Monday, October 19, 2009

Slander! Libel! Not!

Chris in Paris (AmBlog): Sharpton threatens Limbaugh with legal action
Rev. Al Sharpton is threatening Rush Limbaugh with a lawsuit. Whether you like Al Sharpton or not, this is good. Limbaugh is convinced that he can push everyone around and smear without consequences. Enough is enough. This situation also brings up how far the Wall Street Journal has dropped since being taken over by Murdoch. It was always conservative but now it's Fox-loony.
Reverend Al Sharpton and his lawyers say they are preparing to file a defamation lawsuit against conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for an op-ed published Saturday, which Sharpton alleges "erroneously" characterizes his (Sharpton's) role in a string of violent incidents in New York in the early 90's.
Anonymous Liberal: Rush Was Not and Cannot Be Libeled 
The lengths to which supposedly "serious" conservatives are willing to go to defend Rush Limbaugh are staggering. The National Review this morning has an entire editorial fluffing Limbaugh and attacking his critics. It ends with this gem:
Rush is a rich and powerful man and quite able to take care of himself, but the dishonest attacks on him are the template for equally dishonest attacks on private citizens in less exalted positions, from Tea Party organizers to town-hall critics. If Rush can be ruthlessly libeled by the Democrats and the media, so can they.
Actually, the template for such attacks is what Rush has been doing for a living every day for the last few decades, but I'll get back to that. There is so much insanity and projection embedded in this single paragraph that it's worth unpacking it a little bit first.

First, as a legal matter, Rush was not libeled, at least by the media. For something to be slander or libel (especially when it involves a public figure), you have to know that what you are saying or writing is false. What happened here was that someone circulated an email that purported to be the "Top Ten Racist Rush Limbaugh Quotes." Contrary to what the National Review and Rush's knee-jerk defenders claim, these quotes are not all fabricated. Most of them, in fact, are well-documented (his quote about Donovan McNabb, etc.). Several of them, however, are unverifiable. They come from secondary sources (books and magazine articles about Rush) and supposedly date back to very early in Limbaugh's career. It's not as if there are transcripts of everything Rush has said on air since the 70s, so who knows whether they're true.

Armed with the list of quotes, some people in the media (mainly bloggers) repeated these quotes without verifying them. That's no doubt sloppy reporting and whoever repeated those quotes--at least the ones that cannot be proven to be genuine--should issue a retraction. But it's not libel. No one said anything knowingly false. Indeed, the reason people were so willing to believe that all of these quotes were real was that many of them were, in fact, real. Limbaugh has said a number of very racist things over the years (many which didn't even make the Top Ten). Moreover, as far as I can tell, the most widely repeated quotes from the list (in the particular the McNabb quote) were the real ones, not the ones Rush claims were made up.

But let's go one step further. Suppose I were to repeat, right now, one of the quotes Rush claims was fabricated--let's use the slavery quote as an example--and attribute it to him. Would that be libel? The answer is almost certainly no. After all, I don't know that it's false. It comes from a book--101 People Who Are Really Screwing Up America--and I have no particular reason to trust Limbaugh more than the author of that book. And there's no independent way of verifying the truth; there's no comprehensive repository of all of Limbaugh's statements.

I, of course, wouldn't do that because I have higher standards, but guess who doesn't. That's right, Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh has made a career out of exactly this sort of character assassination. When he isn't making stuff up himself, he is credulously repeating stuff made up by other people. Any right wing nutjob who writes a book gets invited onto to Limbaugh's show to pollute the airwaves with their outlandish claims, and Rush will then repeat it.

Was Vince Foster murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton? According to Rush he was. Was Michael J. Fox faking his Parkinson's disease symptoms? According to Rush he was.
Is Justice Sotomayor a "bigot" and "racist" comparable to David Duke? According to Rush she is. Indeed, just in the past week, Limbaugh repeated several times a false and rather despicable character attack against Obama Department of Education official Kevin Jennings. And these are just examples I came up with in 2 minutes of Googling. There are similar examples to be found in nearly every broadcast Limbaugh has ever done.

Limbaugh is a slander-merchant. That's what he does for a living. The notion that someone like him could ever be unfairly treated by the media is inherently ludicrous. To portray Rush as a victim of such tactics--as opposed to the world's biggest practitioner of them--is insulting to everyone's intelligence and a sign of the complete intellectual decay of magazines like the National Review.


  1. "I mean, let's face it, we didn't have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I'm not saying we should bring it back; I'm just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark."

  2. Are you sure he didn't say that?

    It seems to me that all the negative vibes this blowhard (Rush Hudson Limbaugh A.KA. Jeff Christie) has been spewing over these many years has come back to blow back on his face (A classic “Blow Back”). He always tries to give off the airs that he can have anything he wants but as we all witness those with more money and more influence tossed him aside like sack of potatoes and the ultimate insult was that it was done in public (money don’t buy you everything butterball).

    Now of course he blames everyone else (Michael J. Fox, Perez Hilton, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton, Olympia Snowe, ESPN, NFL, the media, basically people of color, the handicapped, women and gays) when of course all you have to do is listen to his show and plainly hear his daily prejudices filled sermons. So NFL, I salute you decision, job well done. And to the whaling cry baby perched on his self made pedestal, quit your whining it was your own fault. He is reaping what he has sowed, KARMA, "palin and simple" like his followers. Don’t we all feel better?

  3. Paul, all excellent points. But far too many in the msm either like or are afraid of the man, so the obvious cannot be discussed.