Opinion: Rush Limbaugh’s legacy — a man who built an anti-truth platform


AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Rush Limbaugh with first Lady Melania Trump and his wife Kathryn during former President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020. Limbaugh, the talk radio host who became the voice of American conservatism, died on Feb.17

    Conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh passed away Feb. 17 after a lengthy tussle with lung cancer. He was 70 years old. 

    Limbaugh was best known for his nationally syndicated political talk show that had been running since 1988, and he earned himself a good standing with several conservative presidents like Ronald Reagan, who wrote him a 1992 letter praising him for all he’d done to promote conservative values in American politics.

    There are things I commend about Limbaugh, like his charitable work hosting annual telethons to fight leukemia from 1990 until the time of his death, or when he consistently helped children of fallen Marines and police officers get scholarships to go to their top choice schools. However, those are not the things that gave him his audience.

         Rather, even by his own admission, it was his abrasive and erratic nature that truly drew conservative listeners to him. Many saw him as the antithesis of the media that, in their minds, skewed in a liberal direction.

     Limbaugh’s unpredictable and unfiltered demeanor brought with it a host of controversies and conspiracies. He was a prominent voice in pushing the “birther” conspiracy falsely claiming former President Barack Obama was born outside of the United States; falsely claiming that the 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was the work of eco-terrorists who supported President Obama’s oil drilling moratorium; and baselessly insisting that the Christchurch New Zealand shooting that took the lives of 51 people was committed by a leftist trying to “smear the right.”

     Incredibly, the website Politifact, run by a non-profit journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida, rated 84% of Limbaugh’s on and off-air statements throughout his entire career as either “partially false” or “Pants-on-Fire,” and only 5% of his statements were ever regarded as “partially true.” The site never rated any as “true.”

     Rush Limbaugh was what I’d call an “anti-truther,” someone who devotes themselves to the goal of creating a faux reality that panders to their wishes, and then uses their wide outreach to invite others to live in that faux reality.

     Limbaugh liked the idea of Donald Trump in the White House, so he’d claim that any investigation into possible election interference was a result of Obama loyalists in the deep state. He denied that man-made climate change exists, and called environmentalists “tree-hugging wackos.” He liked to smoke cigars, claiming nicotine isn’t actually that harmful.

Limbaugh didn’t start the anti-truther movement, but he was instrumental in giving voice to the that led to people turning out to share that baseless nonsense with representatives, senators, and presidential candidates.

And the effects of the anti-truth movement on the political sphere are hard to miss. Thirteen years ago, the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) did everything he could to quell rumors that his presidential opponent was a sinister terrorist, and he did so without drastically affecting his poll numbers.

But fast forward to 2016, where then-candidate Donald Trump fired off a barrage of vitriolic idiocies. Even though Twitter was his  main pulpit to spread lies, people like Limbaugh were right there to parrot his views on loop.

To me, the best way to remember a person who passed away is to examine his legacy.  Limbaugh’s legacy isn’t one to replicate if we are to restore politics to the point where facts hold power.