Associated Press national reporter Matt Sedensky should be entered into the Savage Limbaugh Obituary sweepstakes. His bitter chronicle on Wednesday began:
Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host who ripped into liberals and laid waste to political correctness with a captivating brand of malice that made him one of the most powerful voices in politics, influencing the rightward push of American conservatism and the rise of Donald Trump, died Wednesday. He was 70....
Unflinchingly conservative, wildly partisan, bombastically self-promoting and larger than life, Limbaugh galvanized listeners for more than 30 years with his talent for sarcastic, insult-laced commentary.
Like many liberal reporters, Sedensky lunged toward what conservatives could call the "Flush Rush" notebook of controversies. The leftists who always wanted to squash the Limbaugh show tried to make every controversial statement into a death blow for his program.
He called himself a “truth detector” and “harmless, lovable little fuzzball” but often trafficked in lies and conspiracies with contempt for his opposition that often veered into cruelty.
When actor Michael J. Fox, suffering from Parkinson’s disease, appeared in a Democratic campaign commercial, Limbaugh mocked his tremors. When a Washington advocate for the homeless killed himself, he cracked jokes. As the AIDS epidemic raged in the 1980s, he made the dying a punchline. He called 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog.
He suggested that the Democrats’ stand on reproductive rights would have led to the abortion of Jesus Christ. When a woman accused Duke University lacrosse players of rape, he derided her as a “ho,” and when a Georgetown University law student supported expanded contraceptive coverage, he dismissed her as a “slut.” When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Limbaugh said flatly: “I hope he fails.”
Each one of these could be dissected and put into context -- for example, he apologized for making light of AIDS patients. But reporters skip over the apologizes where he apologized. He also apologized for suggesting law student Sandra Fluke was a "slut." He also apologized to Michael J. Fox, but Brent Baker has fuller context.
Adding context would crimp the "cruelty" and "malice" charges, but Sedensky left that out. There's also no sense of timeline -- the "AIDS Updates" and jokes about D.C. homeless advocate Mitch Snyder are from 1990, before Limbaugh's show became a widely distributed national show.
Crystal Mangum, the stripper who accused Duke lacrosse players of rape in 2006, accused them falsely. They were smeared nationwide for months. In 2013, she was convicted of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of her boyfriend.
Then Sedensky blamed Limbaugh for ruining American civil discourse like a rhetorical virus:
Limbaugh influenced the likes of Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and countless other conservative commentators who pushed the boundaries of what passes as acceptable public discourse.
His brand of blunt, no-gray-area debate spread to cable TV, town hall meetings, political rallies and Congress itself, emerging during the battles over health care and the ascent of the tea party movement.
“What he did was to bring a paranoia and really mean, nasty rhetoric and hyperpartisanship into the mainstream,” said Martin Kaplan, a University of Southern California professor who is an expert on the intersection of politics and entertainment and a frequent critic of Limbaugh. “The kind of antagonism and vituperativeness that characterized him instantly became acceptable everywhere.”
It's as if leftists never said an uncivil thing until Limbaugh arrived on the national scene. Speaking of partisanship, Sedensky doesn't explain that his academic expert Martin Kaplan worked as Vice President Walter Mondale's chief speechwriter and was his deputy campaign manager in 1984.