Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2004 / 6 Shevat, 5764
Surprised by the government vendetta
Really, it is not very amazing that a government vendetta has been launched
against Rush Limbaugh, the very successful and gifted talk show host. Governments have attempted to
suppress criticism for centuries. The Founding Fathers were acutely aware of that, and provided strong
protections in our system of government for dissent and for free speech. But would Thomas Jefferson, for
instance, have anticipated that a journalist's fellow communicators would remain silent while one of their
own was being threatened with jail?
Right now, extreme measures are being taken against Limbaugh, and what impresses me more than a
government's repressive measures against him is the meekness of his colleagues. First, there is the quietude
of the press in general. I suppose that was to be expected. Many years ago, when the great dissenter, H.L.
Mencken, was being harassed on a petty and very much trumped-up obscenity charge, the national press
averted its gaze. At the time, Mencken was no small fish. He was then considered a champion of their great
cause, freedom of speech. Mencken attributed the press's cowardliness to "smugness."
Yet the American press is today highly politicized, and its politics are antithetical to Limbaugh's. The press is
liberal. Limbaugh is a dissident in the best sense of the word. He is conservative. That the press in general
ignores the attempts to suppress him is another example of its stupendous hypocrisy, but this is not
What is surprising is the quietude of the conservative press. Why is it not hollering from its syndicated
columns, its intellectual reviews, its handful of newspapers and Fox News? I assume this is another example
of what Mencken diagnosed as "smugness." Still, it is dismaying.
Limbaugh has admitted to becoming hooked on prescription drugs while trying to mollify the pain he has
suffered from back and ear maladies. No one disputes he suffered this pain. No one I have encountered
claims he was taking the prescription medication OxyContin for kicks. If he were, I am told that there are
superior drugs pursuant to kicks. Anyway, the misuse of medications and reliance on OxyContin all end in
the same hell on earth. Limbaugh has involuntarily been there, and he has now sought treatment. He wants
out. Every authority I have consulted tells me that given his admission and given his voluntary rehab, he
would normally be let off. The Hollywood coke snorters get this sort of judgment. Why not Limbaugh?
Should he have been snorting coke?
But Palm Beach County prosecutors, having apparently leaked information about the case as well as some of
the negotiating documents between them and Limbaugh's lawyers, now want Limbaugh to plead guilty to a
felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Limbaugh's lawyer, the respected civil libertarian Roy Black,
considers this "preposterous." It is worse than that, which is presumably why the American Civil Liberties
Union has filed a legal brief on behalf of Limbaugh. Another brief on his behalf has been filed by the
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which wants to scotch the prosecutors' release of his
The harassment of Limbaugh provides another unlovely glimpse into the workings of the liberal elites. From
the days of FDR, they have used the law to persecute political opponents. FDR used the IRS and FBI against
such an array of opponents from former Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, to publishers Moses
Annenberg and Col. Robert R. McCormick, to labor leader John L. Lewis. All were innocent. Limbaugh is in
Still, it is repulsive to see the rest of the press sitting quietly by. That Limbaugh, a first offender and
recovering addict to pain killers rather than street drugs, is being unfairly harassed is clear to anyone but a
political zealot. Conceivably, his harassment will end in court appearances and even a jail term. Will that
please his opponents? "We got Limbaugh on an OxyContin charge." It might be a first.
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© 2001, Creators Syndicate