds, who cited no quotes, issued an uncorroborated broadside which didn't differentiate between illegal mind-altering drugs and legal, prescription-controlled pain relievers: “Before his own problems with painkillers surfaced, Mr. Limbaugh had regularly told listeners that drug users should be jailed.”

Check my Friday night NewsBusters posting for a rundown of Friday night coverage of Limbaugh's “arrest” and more on the agreement he made with the local Florida prosecutor.

The April 29 World News Tonight story in full, with the closed-captioning corrected against the video by the MRC's weekend warrior, Brad Wilmouth:

Anchor Jim Avila, in the opening teaser:
"Rush Limbaugh cuts a deal. He's smiling for the cameras in his mug shot. Was this drug suspect treated like any other Florida first offender?"
Avila soon arrived at the first segment story, over Limbaugh's smiling mug shot on screen:
"Now back home to the latest on Rush Limbaugh. The law-and-order radio host responded to an arrest warrant by turning himself in to the Palm Beach County sheriff. The charge, prescription drug fraud. It's all part of a carefully orchestrated plea deal. Tonight, ABC's Jeffrey Kofman looks at the layers of irony in this story."

Jeffrey Kofman, with each element of the deal displayed on screen: "Rush Limbaugh had good reason to smile in his mug shot. His three-year ordeal with drug charges is finally over. Under the deal, Limbaugh agreed to be booked on a single felony charge: prescription drug fraud. That charge will be dropped if he continues drug treatment for 18 months. Limbaugh also agreed to pay $30,000 for the public cost of the investigation and to submit to drug testing."

Web audio of Rush Limbaugh on his radio show, October 10, 2003, with text on screen: "I am addicted to prescription pain medication."

Kofman: "Limbaugh never denied he had a problem. But he vigorously denies he did anything illegal. With this deal, the case will not go to trial. Had he been tried and had he been found guilty, Limbaugh could have faced up to five years in prison. Instead, he benefitted from a state program that gives first-time offenders a second chance."

Roy Black, Attorney of Rush Limbaugh: "With anybody in this position who found themselves addicted to pain medication, it is really unfair to prosecute them or to make some sort of a big case out of it. The idea is to help the person overcome the addiction."

Kofman: "But Limbaugh himself has not been so tolerant of other people's problems with drug addiction."

Limbaugh audio of very poor quality, dated October 1995, with text on screen (no source listed): "The people who are caught doing this stuff ought to be sent away. They ought to be punished."

Kofman: "Yet Limbaugh received the lightest of punishments. Criminal defense specialists tell ABC News that a man without Limbaugh's access to top lawyers would likely have seen a harsher outcome."

Gerald Lefcourt, criminal defense specialist: "I'm not saying he didn't deserve it because apparently he does suffer from an addiction. But many, many more people also deserve similar treatment."

Kofman: "Which may give Limbaugh another reason to smile when he signs his plea deal on Monday. Jeffrey Kofman, ABC News, Miami."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center