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The Limbaugh Chatter Goes Meta

Dan Froomkin is off on Friday. The blog will resume on Monday.

The continuing media chatter about right-wing talk show giant Rush Limbaugh's inordinate influence over Republican Party officials is, undoubtedly, a distraction. There are much more important things for us to be talking about.

But now the chatter has gotten meta -- about who is responsible for the chatter in the first place. Is it the Republicans whose slavish devotion has recently gotten so bald that it's truly hard to ignore? Is it the media -- especially the cable hosts and the mainstream reporters who follow their lead?

Or could it be -- the White House?

A not particularly persuasive story yesterday by Jonathan Martin in Politico set off this latest storm. Martin wrote that the depiction of Limbaugh "as the new face of the Republican Party" was the result of "a full-scale effort first hatched by some of the most familiar names in politics" and was "now being guided in part from inside the White House."

Time's Michael Scherer dutifully took the story and ran with it, extrapolating that Obama -- who during the campaign railed against distractions raised by opponent John McCain, and who of late has taken to condemning the shallowness of the "cable chatter" -- was now being as bad as those he criticized.

"At a time of unprecedented threats to the United States, a time of financial collapse, bank failures and record layoffs, at a time when the credit crisis has not been solved, and the stock market is in free fall, at a time of stagnating wars, rising terrorism in Pakistan and growing nuclear potential in Iran, the White House has done the easy thing," Scherer wrote. "It has asked the American people to focus their attention not on solving the problems, but on a big-mouthed entertainer in Florida. This may be smart politics. But it is also the same petty strategy that John McCain employed during the presidential campaign, the one that our new president promised to rise above."

Except it's just not true. Even if you credit the White House for considerably more involvement in the Limbaugh matter than has been proven, the overwhelming preponderance of its energy has been going into trying to engage the public on the most serious issues imaginable.

And even if the White House put out a little bait, it was the media that chose to take it. And not stop talking about it.

Greg Sargent at goes back to the story in Politico and notices: "The piece explicitly says that groups outside the White House -- the DCCC, the Center for American Progress, and the labor-backed Americans United for Change -- were the first to push the strategy."

This morning, House minority leader John Boehner took up the cudgel on the Washington Post op-ed page, writing that "in a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over....

"Moments like this demand the kind of cooperation and new way of doing business that Obama has promised. Instead, those around him are taking to the airwaves and the pages of our nation's newspapers to carry out a campaign intended to change the subject and divert attention from what matters most: finding a way to work together to get our economy moving again."

But as Steve Benen blogs for Washington Monthly: "I don't think Boehner fully appreciates the point of 'diversionary tactics.' As the Minority Leader sees it, Democrats don't want to talk about their economic policies, so they're talking about Limbaugh.

"But here's the follow-up question: why would Democrats be reluctant to talk about their economic policies? Americans like the Democrats' economic policies."

Ben Armbruster of Thinkprogress watches the White House conspiracy theory taking root on Fox News.

And while David von Drehle writes for Time that it was a monumental act of hubris for Gibbs to equate Limbaugh's "I hope Obama fails" with "wishing and hoping for economic failure in this country," I think the distinction is not that great at this point.

Obama's fortune is inextricably linked with the nation's economy. As Obama acknowledged -- with surprising candor -- to an audience in Fort Myers, Fla., early last month: "If it turns out that a few years from now people don't feel like the economy's turned around, that we're still having problems, that folks are still unemployed, that our health care system's not more efficient, then, you know...I mean, I expect to be judged by results. And -- and there's no -- you know, I'm not going to make any excuses. If stuff hasn't worked and people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction, then you'll have a new president."

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 5, 2009; 4:25 PM ET
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Not so long ago, the Republicans would have insisted that using the f word (fail) in regards to the CIC was important news. They constantly equated all Democrats with the views of paid bomb throwers. Now they seem to be saying, "Sure we did it, but we expected better of Obama. Waah! He said he would be bipartisan."

The administration is under no obligation to be bipartisan with Rush Limbaugh! He criticized the administration. They responded and further challenged well-meaning Republicans to renounce the 'hope for failure.' Democratic leaders distanced themselves from MoveOn and Moore in analogous situations.

This is an easy test of Republican common courtesy: If you can't publicly admit that Rush doesn't always speak for you, and you can't use the word "Democratic" when referring to the Democratic party - simple courtesies! - then why should Obama include you in the coalition of bipartisan problem solvers that are gathering to work on our nation's most serious issues?

Posted by: ath28 | March 5, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe the White House is responsible for this fuss, but if it is an act of genius because there's enough truth in the Rush-Limbaugh-is-the-leader-of-the-Republican-Party meme for it to stick. David Frum for once had it right.

Posted by: smuhlberger | March 5, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

New format still blows chunks.

Don't know about others...but I/ve more or less stopped reading Froomkin because of it.

Best wishes...Dan. It was good knowing you.

Posted by: toweringqs | March 5, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

This story is so funny that it was the humorous coda to my 14 hour workday.

So I guess this means the GOP still doesn't comprehend the scope of the problems they left behind.

Posted by: boscobobb | March 6, 2009 2:13 AM | Report abuse

"Americans like the Democrats' economic policies."

Inaccurate - Americans like "liberal" or "progressive" economic policies, which are sometimes supported by Democrats. But Democrats in Congress have also supported the policies of big-money interests and plutocracy.

Posted by: skeptonomist | March 6, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

If there is one, salient, undeniable, hard-as-granite truth I have learned about the media's perspective on Barack Obama, it is this: They have been consistently wrong in every single anti-Obama narrative they have dutifully peddled for the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity, since Obama entered the national consciousness. Think back: From the very beginning, everything the media has posited--most of it coming from the far right and virtually soaking with a not-too-concealed racial bigotry--has been wrong, from the condident assurances that Iowa would show him to be a flash in the pan to the taking steno notes from the hyperventilating likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity warining us ominously of Obama's ties to an America-hating preacher to a left wing radical bomber from the 60s.

Amd now here we are again with the media carrying wagonloads of water for Limbaugh, fanning the flames of a ridiculous non-story all to prop up the sagging fortunes of a squalid, fat, fading right wing talk show host who represents a neglibible fraction of the voting electorate.

The conventional media hokum this time is that this was engineered by Obama and that the bifg winner is Rush Limbaugh himself. For the short term that may be true. But, there is a huge negative in this for Limbaugh as well. As long as he was simply this right wing flake taliking to his audience of dumbed down dittoheads, he was sort of a King. But now, the public has gotten a whiff of him and they do not like the odor they are smelling.

Thus, one of Limbaugh's biggest assets--his quasi-invisibility from a mainstream media that occasionally picked up his messages on the cable chatter shows, has now made his a national figure. And, it has exposed to this larger audience of Americans who clearly do not see him as "America's anchorman" as do his tiny, loyal dittohead audience. And, it has exposed his extremist, Ayn Rand--John Birch Society side.

That is what is dragging the GOP down. And trust me. Rush's ratings won't last.l As soon as this all dies down, his ratings will die down as well. But, the public isn't going to forget that not one single republican could manage to divorce themselves form this imperious, swaggering, retro Ayn Rand--John Birch Society extremist wacko.

In the end, Rush will be a big loser. He's heading into his 60s. And, the fading that typified his audience before all of this is likely to resume.

Posted by: jaxas | March 6, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I think the whole thing might be bait for the Republican party to renounce Limbaugh and the ugly side of the party and country that he represents. The idea being that if Republicans wanted to prove he doesn't run the show they would have to break with his ugly rhetoric and deny his influence. Therefore diminishing what influence he does have and marginalizing the the folks who stick with him for adhering to an irresponsibly loudmouthed talk show host who's interests are focused more ratings than on the good of the nation. I think the desired result would be a silencing of an unproductive voice in debate.

Posted by: goon13 | March 6, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Obama himself is taking much of an active role in this. During the stimulus debate he said something like "you guys can't just listen to Rush" but that was about it.

It wouldn't be surprising if an operator like Rahmbo would be pushing this. If he is, it is a stroke of genius.

The goal is to pass the kind of progressive legislation this country needs right now. The Dems need a few moderate Republicans to do this, and peeling them away from the dittoheads is a good way to do it.

Posted by: mikeinmidland | March 6, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I don't see that the White House had much if anything to do with it.

But the key fact is, it would have no traction if it Republicans hadn't given Rush power and credibility among their base. A little something for the Republic Party to think about. I didn't put you where you are: you put you where you are. As they say.

When Rush was rallying the Republic faithful and selling the Republic Party message, in return the Party legitimized him, gave him access, and helped him get money and fame and power. Everything was going so well, wasn't it? Except it wasn't for everyone: the country was being polarized, misled, and sold out, and Rush's glib talk was helping it all go down, helping for instance blue collar workers to vote for the policies that would offshore their jobs.

And now that the fecal material has hit the fan, now the Republic Party wonders if it has become perhaps too closely identified with a guy who, when you get right down to it, is a big mouthed entertainer. Who has never met a payroll in his life. Who has never served in public office. Whose private life of drugs and marital, how do we say this, imperfection, is hardly a poster for family values. Whose actual claim to fame is exactly the same as Howard Stern's: he runs a radio show with rabid fans and the rest of the country doesn't think much of him.

Oh! the sorrow and the pity. The alliance of slimeballs has led to regret on one side. Rush has little reason for regret. The Party, however, has a queasy feeling: the big guy perhaps isn't selling as well as he used to, certainly not as broadly as the Party needs, and now engages in unseemly public displays that look a lot like GOP folks chewing on each others' necks. Is this a good thing? Even if tolerable, couldn't it get a lot worse? The potential must keep Party insiders up nights.

Bummer on that, dude. You loved him when he was helping you put Party before country. Where's the love now when it turns out it was all about Rush?

Posted by: jpk1 | March 6, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I too find that with this new format, I don't visit as often as I did before....

This topic is so stupid....

Limbaugh is a repub tool. If he would shut up, this would be a non-issue...

But wait... he likes to be the center of attention because it brings him more listeners, so not likely he will shut up anytime soon.

The repubs are blaming the dems for making fun of and fanning the flames of the ridiculous comments that repubs are making.

It's so easy, you could do it without half trying.

Rush is playing everybody, and the dems are playing the repubs.

Maybe they are mad that they don't get to play anybody.

Posted by: RichRable | March 6, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Facts are facts, that a leading wing of the republican party worships at Rush's feet.

To them his word is the holy gospel.

The rest of us can see that the emperor has no clothes.

To them his word is the holy gospel.

The rest of us can see that the emporey has no clothes.

Posted by: nstein1 | March 6, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Memo to cable and print media:

When the name Limbaugh is invoked, I change the channel or turn the page.

Julie, Dem in AR

Posted by: jpel | March 6, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Dan, I still read you, albeit less often. I don't like the new format.

Posted by: punkybrewster1 | March 6, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Maybe blaming the White House, et al., for calling Rush the leader of the GOP is the only safe way that elected GOP pols can argue that Rush is not the leader, without having to slavishly apologize to the Fathead.

It's not the Dems who engineered the repeated scenario of GOP office holders and party leaders having to kiss the Fathead's fat butt after calling him what he has in fact called himself--an entertainer.

If Rush isn't the present leader of the GOP, then why the fealty to him? If he isn't the leader of the GOP, what is he? It's conscience?

Posted by: bfieldk | March 6, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Hey Dan,

I'm so sorry that you're new format is hard to adapt to. Actually, I've started to pay attention to the fact that you are now segmenting your work. At least, that's how I see it. And that actually makes it easier to read in different time periods. It's too bad that it is always hard to adapt to new programs. But I still think that Dan Froomkin has the best insight into our executive workings. It may not be quite as exciting as the former president. But there's still stuff going on.

Posted by: sailorflat | March 6, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

So, does the Rwing game plan mean that he who I ignore (the Rwing feminazi-spinner) is the VICTIM?

Posted by: NYCartist | March 6, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I like the new and the old format.But don't go changing to try and please me sez Billy Joel.

Don't throw the excellent content out with the new format. It's like saying I use to like that Van Gogh painting but since you changed the picture frame, well, it's not so hot now. Or I really like the Beatles on 33 1/3 phonograph records but I don't like them now that their on CD's.

Dan Froomkin deserves a Pulitzer now.

Posted by: mickster1 | March 6, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

It's as if the conservative Republicans held a gluttonous, Bacchanal-like orgy over eight long years, reveling in unchecked greed and power, trashing everything in sight, and the Democrats and newly-elected President Barack Obama (as chief of house cleaning) have been given the responsibility of cleaning up all the mess, the empty liquor bottles, the used condoms, the oxycontin boxes, the vomit, a dead body or two...with Republicans still trash-talking and throwing even more trash on top of all that they left piled up to be cleaned up in the first place...while blaming Democrats for the mess or saying Democrats and President Barack Obama are taking too long in righting the wrongs of The Far Right.

Trying to talk sense to or have any conversation (as in bipartisanship) with these type of Republicans would be like trying to talk sense to or have a conversation with someone hopped-up on PCBs...and just as dangerous to our country and the future of our nation's children.

Posted by: wizard2000 | March 7, 2009 3:17 AM | Report abuse

Like Julie in AR, I too change the channel or divert my attention to something else when the "Rush" is mentioned. And Steele is pushing the Republicans to an almost non-entity by bowing to the far right that Rush represents. Yes, we expect this ugly economic situation that the far right has imposed on us to be fixed, but give it some time - like Bob Herbert says in the New York Times - "Barack Obama has only been president for six weeks." The massive mess that conservative policies have reaped upon us for the last 30 years will take a little more time to fix.

On the new format, I too have a love-hate relationship with it. I like the old format and would read the column daily. Now I read it only a few times each week, but still enjoy it when I do.

Posted by: Deano6 | March 7, 2009 5:04 AM | Report abuse

Saying that Obama would fail means hoping that his programs to bail USA out of crisis would fail "because of Obama's stupidness", of course.
But that is a CRUEL hope,such hoping that Americans would longer suffer from recession because of Obama's failure, only to "SHOW GOP's RIGHTFULNESS AND DEMOCRATS STUPIDNESS".
McCain would surely say "I hope Obama would be successful in his programs to help America",in accordance to his slogan "COUNTRY FIRST" (NOT PARTY FIRST).

From a spectator of Indonesia,
Om santi

Posted by: yintje | March 8, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

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