This past Sunday’s NY Times Magazine carried a largely flattering profile of Rush Limbaugh by Zeev Chafets. I found it disappointing especially in comparison to his masterful evisceration of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein in an earlier Times Magazine profile. But they say pictures cannot lie (which in itself isn’t true) and this one presents the radio host in an entirely different light. Rush looks like a belching furnace with swirls of smoke covering his face. The open mouth seems to emit toxic fumes. It’s truly ominous and revolting at the same time. I’m only sorry this wasn’t the portrait they used on the Magazine cover.
Chafets seemed to find no room to include Limbaugh’s most cogent critics like Al Franken (though he does provide a few very brief jabs from Arianna Huffington and Al Sharpton). The best he could do was refer to the fact that Limbaugh has critics and allude vaguely to their views:
…He is an American icon, although his fans and critics don’t agree on precisely what he is iconic for. I’ve heard him compared to Mark Twain and Jackie Gleason, the Founding Fathers and Father Coughlin. Serious people have called him a serial liar and a moral philosopher, a partisan hack and a public intellectual, nothing more than a radio windbag and nothing less than the heart of the Republican Party.
Chafetz “balances” this tepid criticism with such glowing, accuracy-challenged encomiums as this one from a talk radio magazine publisher:
“He’s a phenomenon like the Beatles. Before Rush Limbaugh there was nothing like talk radio. He’s been to talk what Elvis was to rock ’n’ roll. He saved the AM dial.”
Not to mention Limbaugh’s own grandiose self-assessments:
Limbaugh sees himself as a thinker as well as showman. “I take the responsibility that comes with my show very seriously,” he told me. “I want to persuade people with ideas. I don’t walk around thinking about my power. But in my heart and soul, I know I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement.”
Limbaugh may be a lot of things, but allowing him to get away with calling himself a man of ideas or “intellectual engine” is simply preposterous. Propagandist? Yes. Entertainer? Yes. Blowhard? Yes. Political hatchet-man? Sure. Chafets also allows Limbaugh to hitch himself to William Buckley’s intellectual wagon in order to give the former some heft he doesn’t deserve. He makes the radio man out to be a protege of the conservative icon (Buckley truly deserves that epithet). In truth, to put both names in the same sentence does an injustice to Buckley.
Though Chafets notes many oddities of Limbaugh’s personality, he doesn’t attempt to put them into any perspective or critical context. Like this:
A life-size oil portrait of El Rushbo, as he often calls himself on the air, hangs on the wall of the main staircase.
…Limbaugh does not view France with hostility. On the contrary, he is a Francophile. His salon, he told me, is meant to suggest Versailles. His main guest suite, which I did not personally inspect, was designed as an exact replica of the presidential suite of the George V Hotel in Paris.
Clearly, Limbaugh is a figure who cries out for parody or at least some critical analysis, all of which Chafets seems disinclined to do. His profile was a lost opportunity. Reader Ellen Rosner reminds me that he even make a point of telling NY Times readers twice in the article what time Limbaugh’s show airs, as if he needed the promotion. I guess Rush figures he’ll increase the number of liberals in his audience from 3% to 4%.