Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves

Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves

by Bill Press


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Talk radio has done an end run around the voting public. With the far right controlling the five major syndicates, conservatives have a disproportionate voice in the medium—even in liberal markets such as New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Writing with his characteristic and incisive wit, Bill Press exposes the destructive power of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and the other polarizing figures of talk radio who dominate 90 percent of the political airwaves today while spewing partisan lies and propaganda. Toxic Talk fires a timely cannon blast at the right-wing media machine and how it subverts American democracy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312607159
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 12/06/2011
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

BILL PRESS is host of the nationally syndicated Bill Press Show, also on Sirius XM, and writes a syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. He is the former co-host of MSNBC's Buchanan and Press and CNN's Crossfire and The Spin Room. Press lives in Washington, D.C.

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Toxic Talk

How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves

By Bill Press

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Bill Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2782-6



In the beginning, there was Rush.

There is still nobody bigger in talk radio, and probably never will be.

Conservative talk radio didn't begin with Rush. As we saw in the Introduction, Father Charles Coughlin and Joe Pyne established the format long before Rush got anywhere near a microphone.

But with Rush Limbaugh, right-wing radio really came into its own. Not for nothing was El Rushbo invited by President George H. W. Bush to spend the night in the Lincoln Bedroom, made an Honorary Member of Congress by Speaker Newt Gingrich, and declared by some to be the leader of the Republican Party in 2009.

Rush Limbaugh enjoys a bigger audience, sells more advertising, makes more money, pisses more people off, and wields more political clout — by far — than any other talk show host in the country, conservative or liberal. Indeed, most other talkers, whether they admit it or not, strive to imitate him. The airwaves hum with Rush wannabes.

More than anyone else, Limbaugh has honed talk radio into the lethal weapon it is today. Echoes of his technique may be heard in the patter of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, or countless other disciples, but the undiluted essence of right-wing talk — and everything that's so corrosive about it for our democracy — can only be found, minute by minute, in the original Rush.

You don't even have to listen long. Back when I was broadcasting at KFI-AM in Los Angeles, on Saturdays from 12–3 p.m., I followed a rerun of the Best of Rush from the previous week. After brainstorming the best way to lure Limbaugh's audience into staying tuned for my show, program director David Hall and I came up with two ideas. First, we changed my name from Bill Press to "Bill Press, True American" and ran promos during Rush's three hours, challenging listeners to stay tuned for a different point of view.

Producer Tim Kelly also prepared a whole series of riffs on the "True American" theme just to annoy Rush's loyal listeners — known as "dittoheads" because they usually just happily swallow, without thinking, whatever garbage Rush comes out with. "He still helps old ladies across the street," ran one promo. "Of course, he's Bill Press, True American!" And again: "He baked his wife a cherry pie. Of course, he's Bill Press, True American!"

Our second ploy was to feature a "Now Hear the Truth" segment to my show. Every Saturday, I'd play a clip of some outrageous statement Rush had made the previous week and refute it: "Here's what Rush said this week, now hear the truth!"

In order to prepare for that segment, I at first rearranged my schedule so I could listen to at least an hour of Rush's show every day and dutifully make notes on what I might respond to. But I soon learned that was a complete waste of time. It wasn't necessary to suffer through an hour or two of Rush in order to hear something outrageous. Any five minutes would do. Any five minutes was bound to contain either a big lie, a total misrepresentation of the facts, or a personal attack. The man is nothing if not predictable.

Rush responded by dissing me as a "mere entertainer" — which I took, coming from him, as a sublime compliment. Years later, he put me down as "no intellectual giant" and just your "average media liberal."

Where to start? Maybe the best place is where Limbaugh himself started. In 1988, the year he moved from local to national talk radio, Limbaugh published in The Sacramento Union a rundown of what he called "35 Undeniable Truths." Loaded with warnings about the threat of the Soviet Union at the time, his list also included the following aphorisms:

• Peace does not mean the absence of war.

• There is only one way to get rid of nuclear weapons — use them.

• The peace movement in the United States, whether by accident or design, is pro-communist.

• Evolution cannot explain creation.

• Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society.

• There will always be poor people.

• This is not the fault of the rich.

In 1994, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Limbaugh came back down from the mountaintop with an updated list of "Undeniable Truths," including:

• The earth's ecosystem is not fragile.

• The most beautiful thing about a tree is what you do with it after you cut it down.

• Evidence refutes liberalism.

• Condoms only work during the school year.

• Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud.

• Liberals attempt through judicial activism what they cannot win at the ballot box.

• You could afford your house without the government — if it weren't for your government.

It's classic Limbaugh. Even though his listeners embraced them as gospel, every single one of Limbaugh's "Undeniable Truths" is neither undeniable nor true. Their supposed irrefutability exists only in the make-believe world in which he broadcasts.

In the real world, of course, even the possibility of engaging in nuclear warfare is rejected by rational people everywhere, and there's a growing movement to get rid of nuclear weapons altogether. Yet, in September 2009, when the United Nations Security Council, under President Obama's leadership, unanimously called on all nuclear states to scrap their nuclear arsenals, Limbaugh warned: "This may be the most dangerous development yet, and I hope he fails."

On other fronts, feminism has won women the right to vote and pay equity in the workplace; evidence of global warming has proven how extremely fragile the earth's ecosystem really is; and millions of Americans would have lost their homes were it not for the intervention of the federal government. And, as for liberals trying to use the court to circumvent the ballot box, I have only two words for Rush: Florida 2000!

Of course, the thin-skinned Limbaugh has little patience for those who might express a different point of view. As far as he's concerned, they should remove themselves from the same planet — starting with Andrew Revkin, global climate reporter for The New York Times. "This guy from The New York Times, if he really thinks that humanity is destroying the planet, humanity is destroying the climate, that human beings in their natural existence are going to cause the extinction of life on earth — Andrew Revkin. Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?"

We could spend the rest of the chapter repudiating all seventy of Limbaugh's twice-told lists of "35 Undeniable Truths," but why take the time? Even at face value, like almost every word he says, they are manifestly untrue.

Instead, let's simply borrow the format to tell some undeniable truths about Rush. For which we don't need thirty-five pronouncements. Eight will do.



Al Franken — now Senator Al Franken! — was the first to methodically expose Limbaugh's pathological dishonesty in his entertaining book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.

Of course, liar's a tough word. Senator Franken didn't use it lightly, and neither do I.

We all know what lying means, because we all do it occasionally — either deliberately or carelessly. It's not just failing to tell the truth. We all do that, occasionally, sometimes without even knowing it. You might tell a friend that a certain stock's a good buy, for example, simply because you heard Jim Cramer tell you as much on CNBC. When, in fact, it's a dog. You didn't tell the truth. But that's still not a lie.

No, to tell a lie you either have to know the truth, and then deliberately tell someone the direct opposite. Like George W. Bush, knowing the CIA could not confirm the existence of WMDs in Iraq, but nevertheless telling the American people that Saddam Hussein had piles of them. That was a big fat impeachment-worthy lie.

Or, speaking of impeachment — and in the spirit of bipartisanship — it was like Bill Clinton's insisting "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." As we all know, that was another big fat lie, even though lies about sex are a lot less harmful than lies about why we should go to war. Whatever damage President Clinton caused to his marriage, his lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky didn't result in thousands of lives being lost. Or, as the popular bumper sticker put it: "When Clinton lied, nobody died."

The other kind of lie, more common among talk radio hosts, is simply not taking the time to verify the truth of what you're saying before repeating it.

But either way, whether you know it's not true but say it anyway, or don't bother to check whether it's true or not before saying it, you're not telling the truth. You're telling a lie. A big fat lie.

And big fat lies are what Rush tells every day on his EIB, or Excellence in Broadcasting network. Which, come to think of it, is itself a big fat lie. As we know, lies are powerful because, coming from people we trust, they sound so real, they spread so fast, and suckers — aka listeners — so easily believe them.

When he first burst onto the national scene, Limbaugh was able to spit out his lies with impunity. Enjoying the field to himself, there was nobody around to track and refute them, and nobody yet knew how quickly and doggedly Limbaugh would make dishonesty his bread-and-butter. Fortunately, thanks to two great liberal media watchdog organizations, that's no longer the case. FAIR, or Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, was first on the scene. They were joined a couple of years ago by the bigger and better-known Media Matters for America, founded by David Brock. Thanks particularly to Media Matters, no sooner does a lie escape Limbaugh's lips these days than it is duly chronicled and corrected. I'm proud to acknowledge that Media Matters has been the primary source for much of the material commented on in this book.

The list of Limbaugh falsehoods is virtually limitless. Here are just a few of the more egregious ones, both old and new. The old ones, of course, just prove how long Rush has been butchering the truth.

President Obama's Stimulus Package

Frantic over its inevitable passage, Limbaugh told so many patent untruths about the Obama stimulus plan that it's hard to keep track of them. On several occasions, for example, he asserted that the legislation would provide tax cuts to illegal immigrants. "Do you know that in this 'Porkulus' bill," he asked his audience on January 29, 2009, "it has been learned, in addition to everything else, illegal immigrants will also be given checks of $500 to $1,000 as tax credits?"

That was a big fat lie, and Limbaugh must have known it.

As passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, the $787 billion economic recovery legislation clearly stated that, in order to qualify for Obama's middle-class tax cuts, individuals had to comply with Section 32(c)(1)(E) of the Internal Revenue Tax Code. Check it out. That's the section requiring a valid Social Security number — for which people in this country illegally do not qualify.

Parroting the Republican Party talking points, Limbaugh also asserted that small-business owners would be hardest hit by Obama's allowing George Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, those making over $250,000 a year, to expire in the year 2011. He fulminated in February 2009: "This is a massive — in the midst of a recession — tax increase on small business. It is not a tax on the wealthy. I mean, it is, but it's that — it's going to hit far many more small-business people than it's going to hit the wealthy."

That was a big fat lie, and Limbaugh must have known it.

In 2007, according to the Tax Policy Center, only 2 percent of tax returns reporting small-business income were in the top two tax brackets, those making over $250,000 a year. And, of course, Limbaugh failed to point out that such taxes are paid only on taxable income, not gross income, and that, under Obama's plan, the higher tax rate would apply only to that portion of net income over $250,000 a year.

Who's he kidding? We all know Limbaugh's real problem with watching Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy disappear was that he himself would end up a big loser. Limbaugh takes home about $38 million a year. Which means Bush's tax cuts saved him a fat $1.5 million annually. Clearly, Limbaugh's not motivated by concern for small business. He's motivated by pure, personal greed!

On the stimulus bill, Limbaugh also claimed it would cost taxpayers $275,000 for every job created. The actual cost, according to most economists, was closer to $60,000, less than 25 percent of Limbaugh's scary figure — and that's not even counting additional benefits the package would create in terms of energy efficiency, health care, or new schools.

In addition, Limbaugh accused Obama of hiding inside the stimulus package a $4.19 billion direct, no-bid gift to ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the grassroots organization Republicans accused of massive voter fraud during the 2008 campaign. More on ACORN later, which somehow turned out to be a favorite bugaboo of the wacko right. Meanwhile, in this case, Limbaugh was wrong on both counts. Despite some irregularities, all too common in every voter registration campaign, widespread voter fraud by ACORN was never proven. And no money for ACORN was either secretly or openly contained in the stimulus bill. Nevertheless, Limbaugh tried his best to link Obama with ACORN, telling listeners: "He is ACORN. Barack Obama is ACORN."

We've already unmasked a number of easily refutable lies, all revolving around just one piece of legislation! But this is nothing new. Limbaugh's been doing it for years! So now a few oldies, but still goodies.


On his radio show of April 29, 1994, Limbaugh boldly asserted: "It has not been proven that nicotine is addictive, the same with cigarettes causing emphysema [and other diseases]."

That was a big fat lie, and Limbaugh must have known it. As noted by FAIR, the addictiveness of tobacco had been reported in medical literature dating from the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1988, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop erased any remaining doubts with his seminal Koop Report: "Today, the scientific base linking smoking to a number of chronic diseases is overwhelming, with a total of 50,000 studies from dozens of countries."

Native Americans

Is America's record toward Native Americans anything to be ashamed of? Not according to the Rushmeister. "There are more American Indians alive today than there were when Columbus arrived or at any other time in history," Limbaugh wrote in his 1993 book, See, I Told You So. "Does this sound like a record of genocide?"

That was a big fat lie, and Limbaugh must have known it.

As reported by FAIR, Carl Shaw of the Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates the pre-Columbian population of what later became the United States ranged somewhere between 5 and 15 million. By the late nineteenth century, due to rampant disease and genocidal practices, there were roughly 250,000 natives left. Today, there are 2 million Native Americans, most of them still stranded in poverty on Indian reservations — except those wily enough to have built casinos in order to turn the tables and fleece paleface for a change.

Election of JFK

Right-wingers so hate the Kennedy family, they still refuse to believe that John F. Kennedy won, albeit barely, his election against Richard Nixon. And, of course, Limbaugh helps fan the flames. "And it was only four thousand votes that — had they gone another way in Chicago — Richard Nixon would have been elected in 1960," he declared on the April 28, 1994, broadcast of his television show.

That was a big fat lie, and Limbaugh must have known it.

Or would have known it, had he done the least bit of research. Kennedy beat Nixon in the Electoral College, 303–219. Even without the twenty-seven electoral votes of Illinois, JFK would still have been elected president.


For El Rushbo, the Second Coming was the election of Ronald Reagan. Or, at least, he likes to pretend as much. In the real world, Rush never voted for Reagan — he didn't even register to vote until he was thirty-five.

Nevertheless, even after members of the Reagan White House, with or without the doddering president's knowledge, were found guilty of selling arms to terrorists, Limbaugh still refused to believe there was anything to the Iran-contra scandal and continued to keep his followers in denial.


Excerpted from Toxic Talk by Bill Press. Copyright © 2010 Bill Press. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Power of Talk 3

1 Rush Limbaugh: The Big Fat Liar 19

2 Glenn Beck: The Big Crybaby 54

3 Sean Hannity: Party Hack 75

4 The Savage Michael Savage 113

5 Toxic TV 141

6 Minor League Talk Radio 180

7 Homegrown Toxic Talkers 211

8 How Right-Wing Talk Works 235

9 Progressives Fight Back! 256

Conclusion: America's Town Meeting 280

Afterword 285

Acknowledgments 289

Index 295

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