From: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting Posted at 8:35 PM 10/13/94
Topic: FAIR Responds to Limbaugh
FAIR'S REPLY TO LIMBAUGH'S NON-RESPONSE October 13, 1994
Rush Limbaugh's long-touted "5,000 word response" to FAIR's "Reign of
Error" report has been released -- after nearly three and a half months.
Unfortunately for Limbaugh, it doesn't rebut; mostly it changes the
subject, dodges and wastes thousands of words on tangents and
what-I-really-meant-to-say digressions. Whereas the FAIR report offered
facts to specifically rebut Limbaugh's claims, his response relies on
off-point quotes, non-responsive texts, even passages from opinion
It's telling that Limbaugh doesn't bother to rebut our original report --
which we provided to him two days before its public release. Instead, his
response works from (sometimes incomplete) press accounts of our report.
As a result, Limbaugh ignores almost half of the errors that we pointed
The response is in many ways more disturbing than the original false claims
-- because it reveals that even after his accuracy has been specifically
challenged, Limbaugh (along with his multi-million dollar broadcasting and
publishing operation) is utterly incapable of engaging in factual
In his "Dear Mr. Journalist" cover letter, Limbaugh writes that "there has
been no double checking; there have been no questions asked of FAIR.
Journalists were handed a list of items by this group, and they simply
repeated them." In fact, journalists repeatedly asked tough questions of
FAIR, sought added documentation, and did their own reporting. It is clear
from Howard Kurtz' Washington Post piece (7/1/94), for example, that he did
his own independent research and interviews.
Even the brief cover page of Limbaugh's response contains errors. In
furtherance of a conspiracy theory that was apparently too good to check
out, Limbaugh writes that FAIR "was launched in the summer of 1987 with the
financial assistance of The New World Foundation." He goes on to say that
Hillary Clinton chaired the foundation. In fact, FAIR was founded not in
1987, but 1986 -- and the foundation played no role in the launching.
Limbaugh makes reference to a 1987 grant of $2,500; he doesn't say that it
was a discretionary grant conferred by the foundation's executive director,
a decision that did not involve the chair or the board. These are simple
facts that anyone could have learned by calling FAIR or the foundation.
(Anyone who's done even a cursory review of FAIR's work would know that we
are far from flacks for the Clinton administration, and that we've
frequently criticized mainstream media for soft treatment of the president
on various issues.)
Limbaugh's cover letter also repeats the claim that FAIR found 43 errors in
more than 4,000 hours of broadcasts. As our report noted, our list was far
from exhaustive. We assembled those errors from easily available sources
-- mainly his books and transcripts of several weeks' worth of his TV show.
What follows is a point-by-point reply to Limbaugh's non-response. We
retract nothing -- since Limbaugh has been unable to show that we were
wrong on a single point. Limbaugh's "rebuttal" is a sad commentary on a
broadcaster who has 20 million listeners per week, but can't document his
1. STUDENT LOANS: Limbaugh asserted that "banks take risks in issuing
student loans and they are entitled to the profits." In reality, as FAIR
pointed out, these loans are federally insured.
His "rebuttal" is to offer a quote from a bankers' association
spokesperson, who asserts that the "risk" bankers face is that they
might fail to comply with federal procedures, and therefore not receive the
reimbursement that the federal government would otherwise give them. This
is a novel use of the concept of "risk" in lending, which is generally
considered to be the chance that a recipient will not repay a loan.
2. AMERICAN HEALTH CARE: Limbaugh urged a comparison of "American
health care to other industrialized nations." FAIR did so, and
found the U.S. running near the bottom on such matters as life
expectancy and infant survival.
In attempted rebuttal, Limbaugh offers a quote from "Dr. Elizabeth
McCaughey" (not a medical doctor, the Manhattan Institute's McCaughey has a
PhD in constitutional law), who writes that high infant mortality and lower
life expectancy "have almost nothing to do with the quality of American
medical care. Both statistics reflect the epidemic of low-birth-weight
babies born to teenage and drug-addicted mothers, as well as the large
numbers of homicides in American cities and drug-related deaths."
This is misinformation. Infant mortality, far from having "almost nothing
to do with" the quality of health care, is closely linked with the
availability of prenatal care. According to figures from the National
Center for Health Statistics, the mortality rate for infants whose mothers
received little or no prenatal care is almost 10 times that of mothers who
received frequent prenatal care.
And the Centers for Disease Control estimate that homicide lowers U.S. life
expectancy by about three months -- which would do almost nothing to
improve our rank. "Drug related deaths" are far fewer than homicides, and
would have even less impact on our life expectancy ranking.
Limbaugh ignores the second half of FAIR's argument: "The U.S. also has the
lowest health care satisfaction rate (11 percent) of the 10 largest
industrialized nations (Health Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 2)."
3. FOREST ACREAGE: "Do you know we have more acreage of forest land
in the United States today than we did at the time the Constitution
was written?" said Limbaugh. In fact, in what are now the 50 U.S.
states, there were at least 850 acres of forest land in the late
1700s, vs. only 730 acres today.
Limbaugh's rebuttal is a lengthy dodge, which compares the amount of forest
land in the U.S. today to that in 1920. But the Constitution was written
in 1787, not 1920.
4. CHELSEA CLINTON: Limbaugh asserted that students at Chelsea
Clinton's Sidwell Friends school were "required" to write a paper
on "Why I Feel Guilty Being White" and added, "My source for this
story is CBS News. I am not making it up." In reality, Limbaugh
falsely claimed CBS News as his source, and there's no evidence
that any such essay was ever assigned.
Limbaugh actually took this claim from an infotainment tip sheet called CBS
Morning Resource--which is not part of CBS News, any more than a game show
on a CBS station is part of CBS's news operation. Limbaugh also neglected
to tell his listeners that his real source for the item, as stated in the
tip sheet, was Playboy (which had cited Heterodoxy, a right-wing
As CBS News Vice President Larry Cooper wrote in a letter responding to
Limbaugh (USA Today, 7/20/94): "Limbaugh's source was actually Playboy
magazine. The story, crediting Playboy, was distributed to radio stations
via the CBS Morning Resource.... Morning Resource is not associated with
CBS News." Limbaugh seemed to sense -- correctly -- that an item would
sound more credible to his listeners if sourced to "CBS News" than to
In Limbaugh's rebuttal, he ignores the difference between CBS News and CBS
Morning Resource. He still asserts that his claim about the required essay
assignment is "a true story," and that "my office did what no other
journalist did: We tracked the story to its root and talked to the original
reporter (for Washington's City Paper). He confirmed the story."
Did Limbaugh's office do some pioneering research here? Not quite. FAIR's
magazine EXTRA! had already tracked down the reporter who first wrote of
the purported essay assignment, and published that fact five weeks ago
(Sept./Oct. 94). After we asked the City Paper reporter, Bill Gifford, how
an essay called "Why I Feel Guilty Being White" could be assigned to the
roughly 25 percent of the school's students who are not white, he said he
would doublecheck with his source, an unnamed disgruntled parent. Gifford
got back to us and said that the actual title of the essay assigned to a
7th and 8th-grade class was "Should White People Feel Guilty and Why?" -- a
different, more neutral topic.
After claiming that "no other journalist" had talked to the original
reporter, Limbaugh then contradicts himself by acknowledging that we had
talked to Gifford. Limbaugh claims Gifford "says he told FAIR the same
thing he told my office, that he stands by the story and it's true."
Interviewed by a Washington Times reporter doing a story on the Limbaugh
rebuttal (10/11/94), Gifford confirmed that his source said the assignment
was "Should White People Feel Guilty?" -- and not "Why I Feel Guilty Being
Of course, the "root" of a story about a school assignment is not a
reporter, or a shaky unnamed source -- it's the classroom. From inquiring
repeatedly among administrators and faculty at the school, we have found no
evidence of either of the above two essay topics. Limbaugh and City Paper
have produced no written documentation. The school maintains that the
story is "apocryphal."
5. BEER AND ALCOHOL TAXES IN 1993: "You better pay attention to the
1993 budget deal because there is an increase in beer and alcohol
taxes," asserted Limbaugh during his July 9, 1993 radio show. In
reality, there were no such increases in the budget deal.
In "rebuttal," Limbaugh says that beer and alcohol taxes "were indeed
considered" for the budget. This of course is very different from saying
that alcohol tax increases are IN the budget deal. In fact, when Limbaugh
made this statement, different budget packages had passed both the House
and the Senate, and neither package included tax increases on beer or
It's noteworthy that Limbaugh's main source for the point that an alcohol
tax was even considered is Bob Woodward's The Agenda, which hadn't been
published when Limbaugh made his pronouncement. In an even wilder tangent,
Limbaugh talks of prospective alcohol taxes to cover Clinton's health plan.
This, again, has nothing to do with "the 1993 budget deal."
6. GAS LINES: "Those gas lines were a direct result of foreign oil powers
playing tough with us because they didn't fear Jimmy Carter," Limbaugh
wrote in his book See, I Told You So. In fact, FAIR pointed out, the most
serious gas lines were in late 1973/early 1974, during the Nixon
Limbaugh says he "wasn't discussing the 1973 gas lines" -- just the "gas
lines that Jimmy Carter was responsible for." But the passage that
includes this statement begins, "I, for one, remember the long gas lines of
the 1970s" -- with no distinction made between the more serious 1973-74 gas
lines and the gas lines he blames on Jimmy Carter.
7. U.S. MILITARY/BOSNIA: Defending his claim that "for the first time in
military history, U.S. military personnel [in Bosnia] are not under the
command of United States generals," Limbaugh's rebuttal claims that "U.S.
military personnel have served WITH forces from other countries throughout
history, such as in World War I and II but U.S. generals have always been
at the top of the command structure." In fact, in World War I, France's
Marshal Ferdinand Foch was in overall command of Allied troops. This fact
was noted in FAIR's report, but Limbaugh seems to have chosen to ignore it.
8. RODNEY KING: Limbaugh's claim that "the videotape of the Rodney King
beating played absolutely no role in the conviction of two of the four
officers" is clearly unsupportable. Nothing Limbaugh writes contradicts
the jury foreman's statement that the video was "crucial" in the conviction
-- a statement that Limbaugh says he simply "discounted."
9. C.C. MYERS: Limbaugh said that declaring the Santa Monica Freeway a
disaster area "eliminated the need for competitive bids."
In fact, C.C. Myers beat out four other contractors who bid on the project.
Limbaugh said that Myers did not have to go through the "rigamarole...of
giving 25 percent of the job to a minority-owned business and 25 percent to
a woman." In fact, affirmative action rules applied. Limbaugh said that
"government got the hell out of the way." In fact, state employees worked
round the clock on the project, and the whole thing was government-funded.
While not disputing any of the factual errors that we pointed out,
Limbaugh's rebuttal irrelevantly argues that other statements he made about
Myers were true.
10. FEMINISM: "Women were doing quite well in this country before feminism
came along," Limbaugh said. FAIR pointed out that before feminism, women
couldn't even vote -- since feminism "came along" in the 19th Century. "I
was referring to contemporary militant feminism," Limbaugh now amends. But
that is not what he said -- and "Words mean things," as Limbaugh proclaims
in his "35 Undeniable Truths of Life."
11. ANITA HILL: Of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas, Limbaugh declared: "She
wanted to continue to date him." In response to FAIR's pointing out that
Hill and Thomas never dated, Limbaugh said that his comment "actually
demonstrates my recall of the Thomas-Hill episode," citing a statement by
Thomas that Hill had invited him into her home after driving her home.
But neither Thomas or Hill ever characterized these or any other
interaction that the two had as anything approaching a "date." Hill has
said that Thomas asked her out, and that she declined; Thomas denied
strongly that "I ever attempted to date her."
Limbaugh also said, "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." Angela Wright and Sukari Hardnett did not apply the
term "sexual harassment" to what they had personally experienced while
working for Thomas. But their descriptions of Thomas' behavior, if true,
would almost certainly meet the legal definition of harassment.
"Clarence Thomas did consistently pressure me to date him," Wright told
Senate investigators. "At one point, Clarence Thomas made comments about my
anatomy. Clarence Thomas made comments about women's anatomy quite
frequently. At one point, Clarence Thomas came by my apartment at night,
unannounced and uninvited.... He would try to move the conversation over to
the prospect of my dating him."
"If you were young, black, female and reasonably attractive, you knew full
well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female," Hardnett wrote
in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "You knew when you were in
favor because you were always at his beck and call, being summoned
constantly, tracked down wherever you were in the agency and given special
deference by others because of his interest. And you knew when you had
ceased to be an object of sexual interest -- because you were barred from
entering his office and treated as an outcast, or worse, a leper with whom
contact was taboo."
12. JAMES MADISON: Limbaugh acknowledges that he misattributed the alleged
quote from Madison (saying that Americans must "sustain ourselves according
to the Ten Commandments of God").
13. NATIVE AMERICANS: Unable to provide any evidence to support his claim
that "there are more American Indians alive today than there were when
Columbus arrived," Limbaugh quotes an article in the Heritage Foundation
magazine that claims that "some Indian groups are more populous today than
14. WHITEWATER COVERAGE: "I don't think the New York Times has run a story
on [Whitewater] yet," Limbaugh said on February 17, 1994. "There has not
been a big one, front-page story about this one that I can recall." FAIR
noted that the Times had actually published the first major story on
Whitewater -- a lengthy, front-page piece that appeared on March 8, 1992.
Limbaugh defends this mistake: "The fact that I overlooked one Times
article that ran 11 months earlier is hardly indicative of a 'reign of
First, March 1992 is 23 months before February 1994, not 11 months.
Furthermore, Limbaugh did not overlook one front-page New York Times story
on Whitewater, he overlooked half a dozen. We cited the March 8, 1992
story to suggest that Limbaugh, who passes himself off as an expert on
press coverage of Whitewater, should have known who it was that originally
broke the story.
15. GULF WAR I: Limbaugh's original statement was that during the Gulf War,
"everybody in the world was aligned with the United States except who? The
United States Congress."
After FAIR pointed out that both houses of Congress had voted to authorize
the use of force in the Persian Gulf, Limbaugh responded on his radio show
(7/5/94): "When I said it, it was true," he claimed -- implying he had said
it while the debate was still ongoing.
Actually, Limbaugh made the statement on April 18, 1994 -- more than three
years after the vote. Limbaugh now admits that "Congress eventually went
along with President Bush's policy -- but they had to be dragged along,
kicking and screaming." Yet another "what I meant to say..." response.
16. GULF WAR II: "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." Limbaugh does not dispute our point that
"our victories in the Gulf War," fought in 1991, could not have influenced
Bush's 1990 approval rating. Only after the war did Bush's approval rating
reach anything like 90 percent.
17. CANADIAN HEALTH CARE: Limbaugh says that his claim that "most Canadian
physicians who are themselves in need of surgery...scurry across the border
to get it done right; the American Way" was "an obvious humorous
exaggeration." In fact, the passage it appears in -- on page 153 of See, I
Told You So -- is completely sober and straightforward. In his rebuttal,
Limbaugh is unable to produce even a single anecdotal example of a Canadian
doctor who came to the U.S. for any kind of medical treatment -- though he
does offer examples of Canadian doctors who moved south to WORK in the U.S.
18. THE NICOTINE CONTROVERSY: "It has not been proven that nicotine is
addictive," Limbaugh declared. Nicotine's addictiveness is only
controversial among scientists paid by the tobacco industry. When the New
York Times (8/2/94) asked two independent experts to rank nicotine in terms
of "dependence" -- defined as "how difficult it is for the user to quit,
the relapse rate, the percentage of people who eventually become dependent,
the rating users give their own need for the substance and the degree to
which the substance will be used in the face of evidence that it causes
harm" -- both rated nicotine ahead of heroin, cocaine and alcohol.
19. OZONE AND VOLCANOES: There are many uncertainties about ozone depletion
-- which makes it all the more important that the debate not be confused
with inaccurate statements. Limbaugh claimed in his book The Way Things
Ought to Be that "Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed forth more than a
thousand times the amount of ozone-destroying chemicals in one eruption
than all the fluorocarbons manufactured by wicked, diabolical and
insensitive corporations in history." On Nightline, he said that "Mount
Pinatubo has put 570 times the amount of chlorine into the atmosphere in
one eruption than all of the man-made chlorofluorocarbons in one year."
Both statements can't be true; in fact, neither are. The "570 times"
figure apparently derives from Trashing the Planet, an anti-environmental
book by Dixy Lee Ray, but Ray was referring to a different volcano -- Mt.
Augustine, an Alaskan volcano that erupted in 1976. Ray in turn gets the
number from a 1980 Science magazine article -- but Science was talking
about the chlorine produced by a gigantic eruption that occurred 700,000
years ago in California.
20. EFFECTIVENESS OF CONDOMS: When Limbaugh says that a one-in-five
fatality rate is a "statistic [that] holds for condoms, folks," that is NOT
"distinctly different from saying that condom users have a one-in-five AIDS
risk," as he claims in his rebuttal. He is clearly suggesting to his
readers that if they allow their children to use condoms, there is a
one-in-five chance that they will die. In fact, studies have shown that
when a person with HIV uses condoms consistently during sex with an
uninfected partner, long-term transmission rates are relatively low --
generally 2 percent or less.
21. U.S. POOR VS. EUROPE'S MAINSTREAM: Limbaugh initially had made the
absurd claim that "the poorest people in America are better off than the
mainstream families of Europe." In support of this, he cites a Heritage
Foundation study that unscientifically compares statistics that were
collected several years apart, and singles out a few commodities that U.S.
citizens are likely to have more of.
A broader comparison of living standards is available from the World Bank's
World Development Report 1994, which calculates "Purchasing Power Parity"
-- a comparison of how much people in each country can buy with their
money. (Limbaugh has touted this method as the "most reliable measurement
of economic strength" -- Limbaugh Letter, 1/94.) The residents of four
major European nations -- France, Germany, Italy and Britain -- can
purchase the equivalent of $18,568 with their average incomes. The poorest
20 percent of Americans can purchase $5,433 worth of goods.
In some countries, like Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands, the
poorest residents are significantly better off than their poor counterparts
in the U.S. According to World Bank figures, poor Americans are not even
better off than mainstream families in many Eastern European countries,
such as Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
22. IRAN-CONTRA: Watch Rush Limbaugh backpedal. He originally said that
there was "absolutely no evidence... not one indictment... not one charge"
resulting from the Iran-contra investigation. Now he says, "I obviously
misspoke when I said there were no indictments -- I clearly meant to say
there were no CONVICTIONS, a point I have made on many occasions." But he
immediately begins backing off from that claim, since there WERE
convictions -- nine, including guilty pleas, plus two other convictions
that were reversed on technicalities. But these were not on "substantive
points," Limbaugh says, or, as guest expert Ed Meese says, they were
"generally on minor offenses." Are felony convictions minor?
23. MICHAEL GARTNER: Limbaugh accused former NBC president Michael Gartner
of deliberately faking news "with the express hope of destroying General
Motors" and other businesses. He has still offered no evidence to back up
this serious charge.
* * *
[FAIR response, closing remarks and contact information]
POSTSCRIPT: Limbaugh's expectation of how reporters should cover his
rebuttal speaks volumes about his understanding of journalism. Here's a
verbatim transcription from his October 11, 1994 radio show:
"Two weeks ago -- a week and a half ago -- we sent out over 150, maybe 200
copies of this to various columnists, newspapers which had printed the FAIR
report originally and so forth.
"To this date, only one newspaper, the Washington Times, has sought to do a
story on my response. And the way that it happened was laughable. We sent
our response out, a reporter from the Washington Times gets it, and
immediately calls FAIR, and says what do you think of this? They then call
us and say all right, here's what FAIR thinks of your response, what do you
think of what they said? And we got on the phone and we said, 'Listen,
bleep-head, you have your response in our hands, that's all you're going to
get, run our response.'
"That's what I think is called for here. We're not going to get into a
tit-for-tat, blow-by-blow, it's not the point. The point is we've
responded to these charges, you have them in their hands and there they
"Well, it is my thought, my, my premonition here, that most columnists, and
Doonesbury, for example, which ran a whole week-long series in his cartoon
strip on this, and the newspapers who ran it are not going to run it as we
sent it out or even an abbreviated version of it, our response. They're
just not going to do it, for who knows whatever reasons, but leading the
list would be bias."
(For the record, the Washington Times did not run a news report on FAIR's
FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) is the national media watch group
offering well-documented criticism in an effort to correct bias and
imbalance. FAIR focuses public awareness on the narrow corporate ownership
of the press, the media's allegiance to official agendas and their
insensitivity to women, labor, minorities and other public interest
constituencies. FAIR seeks to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating
for greater media pluralism and the inclusion of public interest voices in
FAIR is a membership-based organization. If you would like to become a
member and receive FAIR's magazine, EXTRA!, where the Limbaugh report
originally appeared and which features such well-documented media criticism
in each issue, call our subscription service at 800-847-3993, 9:00-5:00
Eastern Time. Let them know you got the number on the internet. If you
would like a copy of the original report, send an e-mail message to FAIR
(firstname.lastname@example.org), and we'll tell you how you can get one.
[Insert: the original FAIR report is 43K long, and this response is 28K.
I'd be happy to Netmail it to anyone who makes a "polite request". /JJG]
ACTION: Each TV or radio station that carries Limbaugh has a responsibility
to the community it serves. They can be held accountable if they broadcast
fabrications. They must find a way to correct the record if they allow
Limbaugh to spew falsehoods. Contact the station manager of your local
Limbaugh outlets. Let them know you take Limbaugh's disinformation
seriously...and so should they.
An obvious antidote to Limbaugh's brand of distortion would be to have a
genuine debate. That would give the facts a chance -- and provide some
political balance. When you call radio stations, you could note that
stations can provide some debate and balance by broadcasting the talkshows
hosted by populist Jim Hightower and iconoclast Jerry Brown -- two hosts
who do not seem to be allergic to the facts.
The debunking of Limbaugh is also featured this week on FAIR's weekly radio
program, CounterSpin, (which airs on over 70 stations) and in the "Media
Beat" column by FAIR associates Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon. Their
column is distributed by Creators Syndicate.
If you would like to hear CounterSpin on a local radio station, let them
know. If you'd like to see "Media Beat" in your local paper, let the
editorial page editors know.
For more information on FAIR, write to: Sam Husseini, FAIR, 130 West 25th
Street, New York, NY, 10001. (email@example.com) Please send FAIR any
letters you write or any newspaper reports you see on this subject. Feel
free to post this on any appropriate place on the internet. Thank you.