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Fox News Not Conservative

So says E.D. Kain:

Fox News is simply not conservative.  The fact of the matter is, I find NPR and even News Hour more conservative than Fox – but in a different sense, I suppose, than the standard boiler plate conservatism that has so infested American politics.  What I mean to say is that the conservatism of Fox News tends to be wrapped up in loud, divisive, trashy television that is cheap and ugly and reactionary and essentially all things distasteful that conservatives should look at with scorn and antipathy.  The measured, reserved, thoughtful and culturally sensible tone of NPR is far more conservative.  I’d rather my kids listen to it than watch Glenn Beck.  I’d rather they listen to Fresh Air than Rush Limbaugh.  Why have conservatives let go of the high culture war?  Why have they conceded defeat there – in the arts, in literature, in music – trading it instead for trash television and cheap rhetoric?

Now, I’d disagree with the counter-premise that the Left is somehow more highbrow.  I don’t know that MSNBC is any less histrionic than FOX or that lefty talk radio is sweetness and light — or even that every show on FOX is lowbrow (“Special Report” was worth watching in Brit Hume’s day, as was “Fox News Sunday”).  And comparing mainstream NPR programming with unabashedly partisan shows is rather unfair.  But much of what passes for conservative commentary has certainly strayed from the path of William F. Buckley, Jr.

The particular case of Glenn Beck is interesting.  I watched a couple episodes of his Headline News show before growing bored and haven’t seen his Fox show, aside from a handful of clips on the blogs and other television shows.   From what I gather, he comes across as a raving lunatic who’s afraid of his own shadow.

The reason this fascinates me is that, perhaps three or four years ago, I was a regular listener to his talk radio show, which was on in the afternoons when I was making the 45-minute commute from my then-job to my then-home.  He was a bit more emotional than the typical show host, which I ascribed to his personal story of recovery from a series of poor personal choices, but seemed like a genuinely decent fellow trying to make sense of the world.  This was well after the shock of the 9/11 attacks, so the subsequent stylistic change is not part of the “everything” that changed on that fateful day.   So, I’m honestly flummoxed as to where the current incarnation of Beck came from.

Meanwhile, the leading lights of liberal commentary, comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, are taking the approach pioneered by Rush Limbaugh of making fun of the other side in a way that’s genuinely entertaining.   They don’t come across as afraid of or hating conservatives but as simply bemused by their opponents. [To clarify, I'm not arguing that Stewart and Colbert are Limbaugh imitators; they're not.  But Limbaugh was a pioneer in combining political commentary and humor in a way to attract a mass audience on a weekdaily basis.]

Regardless, I’d have to agree that I’d much rather spend an afternoon with your average NPR host — or, goodness, Stewart or Colbert — than most of the ranting loons passing themselves off as the voice of conservatism these days.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    Well, Buckley did take the PBS route. Is anyone else on the conservative side attempting that today?

    (BTW, I’m liking Charlie Rose as a non-partisan informer more and more as years go by.)

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  2. sam says:

    He was a bit more emotional than the typical show host, which I ascribed to his personal story of recovery from a series of poor personal choices, but seemed like a genuinely decent fellow trying to make sense of the world.

    Interesting, well to me anyway, is Sean Hannity’s radio program in which he presents a much more measured persona than he does on TV. Maybe it’s the hot medium (radio) vs the cool medium (TV) thing (of course, these media presentations exist in a continuum). But I do detect a distinct difference between Radio Sean and TV Sean.

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  3. sam says:

    And then, you know, there’s Bill O’Reilly on Colbert’s show:

    O’Reilly: It’s all an act.

    Colbert: If you’re an act, what am I???

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  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Answer to Colbert. Nothing! Zero, zilch. nada. A very bias political comedian who is not very funny. Except to those who partake in tea bagging with members of the same sex. Stewart and Colbert come to mind as does Matthes and Olbermann. Disgusting, mental picture.

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  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Matthews, sorry.

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  6. Eric says:

    Meanwhile, the leading lights of liberal commentary, comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, are taking the approach pioneered by Rush Limbaugh of making fun of the other side in a way that’s genuinely entertaining.

    James, this is not an apt comparison. John Stewart and Steven Colbert are comedians doing satire. They may lampoon politicians–particular conservatives because they provide so much fodder–but there is simply no mistaking that they *are* comedians being satirical. Plus they are funny.

    Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, has never portrayed himself to be anything other than a political talking head. His form of “entertainment”–if you can even call it that–is simply nasty, divisive, demeaning, and often crypto-racist. And while Stewart and Colbert attempt to get at the truth through humor, Limbaugh goes in the opposite direction: distorting facts and misleading listeners to stoke their partisan ire.

    I don’t think there is any question at all about the differences between Stewart/Colbert and Limbaugh, so I’m puzzled that you would even make that comparison. Moreover, Limbaugh is a pioneer only in the sense that he became the loudest and nastiest voice on talk radio, and not because of some sort of new way of doing political comedy (or entertainment).

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  7. James Joyner says:

    John Stewart and Steven Colbert are comedians doing satire. They may lampoon politicians–particular conservatives because they provide so much fodder–but there is simply no mistaking that they *are* comedians being satirical. Plus they are funny.

    Colbert drifts between satire and commentary; the pseudo-O’Reilly thing isn’t working as well in the post-Bush era. Stewart is a straight anchor playing himself doing political commentary. Limbaugh goes for fewer laughs but his schtick has always been about entertainment.

    Limbaugh is a pioneer only in the sense that he became the loudest and nastiest voice on talk radio, and not because of some sort of new way of doing political comedy (or entertainment).

    Limbaugh single-handedly saved AM radio and created a new genre of nationally syndicated political talk hosts. Granted, Don Imus and others had done some of this previously but Limbaugh sparked a revolution. His act has grown old, perhaps, because it’s been so often imitated and he’s been at it so long but he’s a pioneer.

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  8. Bithead says:

    James; A couple things.
    First, the current show at Fox is nothing like what we saw at CNN. Indeed, if CNN could have done anything more to screw up the ratings of the Beck program when they ran it, I can’t imagine what it might be… and remember I did Broadcasting for a while. That difference becomes particularly lcear when watching the current product. Which, by the way is why the ratings for each program are so markedly different.

    It also does much to explain why CNN is the current cellar dweller.

    From what I gather, he comes across as a raving lunatic who’s afraid of his own shadow.

    Wel, certainly that would be the read of say, Anjin… but few others, I suspect. It’s amazing how many, though who have never seen the current show have that impression. One wonders how that could happen, given that people who AHVE in fact seen his show, in the vast majority think rather the opposite.

    But much of what passes for conservative commentary has certainly strayed from the path of William F. Buckley, Jr.

    I say this as someone who has read much of Buckley’s written work…Perhaps that’s because the left that Buckley faced was different.

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  9. E.D. Kain says:

    Regardless, I’d have to agree that I’d much rather spend an afternoon with your average NPR host — or, goodness, Stewart or Colbert — than most of the ranting loons passing themselves off as the voice of conservatism these days.

    And maybe that’s all it boils down to, eh?

    The point I was making is not that there is anything more inherently “high brow” about liberal news or NPR, but only that in today’s world, the folks at NPR have taken a higher road than the folks at Fox news or in most conservative radio.

    This appeal to the basest of the base, or the lowest common denominator, is kind of sad, and in the end I hope we can see the inclusion of more thoughtful, critical conservatives in the NPR line-up or on PBS, or venturing out and starting their own programs. The problem becomes, the more we delve into low culture, the harder high culture becomes to sell….

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  10. Billy says:

    Now, I’d disagree with the counter-premise that the Left is somehow more highbrow.

    You’ve got your logic in the wrong order. It’s not that Left -> highbrow; rather it’s that highbrow -> Left.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    It’s not that Left -> highbrow; rather it’s that highbrow -> Left.

    I’d need more convincing on that point. NPR, as with other mainstream media outlets, has a somewhat leftist slant on the social issues. But it’s not Left in the way that Limbaugh and Beck — or even Fox News — are Right. Plenty of conservatives listen to NPR for their news.

    And, certainly, Olberman and Michael Moore and other leftist commentators are hardly highbrow.

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  12. Eric says:

    Colbert drifts between satire and commentary; the pseudo-O’Reilly thing isn’t working as well in the post-Bush era. Stewart is a straight anchor playing himself doing political commentary. Limbaugh goes for fewer laughs but his schtick has always been about entertainment.

    Again, James, I think there is a greater degree of difference here than you’re acknowledging. While I’ve never been a regular listener of Limbaugh, I’ve caught his routine from the early 90’s through today enough times to say without hesitation that comedy is not his angle. Limbaugh is more in the vein of a Charles Coughlin (though more watered-down) than he is of a Stewart or Colbert. Now, I suppose we can place him under that general rubric of “entertainer,” as with Stewart and Colbert, but I think that there is clear difference between his “schtick” and Stewart and Colbert. I mean, how many liberal political leaders have apologized to Stewart for offending him?

    Limbaugh single-handedly saved AM radio and created a new genre of nationally syndicated political talk hosts. Granted, Don Imus and others had done some of this previously but Limbaugh sparked a revolution. His act has grown old, perhaps, because it’s been so often imitated and he’s been at it so long but he’s a pioneer.

    OK, now that you fleshed that out a bit, I won’t argue with you there about Limbaugh’s role on talk radio. However, in your initial post above you seem to make the comparison that Stewart and Colbert are merely imitatiting some “fun, blazing pioneer entertainer guy that everyone loves” named Limbaugh rather than acknowledging Limbaugh’s true pioneering role as–let’s face it–a nasty talking head. I rather think that it’s the Hannitys and Savages that have followed the path Limbaugh blazed, not the Stewarts and Colberts.

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  13. Michael says:

    So, I’m honestly flummoxed as to where the current incarnation of Beck came from.

    I listened to Beck’s radio show too, both pre and post 9/11, and got the same impression of him as you. I can only imagine that he saw Limbaugh and O’Reilly making a lot more money than him, doing what they were doing, and decided he wanted to be a part of that. He wouldn’t be the first entertainer to change his style to match what people were paying for.

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  14. sam says:

    @odo

    Well, Buckley did take the PBS route.

    Right, as folks who like to bash Public TV and Radio should know. In fact, one could argue that it was WFB’s hundreds on programs on PBS that, in a sense, popularized conservatism. A situation I once described as a kind of reverse marxism–you know, the part where Marx (or maybe it was Lenin) says the capitalist will sell you the rope you hang him with. In the case of Firing Line, it was the government-supported media supplying Buckley with a venue for the rhetorical rope he wanted to hang the government with. I found that pretty funny.

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  15. Michael Demmons says:

    I’d have to agree that I’d much rather spend an afternoon with your average NPR host — or, goodness, Stewart or Colbert — than most of the ranting loons passing themselves off as the voice of conservatism these days.

    Which is why, James, we enjoy reading this site.

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  16. John425 says:

    I am sometimes bemused by “conservative commentators” too but I am more put off by those who think they are the true, “professional conservatives” in blogs and other media. You know who you are.

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  17. E.D. Kain says:

    Which is why, James, we enjoy reading this site.

    Exactly!

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  18. G.A.Phillips says:

    Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, has never portrayed himself to be anything other than a political talking head. His form of “entertainment”–if you can even call it that–is simply nasty, divisive, demeaning, and often crypto-racist.

    lol, Dude why? what would a fool like you know about his show anyhow? What some other fool told you? And the two half ass comics you watch are trying to get at the truth through humor? lol.

    And what was someone saying about Nazi public radio.

    The point I was making is not that there is anything more inherently “high brow” about liberal news or NPR, but only that in today’s world, the folks at NPR have taken a higher road than the folks at Fox news or in most conservative radio.

    lol, ya their high on crack and large quantities of their own ignorant bul………

    I’d have to agree that I’d much rather spend an afternoon with your average NPR host — or, goodness, Stewart or Colbert

    Thats cause your not very smart.

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  19. E.D. Kain says:

    G.A. – are you, by any chance, attempting to make my point for me?

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  20. Derrick says:

    Fox News is simply not conservative.

    The problem that at least I have with Fox News is that they aren’t as conservative as they are Republican. I’d have less a problem if I thought that they were just ideologically biased because of the natural inclinations of the hosts and commentators. But they seem to have just decided that they’ll fall on the side of Republicans which is just plain hackish.

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  21. anjin-san says:

    From what I gather, he comes across as a raving lunatic who’s afraid of his own shadow.

    Sounds sorta like bitsy. Course he may well steal material from Beck…

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  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    G.A. – are you, by any chance, attempting to make my point for me?

    No, I’m speaking to you honestly and plainly so that you won’t understand it.

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  23. jackblack says:

    “So, I’m honestly flummoxed as to where the current incarnation of Beck came from.”

    Beck knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows his schtick is being lapped up by wingnuts and is giving him fantastic ratings. Don’t for a second believes he wants to personally follow through with any of his rants. The guy is making millions and has a wife and four kids and lives in a spacious mcmansion in darien, ct. He is no revolutionary.

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  24. Ottovbvs says:

    MSNBC has it’s notably partisan commentators notably Olberman, Maddow and Shultz. They also have right wing shows like Morning Joe and middle of the road stuff like Matthews. As far as I can see Fox has no left wing stuff remotely equivalent or even much middle of the road stuff although the do have a couple of commentators who make the odd obeisanse to centrist ideas. They do however have some real shmucks like Beck and Hannity. These folks are off the wall and don’t even attempt to coat it with politeness as by and large people like Olberman and Maddow do. Fox also has a propensity for constant rigging of arguments that produce totally risible results like Luntz’s “focus” groups or for giving endless space to Republican shills with absolutely zero credibility in the wider population. All this along with the talk radio shows of Limbaugh, some of the more zany Republican politicians like Bachmann and Steele provide an endless source of material for Stewart, Maher and Colbert who are entertainers but very sharp ones. I really think the GOP is ceasing to be a serious national party. The desire to elevate everything Obama does from sitting in the yard to making small personal gestures into federal court cases is gradually draining any sense credibility from the party. It totally devalues more serious critiques. Republicans just don’t seem to understand this basic fact and I see no sign of it stopping. Meanwhile he sails on serene, totally confident, mildly mocking, poised, the picture of reason and logic amidst a sea of silly irrational children. I guess the GOP will get it sometime.

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  25. baukunin says:

    Sam, wrong ideological system, it was the Mussolini (referring to the Brits selling the Italians weapons even though they were clearly going to be at war soon)

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  26. odograph says:

    MSNBC made an interesting marketing decision, to be the anti-FOX at a particular time, when the pendulum seems to be swinging away from FOX.

    I’m not sure repealing the Fairness Doctrine was a good thing, but it is kind of funny that the non-fair Fox plan can yield unintended consequences. That is, a TV network now suffers a rating change as national politics shift.

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  27. trailrunnr says:

    It’s become a case of critical thinking = left, ranting = right. Universities and NPR have a left-bias? Correct. Both those entities encourage critical thinking and reasoning. Do you see much of that coming from O’Reilly or Limbaugh, or anyone in the current GOP? I don’t … intelligent conservatism has become an oxymoron.

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  28. Wayne says:

    Anyone who considers Matthews as middle of the road exposes how left of center they are. I like Joe but his has no love for the Republican Party. The GOP did something to really tick Joe off when he was in Congress.

    Geraldo and Greta are not conservatives. Red-eye show is full of liberals. Many of there regular reporters are liberals. Most of the democrat\liberal guests are legit democrats\liberals, unlike what goes for conservatives on many other channels. Pat Buchanan and Joe are piss off former Republicans. Huffington was passed off as a Republican spokesman for years until she got so far out there that no one believe it. Watch the CNN reporter covering the Tea parties and you see how left they are.

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  29. [...] course, as James Joyner points out, bad examples of this exist on “the other side” (CNN, MSNBC, [...]

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  30. odograph says:

    Anyone who considers Matthews as middle of the road exposes how left of center they are. I like Joe but his has no love for the Republican Party. The GOP did something to really tick Joe off when he was in Congress.

    Matthews is probably not far from the actual center, but he likes to set the cat amongst the pigeons, and he certainly likes politics as a game. He’s not really speaking, consistently, from any place on the political spectrum.

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  31. Mike says:

    I used to watch Beck on CNN. He used hyperbole sometimes, but he was generally entertaining and while right-of-center he didn’t lash out into maniacal tirades against the government.

    I watched him on Fox, and generally he has stayed the same, HOWEVER, being on Fox seems to have made him let his freak flag fly. He now goes into these anti-government rants about fascism that we’ve all seen, and it’s just really uncomfortable when he does.

    I don’t know for sure if it was the change of venue or the change of government that did it, but he’s not the same anymore.

    As for NPR, there’s just no comparison with anything else. Calling them “left” is simply wrong. They don’t have the loonies from either side of the political spectrum on, they do have measured opinions from both sides, and they do original reporting that has very little bias.

    To even compare them to AM radio or cable news is useless. Cable news channels (all of them, without exception) are the greatest threat to informed democracy and political discourse that this country has ever faced. NPR is the antidote.

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  32. Audeamus says:

    My hard-core Republican extremist brother-in-law and his junior fascist email buddies rag me unmercifully as closed-minded for ignoring members of the commentariat like Beck, Gingrich, and Limbaugh (who they take every word from as Gospel), but really, how can anyone with half a brain take these guys seriously? They’re in the entertainment and/or book selling business. They’re not elected officials (anymore). The more heat, light, and dust they can gin up, the better for their particular schtick. However, these people–business men and women, really–also visibly degrade civic discourse by reducing those they disagree with down to the level of cartoon villains. These are complex, treacherous times, and I fancy myself an educated person who knows that life has few simple answers. And my brother-in-law and his fellow dittoheads travelers expect me to take these people seriously? Please…

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  33. sam says:

    @baukunin

    Sam, wrong ideological system, it was the Mussolini (referring to the Brits selling the Italians weapons even though they were clearly going to be at war soon)

    Dunno about that. But I did some investigation (which I should do more often given the porous state of my memory these days), and it turns out that the Marx/Lenin “quote” is generally thought be spurious. Still, I think my rhetorical point holds–it was ironic that the chief spokesman for getting the government out of nearly everything was provided one of his main, and most effective, venues by government. (Well, maybe not ironic, at that; certainly American, as I like to think of us). I do miss WFB and Firing Line, BTW. I happened to see him once in an airport waiting room, and he was in a charming state of dishevelment rushing to get someplace; every inch the distracted intellectual, I thought.

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  34. Clovis says:

    These folks are off the wall and don’t even attempt to coat it with politeness as by and large people like Olberman and Maddow do

    Teabag, teabagTEABAG

    Once they became aware that the tea parties were going to occur, and be covered only by Fox they fell back to the old ridicule game. There was a point in time that folks would have been fired for even implying what Olbermann and Maddow and especially Shuster (who, I maintain, can fit nine pool balls in his mouth) seem to regard as harmless frippery.

    Okey-doke. I suggest a “call them on the carpet” rally so that we can see Maddow make “carpet-munching” her new tag-line. “Trim the fat” parties would be lovely for Olbermann’s pear shaped bloat to remember why he can’t get an erection, and “Go to Hell, Shuster” parties because I still haven’t seen that indictment of Karl Rove paper that he waved about so self-importantly. Plus, there’s something about that guy that just offends my sensibilities.

    We could add ” How many people did you kill on your way to work” parties for Sanchez and “Wow, that vacation was sudden” parties for Roesgen. Poor Anderson Cooper has his own problems, Wolf has to live with being Wolf and Cafferty needs someone to take the pee out of his Wheaties before he turns into Andy Rooney.

    What the problem is, is that some folks have conflated Fox news shows with Fox opinion shows. That is fine for rabbling the rousers, but folks who are actually interested in getting the news are better served by Fox than the other options.

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  35. Clovis says:

    P.S. I hate Shuster. You might not have been able to figure that out from the above, but I wanted to clarify. Guy makes my skin creep and my knuckles itch.

    Never met the creature, hope I never do, but I will go on record as stating that he is a boil on the rump of humankind.

    Once again: I Hate Shuster. Emphatically.

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  36. whatever dogg says:

    Clovis: I found it interesting that John Stewart actually called out MSNBC running w/ the Teabagging joke. It did get too nuts after awhile.

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  37. majun says:

    The comparison between Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert and Rush Limbaugh is rather inapt. Stewart/Colbert are comedians and satirists, who may target the right a bit more than the left due to their personal biases, but neither has ever been known to take a pass on a shot at the liberal side when one is in their sights. Stewart in particular has many conservatives on the show and is often more fawning toward them than the liberals (look at all the interviews he did with McCain over the years).

    Limbaugh, on the other hand, is an out and out partisan political hack who would bite off his own tongue and swallow it before he would allow anything to come out of his mouth that could possibly be construed as anything less than a vitriolic attack on liberalism. In Limbaugh’s universe there is only one truth and that is conservative orthodoxy (as defined by Rush Limbaugh)

    “Words mean things.” — Rush Limbaugh

    “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” — Humpty Dumpty

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