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Rush Limbaugh, American Right’s star ‘shock jock’ who hated Democrats, feminists, blacks

US radio show host Rush Limbaugh, who died Wednesday aged 70, almost single handedly triggered deep divisions in American society and media with his ultra conservative views.

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New Delhi: In the last few decades, no other public personality in the US has come close in representing the “aggrieved soul” of the American Right than Rush Limbaugh.

A star of Right-wing radio, Limbaugh, who died Wednesday aged 70 from complications of lung cancer, paved the way for conservatives such as former President Donald Trump. He also almost single handedly triggered deep divisions in American society and media with his ultra conservative views.

The radio host was immensely popular and influential among conservatives for his divisive style of commentary where he belittled Democrats, environmentalists and popularised the term ‘feminazis’ — a derogatory term for women who espoused ideals of feminism. And like any other traditional conservative, Limbaugh advocated low taxes, small governments, a strong defence sector, free trade and was pro-life.

Limbaugh set the stage for what we know today as ‘fake news’. He called HIV/AIDs “Rock Hudson’s disease” and asserted “environmentalist wackos” were “a bunch of scientists organised around a political position”. The radio host also claimed that the existence of gorillas disproved the Darwinian theory of evolution.

And it did not end there, Limbaugh’s hate campaign against Democrat politicians was well-known

In 2017, after the Charlottesville riots in Virginia by white supremacists, he accused then Virginia governor and Democrat leader Terry McAuliffe of allowing the riots to take place to allegedly further his presidential ambitions.

He ran a strong campaign against former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. As The Guardian noted, “Barack Obama seemed to inspire Limbaugh to new heights of partisan venom.” He vociferously promoted the view that Obama was foreign-born and also claimed that US President Joe Biden had not “legitimately won” the election.

Several Right-wing commentators in the media owe their existence to Limbaugh. Fox News could not have been invented without him and many of the channel’s personalities, including the vitriolic Sean Hannity, condoled his death.

At one point, he had admitted to The New York Times that he knew in his “heart and soul” that he had emerged as the “intellectual engine of the conservative movement”.

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Rise to fame and early firings

Limabaugh’s rise to fame came in 1988, after EFM Media Management offered him a two-year contract and his eponymous radio show ‘The Rush Limbaugh Show’ debuted on 1 August that year.

Within the next five years, this programme became the most popular show on radio. At its peak, it was estimated that 20 million listeners tuned in every week. He called his dedicated group of listeners ‘ditto heads’.

In 1992, he also started a syndicated TV programme produced by Roger Ailes, who went on to head Fox News.

However, Limbaugh’s journey to star radio show host was marked with multiple job firings over the years because of his ultra conservative views.

Born on 12 January 1951 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Limbaugh was the older son of a rather prominent family and began working on radio shows when he was only 16. His ideology surfaced quite early on in his career.

After flunking high school, Limbaugh first found a job at a radio station in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, where he was fired for an inappropriate remark to a black caller.

He told the caller that he could not understand him and then atrociously suggested that the caller should “take the bone out of your nose and call again”.

Soon thereafter, he was asked to leave a night radio show in Pittsburgh as well. Limbaugh tried his hand in Kansas City but both his morning current affairs talk show and his evening talk show ended in him getting fired because of differences with the management.

After these series of sacking, Limbaugh called himself a “moderate failure”.

In 1984, things turned around for Limbaugh when he was suggested for a local radio station show in Sacramento, California.

But what really propelled his career was when the Ronald Reagan administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine, which required holders of broadcast licences to present controversial issues in an honest and balanced manner, in 1987.

The move allowed extreme views to be aired and proved to be the making of Limbaugh. Within a year he moved to New York for his radio show.

The show ended in 1996 but by then he had hit out at the Democrats, women and blacks.

In 2003, ESPN hired him as an analyst for their Football broadcast on Monday nights. A few weeks in, he courted controversy for suggesting that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb was overrated “because the media very desirous that a black quarterback do well”.

According toThe New York Times obituary,Since his emergence in the 1980s as one of the first broadcasters to take charge of a national political call-in show, Mr Limbaugh transformed the once-sleepy sphere of talk radio into a relentless right-wing attack machine, his voice a regular feature of daily life — from homes to workplaces and the commute in between — for millions of devoted listeners.”

In 2020, former president Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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The making of right-wing radio star

Limbaugh was always severely criticised for his aggressive commentary but he brushed them aside, calling thementertainment”.

For Politico magazine, Limbaugh’s life was a lesson in irony: “He was a brilliant performer, a self-invented character who, reading not very far through the lines of interviews over the years, had the interior life of lonely misfit who came alive and found adoration mainly in front of the microphone.”

He hardly lived the traditional life that he claimed to advocate on his talk shows. Through the course of his life, he was married three times and arrested for the misuse of prescription painkillers. He later admitted that he was addicted to these painkillers.

According to Politico, the radio host “showed how to merge the raucous sensibility of a natural entertainer with keen intuition about the everyday political and cultural resentments nurtured by millions of Americans and spin it all into a lucrative mass movement”.

Even within elite media circles in New York, Limbaugh wasn’t accepted for his brash views.

“Look, I admired these people,” he had told the media once, “I thought they would welcome me as one of them. I was wrong.”

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