The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh Debates Reality

"I do not lie on this program. And I do not make things up for the
advancement of my cause. And if I find that I have been mistaken or am
in error then I proclaim it generally at the top of-beginning of-a
program or as loudly as I can."  --Rush Limbaugh, (Radio show,

"Most of us here in the media are what I consider infotainers... Rush
Limbaugh is what I call a disinfotainer. He entertains by spreading
disinformation."  --Al Franken at the White House Correspondents'
Dinner (4/23/94)

	Rush Limbaugh has gotten a lot of mileage out of his claim
that volcanoes do more harm to the ozone layer than human-produced
chemicals. He featured it in his best-selling book, The Way Things
Ought to Be (paperback edition pp. 155-157): "Mount Pinatubo in the
Philippines spewed forth more than a thousand times the amount of
ozone-depleting chemicals in one eruption than all the fluorocarbons
manufactured by wicked, diabolical and insensitive corporations in
history. ...Mankind can't possibly equal the output of even one
eruption from Pinatubo, much less 4 billion years' worth of them, so
how can we destroy ozone?" Limbaugh calls concern about the ozone
layer: "balderdash. Poppycock." The only people who worry about it are
"environmental wackos," and "dunderheaded alarmists and prophets of
	Syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell (New York Post, 1/14/94)
used the volcano theory as Exhibit A to illustrate Limbaugh's "very
well-informed and savvy understanding of the political issues of our
time." "While far more pretentious people have been joining the chorus
of hysteria over 'global warming,'" Sowell wrote, "Limbaugh pointed
out in his [first] book that one of the high readings of greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere came right after a volcanic eruption-and
volcanoes can put more gases into the atmosphere than the entire human
race." The alert reader will notice that Sowell has mixed up global
warming and the ozone layer, two different problems. Still, Sowell
concluded of Limbaugh, "It is obvious that the man has done his
homework-and done it well."
	Ted Koppel must have thought so, too, when he invited Limbaugh
to be on Nightline (2/4/92) as an environmental "expert," opposite
then-Sen. Al Gore. "If you listen to what Senator Gore said," Limbaugh
proclaimed, "it is man-made products which are causing the ozone
depletion, yet Mount Pinatubo has put 570 times the amount of chlorine
into the atmosphere in one eruption than all of man-made
chlorofluorocarbons in one year."
	On his radio show, his syndicated TV show, and in two
best-selling books, Limbaugh has advanced the idea that volcanoes are
the real ozone culprits. This theory, like so many of Limbaugh's
claims, has only one problem: Limbaugh doesn't know what he's talking


	"Chlorine from natural sources is soluble, and so it gets
rained out of the lower atmosphere," the journal Science explained
(6/11/93). "CFCs, in contrast, are insoluble and inert and thus make
it to the stratosphere to release their chlorine."
	Science also noted that chlorine found in the
stratosphere-where it can eat away at Earth's protective ozone
layer-is always found with other byproducts of CFCs, and not with the
byproducts of natural chlorine sources.
	"Ozone depletion is real, as certain as Neil Armstrong's
landing on the moon," Dr. Sherwood Rowland, an atmospheric chemist at
the University of California at Irvine, told EXTRA!. "Natural causes
of ozone depletion are not significant."
	But Limbaugh didn't rely on atmospheric scientists for his
information about the ozone layer-he dismissed them as the
"agenda-oriented scientific community." Instead, he turned to Dixy Lee
Ray, a former Washington State governor and Atomic Energy Commission
chair, who wrote Trashing the Planet-"the most footnoted, documented
book I have ever read," Limbaugh says.
	If you check Ray's footnotes, you'll find that the main source
for the volcano theory is Rogelio Maduro, the associate editor of 21st
Century Science & Technology, a magazine published by the Lyndon
LaRouche network. Maduro is evidently not part of the "agenda-oriented
scientific community"-even though he does have a bachelor's degree in
	The volcano theorists can't even keep their stories
straight. In his book, Limbaugh claims that the 1991 Pinatubo eruption
put 1000 times as much chlorine into the atmosphere as industry has
ever produced through CFCs; yet on Nightline, Pinatubo is alleged to
have produced 570 times the equivalent of one year's worth of
CFCs. Both can't be right. It turns out neither are.
	The figure 570 apparently derives from Ray's book-but she said
it was Mount Augustine, an Alaskan volcano that erupted in 1976, that
put out 570 times as much chlorine as one year's worth of CFCs. Ray's
source is a 1980 Science magazine article-but that piece was actually
talking about the chlorine produced by a gigantic eruption that
occurred 700,000 years ago in California (Science, 6/11/93).


	This kind of sloppiness, ignorance and/or fabrication is run
of the mill in Limbaugh's commentary, both broadcast and print. From
dioxin to Whitewater, from Rodney King to Reaganomics, Rush Limbaugh
has a finely honed ability to twist and distort reality.
	Limbaugh's facts are almost never challenged on his
programs. A hostile caller hardly ever gets through the screeners on
his radio show, and his TV show is just him doing a monologue in front
of his cheering audience. No one in the history of national television
has had such a political platform. He has almost never corrected
anything he's said-although he did apologize once to the aerosol
industry for implying that spray cans still had CFCs in them. (CFCs
were removed in 1978.)
	Limbaugh's chronic inaccuracy, and his lack of accountability,
wouldn't be such a problem if Limbaugh were just a cranky entertainer,
like Howard Stern. But Limbaugh is taken seriously by "serious"
media-in addition to Nightline, he's been an "expert" on such chat
shows as Charlie Rose and Meet the Press. The New York Times
(10/15/92) and Newsweek (1/24/94) have published his writings. A
U.S. News & World Report piece (8/16/93) by Steven Roberts declared,
"The information Mr. Limbaugh provides is generally accurate."
	He's also taken seriously as a political figure. A National
Review cover story (9/6/93) declared him the "Leader of the
Opposition." Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who recently
officiated at Limbaugh's wedding, says he tapes Limbaugh's radio show
and listens to it as he works out (USA Today, 5/13/94).
	FAIR (Fairness and Accuarcy In Reporting, a national media
watch group offering well-documented criticism in an effort to correct
bias and imbalance) published a compilation of some of Limbaugh's more
obvious whoppers in order to convince journalists and political
leaders alike that when Limbaugh says, "I'm not making this up,
folks," it's time to duck and cover.
	Journalists, in particular, have an obligation to challenge
Limbaugh's brand of hysteria. Someone who has amassed a powerful
political following through the regular use of half-truth and
distortion is begging for tough media scrutiny. In 1954, Edward
R. Murrow confronted another demagogue who had a similar allergy to
facts and documentation. Today's TV networks don't ask themselves how
they can challenge Limbaugh's reign of error-but how they can profit
from him. CBS News, the platform from which Murrow denounced Joe
McCarthy, has been seeking to hire Limbaugh as a political
	Real democracy is built on debate. But Limbaugh has little use
for debates; he has forged a media empire largely on unchallenged
	"There's a pathology here, folks," is a phrase Limbaugh likes
to use when discussing President Clinton's alleged inability to tell
the truth. A psychiatrist might agree-and label it projection.
	The environment isn't the only issue on which Limbaugh chooses
to "disinfotain" the public; the following are a only a few of the
many distortions and inaccuracies which were published in the
July/August issue of EXTRA! magazine, which is published by FAIR.
	FAIR's report was assembled from easily available
sources-Limbaugh's books, The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told
You So; transcripts of several weeks' worth of his TV show; gleanings
from as much of his radio show as we could take; and other published
evaluations of Limbaugh's accuracy. (There's a publication, the Flush
Rush Quarterly (FRQ), largely devoted to chronicling Limbaugh's
falsehoods, and a book, The Bum's Rush by Don Trent Jacobs, that
debunks his environmental rhetoric.) As Josh Shenk showed in the New
Republic ("Limbaugh's Lies," 5/23/94), scrutinizing the TV show for a
month results in errors too numerous to count.
	In fact, the errors recorded in the FAIR report alone were far
too numerous to include in this issue of the Thistle due to space
considerations.  The next few issues of the Thistle will feature
additional excerpts from FAIR's report-we tried to cut the report into
doses small enough to stomach.

LIMBAUGH: Quotes President James Madison: "We have staked the
future...upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves,
to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten
Commandments of God." (Told You So, p. 73)

REALITY: "We didn't find anything in our files remotely like the
sentiment expressed in the extract you sent to us," David B. Mattern,
the associate editor of The Madison Papers, told the Kansas City Star
(1/16/94). "In addition, the idea is entirely inconsistent with
everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government."

LIMBAUGH: On how to stop riots: "Richard Daley, in 1968, in the
Democratic National Convention, issued an order-where there were
rumors of riots-he issued a shoot-to-kill order. And there were no
riots and there was no civil disobedience and no shots were fired and
nobody was hurt. And that's what ought to happen." (TV show, 6/10/93)

REALITY: Mayor Daley's shoot-to-kill order was issued not at the
Democratic Convention, but following the April 4, 1968 Martin Luther
King assassination. Daley wasn't reacting to "rumors of riots" since
riots had already broken out. The shoot-to-kill order hardly put an
end to unrest-since four months after Daley's order, protesters
flocked to Chicago's Democratic Convention and engaged in riotous
civil disobedience. Protesters chanted, "The whole world is watching."
Except for Rush Limbaugh.

LIMBAUGH: In an attack on Spike Lee, director of Malcolm X, for being
fast and loose with the facts, Limbaugh introduced a video clip of
Malcolm X's "daughter named Betty Shabazz." (TV show, 11/17/92)

REALITY: Betty Shabazz is Malcolm X's widow.

LIMBAUGH: "Those gas lines were a direct result of the foreign oil
powers playing tough with us because they didn't fear Jimmy Carter."
(Told You So, p. 112)

REALITY: The first-and most serious-gas lines occurred in late
1973/early 1974, during the administration of Limbaugh hero Richard

LIMBAUGH: On Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh: "This
Walsh story basically is, we just spent seven years and $40 million
looking for any criminal activity on the part of anybody in the Reagan
administration, and guess what? We couldn't find any. These guys
didn't do anything, but we wish they had so that we could nail
them. So instead, we're just going to say, 'Gosh, these are rotten
guys.' They have absolutely no evidence. There is not one
indictment. There is not one charge." (TV show, 1/19/94)

REALITY: Walsh won indictments against 14 people in connection with
the Iran-contra scandal including leading Reagan administration
officials like former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and
former national security advisers Robert McFarlane and John
Poindexter. Of the 14, 11 were convicted or pleaded guilty. (Two
convictions were later overturned on technicalities-including that of
occasional Limbaugh substitute Oliver North)

LIMBAUGH: Explaining why the Democrats wanted to "sabotage" President
Bush with the 1990 budget deal: "Now, here is my point. In 1990,
George Bush was president and was enjoying a 90 percent plus approval
rating on the strength of our victories in the Persian Gulf War and
Cold War." (Told You So, p. 304)

REALITY: In October 1990, when the budget deal was concluded the Gulf
War had not yet been fought.

LIMBAUGH: On the Gulf War: "Everybody in the world was aligned with
the United States except who? The United States Congress." (TV show,

REALITY: Both houses of Congress voted to authorize the U.S. to use
force against Iraq.

LIMBAUGH: "Anytime the illegitimacy rate in black America is raised,
Reverend Jackson and other black 'leaders' immediately change the
subject." (Ought to Be, p. 225)

REALITY: Jesse Jackson has been talking about and against "children
having children" in speeches and interviews for decades. So have many
other black leaders, especially in the clergy.

LIMBAUGH: Praising Sen. Strom Thurmond for calling a gay soldier "not
normal": "He's not encumbered by being politically correct... If you
want to know what America used to be-and a lot of people wish it still
were-then you listen to Strom Thurmond." (TV show, 9/1/93)

REALITY: In the America that "used to be," Strom Thurmond was one of
the country's strongest voices for racism, running for president in
1948 on the slogan, "Segregation Forever."

LIMBAUGH: "There are more American Indians alive today than there were
when Columbus arrived or at any other time in history. Does this sound
like a record of genocide?" (Told You So, p. 68)

REALITY: According to Carl Shaw of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs,
estimates of the pre-Columbus population of what later became the
United States range from 5 million to 15 million. Native populations
in the late 19th century fell to 250,000, due in part to genocidal
policies. Today the U.S.'s Native American population is about 2

LIMBAUGH: "Women were doing quite well in this country before feminism
came along." (Radio show, quoted in FRQ, Summer/93)

REALITY: Before feminism, women couldn't even vote.

LIMBAUGH: "Anita Hill followed Clarence Thomas everywhere. Wherever he
went, she wanted to be right by his side, she wanted to work with him,
she wanted to continue to date him.... There were no other accusers
who came forth after Anita Hill did and said, 'Yeah, Clarence Thomas,
he harassed me, too.' There was none of that." (TV show, 5/4/94)

REALITY: Hill could not have continued to date Thomas, since they
never dated. Two other women, Sukari Hardnett and Angela Wright, came
forth in the Thomas case with similar charges.

LIMBAUGH: "Now I got something for you that's true-1972, Tufts
University, Boston. This is 24 years ago-or 22 years ago. Three year
study of 5000 co-eds, and they used a benchmark of a bra size of
34C. They found that the-now wait. It's true. The larger the bra size,
the smaller the IQ." (TV show, 5/13/94)

REALITY: Dr. Burton Hallowell, president of Tufts in the '60s and
'70s, had "absolutely no recollection" of such a study, according to
Tufts' communications office. "I surely would have remembered that!"
he exclaimed. Limbaugh's staff was unable to produce any such study. A
search of the Nexis database-while revealing no evidence of a Tufts
study-did produce a number of women theorizing that the presence of
large breasts caused a lowering of IQ in some males.

	The above was excerpted from a report on Rush Limbaugh which
appeared in the July/August issue of EXTRA! magazine, which is
published by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), a national media
watch group offering well-documented criticism in an effort to correct
bias and imbalance. FAIR seeks to invigorate the First Amendment by
advocating for greater media pluralism and the inclusion of public
interest voices in national debates.

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