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June/July '04 Articles:
America's Political Pulse
Editorial: Organic Inconsistencies
Notes from the Cultural Wasteland
The Muddlemarch: 1
The Muddlemarch: 2
Activism Unleashed
Debbie Doesn't Do Dallas
The White Escalator
(music reviews)

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by Morris Sullivan
Contributing Editor
art/Tom Hope

I don't like Rush Limbaugh one damn bit.

In the event you're fortunate enough not to get Limbaugh's show on your AM radio, I'll explain. Limbaugh is a hyper-conservative talk show host who makes a pretty good living by spouting fascist drivel.

For example, in his April 22, 2004 show about environmentalists, he said, among other things, "All these people running around talking about the environment...have you ever thought about the irony that the militant environmental wackos are secularists, maybe even atheists? They don't believe in God; they don't believe in creation; they believe that nature itself has some sort of deity characteristic to it." (From, "Who These Wackos Really Are.")

I'm sure it would surprise a friend of mine, a Baptist pastor, to learn that by virtue of his membership in the Sierra Club he is not only a secularist but an "earth-worshipping socialist."

Every day from noon to 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Limbaugh spews this sort of nonsense. His listeners, I guess, are too busy listening to the radio to question whether members of environmentalist groups are all atheists.

While writing off thoughtful, sincere, but progressive-minded people as "wackos," Limbaugh takes calls from listeners like "Judy" from South Carolina, who called to say this about the war in Iraq:

"All is fair in love and war. If I were president at this point, I would clear out my troops, I would clear out as many innocent as I could...then I would just drop the bomb [on Iraq]...We don't need these people. They are animals, they are evil, they are not people."

"Exactly right. They are human debris," Limbaugh replied.

Lovely. Real fine Christian folks.

In his latest controversy-generating patter, Limbaugh compared the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib with college fraternity pranks, Skull and Bones initiations, and the homoerotic photos by Robert Mapplethorpe, which he says Congress funded "as art."

It's hard to believe anyone's that damn stupid. It's even harder to believe anyone listens to him.

Let's start with the Mapplethorpe comment. First, Limbaugh and other religious right conservatives talk about those photos as if Congressmen personally went out and bought pornography and are heading for our living rooms to hang it on our walls. Congress–or more accurately the National Endowment for the Arts–actually funded an art museum that included a few examples of Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photos among a much larger retrospective. The retrospective was itself only a fraction of the program funded by the NEA. So to say Congress financed Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photos is a big stretch.

Second, one would assume the models in Mapplethorpe's photos were willing, paid participants in the artistic process. One would assume the "models" in the Abu Ghraib prison photos were not willing participants, and were not paid for their time.

Likewise, the victims of a fraternity hazing are willing participants; they can leave if they want to badly enough, and they know the sadistic activity will come to an end within a predictable amount of time. The situation was much different for the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, I am sure.

I also question how closely the Abu Ghraib abuses resembled the hazing of fraternity pledges. I have never joined a frat, but I find it hard to imagine I would hang out and drink beer with a frat brother who had once shoved a lightstick up my ass or attached electrodes to my testicles. But perhaps Skull and Bones members find that sort of thing acceptable. You'd have to ask Bush or Kerry about that.

In any case, fraternity pledges have a reasonable expectation they will not be beaten to death during their hazing. Those occasional fraternity brothers that go overboard and kill pledges are prosecuted for it.

I first heard about Limbaugh's remarks when I received an e-mail from Click Back America, a spin-off of MoveOn that seeks to "give voice and power to students, young people, and ordinary citizens through participation in progressive politics." The e-mail summarized Limbaugh's remarks and accused him of using "students and fraternities to trivialize and justify torture." Rightfully, the frat boys were pissed off about being compared to sadistic military police.

The petition ended with a "demand" that Limbaugh "apologize on-air" for his comments and for "slandering students and fraternity members across the nation..."

I don't know if Limbaugh has responded. I can tell you, however, how I think he should respond. If Click Back America–or any other organization, for that matter–e-mailed me to demand I apologize for something I wrote, I'd tell them this:

Go fuck yourself.

Limbaugh won't say that, because it would get him fined for on-air indecency. So I said it for him; I'll add that it is not "progressive" to attempt to restrict the free flow of ideas and information.

Progressives didn't like it when, in the wake of Bill Maher's suggestion that the 9-11 terrorists showed courage, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said his comments were "reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.''

Why, then, would progressives think it's okay to tell Limbaugh to watch what he says?

If Limbaugh were an elected official, it might be appropriate to ask him to apologize, then to vote for the other guy at the first possible chance. Limbaugh is not an elected official, and despite claims by both liberals and conservatives to the contrary, Limbaugh is not an official spokesman for conservatives. He's not even a journalist. He's just an entertainer–a guy with a radio show. Limbaugh is to the extreme right what Howard Stern is to guys that go to strip clubs. If you don't like what he says, you are within your rights to change the channel, or even call in and argue with him.

But these days, almost everyone seems to think they should be able to control what the media says. Ever since before the invasion of Afghanistan, the Federal government, municipalities, and many private and quasi-government organizations began limiting access to journalists.

In some cases, the limitations are just silly. A few months ago, for example, I wrote an update on a road project. There was nothing controversial about it–the project widened a road that needed widening, was on time, and was under budget. Still, I was no longer allowed to simply call the county engineer. Instead, I had to interview the PR person, who of course knew nothing about the project.

The situation was absurd. I got PR on the phone. She then called the engineer on her cell phone; I would ask her a question, then listen to her ask him the question on her cell phone, then tell me what he'd told her.

A hospital near me now requires reporters to be met at the door by a public relations person and escorted to their destination. I'm sure they think it's for security reasons; personally, when I encounter that sort of thing, I start wondering where the hospital is hiding the bodies.

In other cases, however, the deliberate stonewalling is anything but silly. The situations above, frustrating as they are for someone like me, pale in importance to the limitations based on reporters trying to find out what's happening in Iraq. Press access to the war is now mainly limited to what reporters can get in press conferences and from official statements and press releases.

None of those things would have revealed the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. Were it not for 60 Minutes getting the tapes and photos from uncontrolled, unofficial sources, we would still not know about the torture, and it would no doubt be continuing.

I normally agree with MoveOn's positions, and I think Click Back America's mission is a great idea. I'd like to see students and other young people get more involved in the political process.

However, instead of wasting time and bandwidth demanding an apology from Limbaugh, I would suggest Click Back members first look up "slander" in the dictionary. Afterward, perhaps they could spend some time working to ensure that the press–and even guys like Limbaugh–have access to information and the ability to express themselves freely.

Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

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