Skip to main content
In Defense of Rush Limbaugh

No, the headline is not sarcastic. No, I do not particularly care for the guy. Yes, Rush has said all other various and sundry sorts of racially inflammatory things.

But there’s pretty compelling evidence a couple of particularly inflammatory quotes that have been attributed to Limbaugh on CNN and at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch are things he simply never said. There’s no audio file, there’s no YouTube, there’s no transcript — there’s no sourcing of any kind to speak of, and given that Rush is one of the most listened-to and tape-recorded people in the history of the world, you’d certainly think that there would be. There’s not even some kind of half-assed backstory — “Oh, he said these things off the record at a fundraiser for Alexander Haig” — or anything like that. The quotes appear, in other words, to have been completely made up.

Rush has handled the situation pretty well, not drawing undue attention to the quotes, but making the commonsensical argument that if he had said, for instance, words to the effect that James Earl Ray (Martin Luther King’s assassin) was a hero, then surely there would have been a Don-Imus-to-the-nth-power-sized blowup long before now. I’m actually a little surprised that the conservative blogs haven’t made a bigger deal of this — some of them, I suppose, are so used to reflexively alleging irresponsible behavior by the media that they’ve sort of been led off the scent of a case where it actually seems to have occurred. And I’m disappointed that the “liberal” media and meta-media sites have in fact not lifted a finger to verify the veracity of the quotes, nor to call out those who repeated them without checking their facts first.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.