Rush Limbaugh was never a journalist. But he did more to harm journalism than any other human being in the last 50 years.
Limbaugh was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom Feb. 4 during the State of the Union. Democrats sat flabbergasted while Republicans cheered.
It was the perfect moment for a State of the Union address that highlighted the great American political divide.
After all, it was Limbaugh who divided us.
From the moment Limbaugh burst onto the scene in 1988, American media changed. He was never a journalist.
He never tried to be.
But he played a major role in destroying the credibility of the media. He did it through half truths and misinformation. He attacked the mainstream media and called critical coverage lies. He took words out of context and broadcast his conjecture as truth.
People ate it up. Limbaugh would attack the Clintons and people would listen. Enough people still believed that if you said it on the radio it must be true. And they listened to him.
One thing about Limbaugh – he was always entertaining. Racist and misogynist sure, but he made it seem so – liberating.
Limbaugh was the breath of fresh air against political correctness. And people liked that. And as he continued to attack the media and as he continued to be an acceptable place of refuge for conspiracy theorists and nutcases, the credibility of all political media suffered.
Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity followed Limbaugh’s lead. Soon, right wing radio was the straw that stirred the growing discontent among the right.
Limbaugh championed veiled racism. He attacked women, especially feminists – feminazis he called them. He became the voice for white men who weren’t getting ahead.
And he always had someone to blame.
The press. The liberals. The Clintons.
All were the same to him. All became the main target for a conservative base.
The media have battled with Donald Trump since he was elected. He’s constantly attacked the Fourth Estate and made it trendy for conservatives to make their bones off of attacks on the media.
The press never did anything to Limbaugh, assuming that he wasn’t doing any REAL damage. We were wrong.
Tuesday night, Democrats sat amazed that Trump would give Limbaugh a medal.
Truth is, Limbaugh created the world that made Trump. Limbaugh crushed media credibility.
And it was all too fitting that the medal came from Trump and was awarded with no respect for those Limbaugh hurt.
What a fitting tribute from the guy who owes his presidency to those who so easily disregard the truth.
Scott Lambert is an associate professor of English/Journalism at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.