"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, 8/30/93) "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 doom." 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 about. A MOUNTAIN OF DISTORTION "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 geology. 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). UNCHALLENGED DEMAGOGUERY 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 commentator. Real democracy is built on debate. But Limbaugh has little use for debates; he has forged a media empire largely on unchallenged monologues. "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 Nixon. 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, 4/18/94) 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 million. 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.