The Hyena in Winter
July 8, 2008
If you’ve been scratching your head over that vapid profile of Rush Limbaugh that cluttered up the pages of the Sunday NYT magazine, consider yourself a member of a very large club. While there’s no denying that El Rushbo still has a large radio following, it’s also undeniable that the Republican Party is in for a shellacking in November, the entire menu of conservative nostrums has been stained and discredited by the Bush administration, and the GOP presidential nomination is going to a candidate Limbaugh despises while his beloved Mitt Romney went down in flames.
All these signs of decline, along with El Rushbo’s usual array of unhinged attacks, would indicate that Tak Radio Gasbag No. 1 is on the downhill side of his long, odious career. So why did one finish the article with the feeling that the writer, Zev Chafets, went home from the interview with Limbaugh’s scrotum-prints on his chin?
Perhaps, as Eric Boehlert notes, because Chafets is a dittohead in good standing with the conservative gallery of scat-flinging howler monkeys, and there was never any doubt that the finished article would be about a hard hitting as a wet Twinkie:
That’s why there was no mention in the very long profile about the fact that Limbaugh has called Sen. John Kerry a “gigolo,” mocked Democratic Party chief Howard Dean as “a very sick man,” agreed that liberal philanthropist George Soros is a “self-hating Jew,” denounced then-Sen. Tom Daschle as an Al Qaeda sympathizer, mocked anti-war crusader Cindy Sheehan, whose son was slain in Iraq, by teasing, ” ‘Oh, she lost her son’ — well, yes. Yes. Yes. But you know, this is [sigh] — aaah. We all lose things.”
Or that Limbaugh has claimed Democrats “hate this country” (i.e. “What’s good for Al Qaeda is good for the Democratic Party in this country today”); denigrated members of the U.S. Armed Forces, calling military men and women who criticized the war in Iraq and advocated withdrawal “phony soldiers”; toasted photos of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib as “good old American pornography”; suggested actor Michael J. Fox faked symptoms of his life-threatening illness while taping a pro-stem-cell-research commercial; called Sen. Barack Obama a “Halfrican American”; and announced Obama and Osama bin Laden are “on the same page.”
There was not even a whiff of those odious attacks in The New York Times. Who knows? Maybe Chafets, given his clear political leanings, didn’t include those nuggets because he didn’t think the smears were particularly controversial. Maybe Chafets agreed with all of Limbaugh’s pronouncements.
It’s certainly possible. Reading some of Chafets’ previous work (he used to be a columnist for the New York Daily News), I often got the feeling that he was applying to be a Limbaugh ghost writer, the way he dumped all over Democrats and cheered lustfully for a war with Iraq.
We no longer expect much from the NYT op-ed pages, known chiefly as the place where Bill Kristol showcases NewsMax-level accuracy and insight. But shouldn’t the magazine observe a higher standard? I’m not demanding that NYT profiles be written by people who are ideologically antagonistic to their subjects. What I am demanding is that the authors of those profiles observe basic standards of accuracy, and show themselves willing to challenge their subjects. The only challenge detectable in Chafets’ profile is how low he’s willing to go in fawning over Limbaugh, and by running this knob-polishing epic apparently uncut and unedited, the Times has once again given supporters of quality journalism cause for despair.