Liberal Rush Limbaugh?

In a rather weird exchange on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Salon editor Joan Walsh was stumped when asked to call out extremists on her side of the aisle:

P.J. Gladnick has the transcript:

JOE SCARBOROUGH: …I think it helps us all to say there are extreme voices on the left, there are extreme voices on the right, and it’s our responsibility to call out people, I believe, on our side.

JOAN WALSH: Who would you have me call out? I mean who would you say on the left is comparable to Rush and…

SCARBOROUGH: Don’t do it.

MIKA BREZEZINSKI: Mmm-mmm! No thanks, Joan. We’re good. We’re good.

SCARBOROUGH: Can we talk about the Chinese now?

MIKA: I think it’s all very obvious.

WALSH: Is it obvious? Who on the left is comparable to Rush and Glenn on the right?

MIKA: Okay, Joan, if it’s not obvious to you I’ll talk to you off-set. I mean, my God!

Brezezinski’s bizarre reaction, presumably, stems from the fact that she had Keith Olbermann in mind and, well, one doesn’t directly criticize the network’s cash cow. Ask Donny Deutsch.

Walsh was subjected to lampoonery from some on the right, who compared her cluelessness to Sarah Palin’s inability to name a newspaper that she read.   She responded with a piece titled “There is no liberal Rush Limbaugh.”

I don’t think there’s anyone on the left as consistently cruel, divisive and wrong as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. But my question wasn’t merely about media: The problem on the right includes extremists who’ve made death threats against Democrats like Patty Murray, Bart Stupak, Nancy Pelosi and, of course, President Obama. There’s no one on the left posing the same threat to leaders on the right — or if there is, I’d like to know about it. (The whack job who threatened the folks who made the movie “Babe,” along with Obama and GOP whip Eric Cantor, doesn’t count.)

[…]

Of course, that’s stupid. I didn’t name anyone not because I was stumped; it was because in my opinion, the violent rhetoric is coming from the right, not the left. It’s not Nancy Pelosi who’s telling her San Francisco constituents they need to be “armed and dangerous” to fight their political enemies; that’s Michele Bachmann. There isn’t anyone in liberal media as consistently vicious as Beck or Limbaugh. Now, the lads at Newsbusters are providing their own names, but I wouldn’t compare anyone they mention to the two right-wing titans of hate.

The names Gladnick provided were: Rosie O’Donnell, Mike Malloy, Bill “The Bomber” Ayers, Mrs. Bill “The Bomber” Ayers , Van Jones , Dylan Ratigan, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Keith Olbermann, and KEITH OLBERMANN.

The problem with that list is that most of those people are very obscure figures and three of them are Keith Olbermann.    O’Donnell and Olbermann are the only ones on the list worth mentioning in the same breath as Limbaugh and Beck, since they’re at least well known.  I’ve never seen Maddow’s show but I gather she’s popular with a small subset of the young left wonkish types and that her style is more academic than polemic; but I could be mistaken.

Limbaugh has gotten meaner of late and Beck strikes me as someone who needs medication and lots of it.  But Walsh doesn’t help her case when she lumps them in with “extremists who’ve made death threats against Democrats.”   Free speech may be annoying but it’s seldom dangerous. Further, to say that the threats are coming from the Right rather than the Left is just silly.  There’s a long history of violence and seditious speech on both sides of the aisle, with the Left predominating on that score when Republicans wield the levers of power and vice-versa.

And, while there isn’t a figure on the Left with the cultural significance and audience of Limbaugh, it’s because he’s sui generis.   He essentially invented a format and remains the dominant voice.  There’s no other show host on the Right with his power.   But one doesn’t have to look too far for Rush imitators on the Left who are angry and hateful.  Anyone calling the Tea Party protestors “tea baggers” should probably shut up about incivil discourse.

Interestingly, the two most successful political media figures on the Left, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, have managed to do it by essentially inventing their own show formats and taking a different approach.  They’re sometimes mean and frequently scornful of the other side but they do it with charm and humor.   Which, ironically, was Limbaugh’s shtick back in the day.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ugh says:

    They’re sometimes mean and frequently scornful of the other side but they do it with charm and humor. Which, ironically, was Limbaugh’s shtick back in the day.

    Back….when? I mean, when I used to listen to the guy back in 1993, he was calling 13 year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog. “Charm and humor”?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Back….when? I mean, when I used to listen to the guy back in 1993, he was calling 13 year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog. “Charm and humor”?

    As I recall, it was a photo shown on his TV show. He claimed it was a producer but, in any case, it was in bad taste. Bad both Colbert and Stewart — especially Stewart — have moments of bad taste with some frequency. It’s the nature of pushing the envelope. But, on balance, I find them likable. That was true of Rush when I listened to him regularly, say 1992-2001 or so. I seldom listen nowadays, both because my schedule is different and because I tired of the shtick.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    For the record, although Rush has always claimed the Chelsea picture was an inadvertent mistake by a producer – it was on a pre-recorded show. If it was a mistake, they could have corrected it. To me, Rush has always been a repulsive blowhard with contempt for everyone, especially his own fans. That was my impression even back in the 90’s when I would flip around the AM dial while on long road trips in the south.

  4. john personna says:

    I’d propose this test: If someone listened to newssource and only newssource, would they be informed with real facts, or phony ones?

    Limbaugh and Olbermann are probably in the same bucket now (which is why the three Olbermanns was funny). To get the same level of distortion from others on the list, I think you have to work your way down to the obscure and loony (O’Donnell, obviously).

    The odd thing about the links in the list is that so many (ok i only tried a few) seem to hinge on the “are tea parties racist” litmus test. That almost seems a requirement that critics ignore the (literal) signs. Sure, you can as your defense say that such signs pop up everywhere … except they don’t, and that isn’t a disproof of the argument, only a dilution.

  5. john personna says:

    Recap:

    a) tea parties are racist
    b) no they’re not

    a) well, look at this sign
    b) there aren’t many of those

    Does that really get us to “not racist, at all”?

  6. Franklin says:

    The names Gladnick provided were: Rosie O’Donnell, Mike Malloy, Bill “The Bomber” Ayers, Mrs. Bill “The Bomber” Ayers , Van Jones , Dylan Ratigan, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Keith Olbermann, and KEITH OLBERMANN.

    Many of these people are (or have been) quite extreme. But Rachel Maddow? She’s completely liberal, yes, but she’s at her most ‘dangerous’ when she’s being sarcastic. That doesn’t compare in any way to the hate and almost violent rhetoric spewed out by the others.

  7. grampagravy says:

    I’ve never seen Maddow’s show but I gather she’s popular with a small subset of the young left wonkish types and that her style is more academic than polemic; but I could be mistaken.

    If you have a taste for factual, well-researched content without all the hype, hyperbole, and antics of Fox News clowns-you’ll find that you don’t have to be particularly young, wonkish, or left to find yourself tuning in to Rachel Maddow.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    Rachel Maddow is not comparable to anyone on the right. She’s smart, nerdy, a good interviewer, very well-prepared. 70% Tim Russert, 30% Keith Olbermann.

    But it is also ridiculous to compare Olbermann and Beck or Hannity. Olbermann is a committed partisan, he conducts sham interviews and he used to bloviate at ridiculous length, but he’s not a mental case like Beck or a bald-faced liar like Hannity.

  9. reid says:

    Some of the names on that list are strange. The Ayers? Really? Are they still politically active or in the media? His name is thrown around like some sort of boogieman, used to smear Obama, but I’ve never actually heard of him doing anything since the ’70s.

    And Dylan Ratigan? I occasionally have MSNBC on in the background and hear him; he seems to be on a populist, anti-Wall Street tear these days, but I don’t get a huge lefty vibe from him.

    Van Jones was another smear target that I rarely heard much substantial info about. He’s not in the media, is he?

    Yes, Olbermann is pompous and a bit of a blowhard, but I don’t see him in the same league as Rush. Olbermann may be selective in what he presents, but I don’t see him lying about or distorting issues. (His personal vendettas can be a bit much.)

    Really, it’s not a compelling list, especially when you think about how easy it would be to compile a list of conservative folks.

  10. reid says:

    Oh, and I’m surprised we didn’t get that evil Rev. Wright on the list, too.

  11. anjin-san says:

    but, in any case, it was in bad taste.

    A grown man attacking a 13 year old girl in the media goes quite a ways beyond “bad taste”. Pretty weak James.

  12. Brett says:

    I could see why Brezinzski thought of Olbermann, but I wouldn’t quite compare him to Rush Limbaugh in impact. He doesn’t draw nearly as many viewers as Limbaugh draws listeners – hell, he doesn’t even draw as many viewers as O’Reilly and Beck.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    Are we sure that Brezinnski may not have been thinking about Ed Schultz, the guy who said that she and Joe were taking their marching orders from the White House during their morning show?

    Also, Dylan doesn’t strike me as someone on the Left.

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Do any of you people ever listen to Rush I ask again? lol….

  15. Limbaugh has gotten meaner of late and Beck strikes me as someone who needs medication and lots of it.

    I should note that from 2001 to around 2004 or Glenn Beck was nothing like he is now. It’s quite likely his craziness is purely a stage persona he’s assumed to make money (and considering how popular he’s become since, his reading of what the Republican base wants appears to have been completely correct).

  16. James Joyner says:

    I should note that from 2001 to around 2004 or Glenn Beck was nothing like he is now. It’s quite likely his craziness is purely a stage persona he’s assumed to make money

    I listened to Beck for a few months when it coincided with my ride home, maybe 2005 to 2006, and thought he was perfectly sane. He struck me as a typical recovering addict trying to save everyone else and overly emotional.

  17. G.A.Phillips says:

    Rachel Maddow is not comparable to anyone on the right. She’s smart, nerdy, a good interviewer, very well-prepared. 70% Tim Russert, 30% Keith Olbermann.

    So 70%fool 30%idoit hack makes her smart how?

    She dresses like a man makes her nerdy how?

    She says teabaggers alot while talking to other liberal idiots makes her a good interviewer how?

    And what has S.H. ever bald faced lied about?

    And if ever compare them to the bald face lies of say your hero Obama, just to give me some prespective on what the hell your trying to prove.

  18. Franklin says:

    And what has S.H. ever bald faced lied about?

    Off the top of my head, the number of people attending Tea Parties.

  19. MarkedMan says:

    I’m truly curious about the dishonesty charges. I haven’t seen more than ten or fifteen minutes of any of these guys, mostly via clips, so I don’t have a lot of first hand data, although I am aware of pretty copious documentation on Rush Limbaugh’s fabrications. Aside from him, has anyone really done a long term fact check on the others? Especially Keith Olbermann? The few times I’ve seen him he struck me as play acting and melodramatic, but I didn’t get the impression his facts were wrong.

  20. Franklin says:

    So 70%fool 30%idoit hack makes her smart how?

    Calling people names instead of intelligent discourse makes you smart how?

    Are you also a Rhodes Scholar?

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    Calling people names instead of intelligent discourse makes you smart how?

    Show were my analysis is inaccurate.

    I give two poops about your or anyone else college education, it is meaningless if you were taught falsehoods, I fight fire with fire,like you don’t know this yet Franklin.

    Why should I give liberals the respect that they show to no one else? Why?

    I merely speak their language.

    Because I used to be one and know how.

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    Off the top of my head, the number of people attending Tea Parties.

    lol, how many people are attending tea parties?

    Why don’t you stop the bullshit, finish answering my question and lie about how every thing that comes out of Obama’s mouth isn’t a ******* lie!

    You people really need to get out more.

    There is nothing civil about trying to have a conversation with brainwashed rabid liberal, I don’t think you one of them but you sure like to excuse all of their behavior.

  23. UlyssesUnbound says:

    I give two poops about your or anyone else college education

    IMHO, people who lack a basic education, or a basic level intelligence, do tend to get first defensive then aggressive towards those who do not lack.

    G.A. has proven this concept with his ire towards every commentator sans Zelsdorf. And with Zels its just a matter of time before the anger comes, because while I disagree with him, he can create a coherent thought.

    Back to the topic at hand though…

    I think this discussion has centered on a left/right paradigm. That is, “Those on the right are more vicious.” “No, those on the left are!”

    I think the only reason the right currently has more spokespeople who do sink into the polemic is that there are customers that are buying. On the left there hasn’t been support in the media market for vicious talking heads. Remember Air America? I thought not.

    That doesn’t mean there won’t be though. If Olbermann was enjoying the same monetary success that Limbaugh was, you could bet his diatribes would become more ludicrous and antagonistic. If he didn’t someone on the left would.

    However, currently the left ain’t buying that type of commentary. Things change though.

  24. G.A.Phillips says:

    I think this discussion has centered on a left/right paradigm. That is, “Those on the right are more vicious.” “No, those on the left are!”

    lol, wow your insightful, and you typed paradigm. It’s two bad that this intellectual discipline is not real but an imagining.

    I think this discussion is centered on the thoughts of a group of people who set forth not but propaganda upon a crowd of the like minded who they materially pop up in order to give credit to it’s lack luster rational.

    Then how would you know anything about something you don’t know anything about?

    How very non polemical…..

    That doesn’t mean there won’t be though. If Olbermann was enjoying the same monetary success that Limbaugh was, you could bet his diatribes would become more ludicrous and antagonistic. If he didn’t someone on the left would.

    lol, impossible….

    However, currently the left ain’t buying that type of commentary. Things change though.

    Sure they are their just ain’t that many of them, well that many of them who actually need to be told more then once what to think or to do, lol……

  25. wr says:

    GA — Just out of curiosity, back when you were a liberal, did you think all conservatives were evil, scumsucking, lying evil bastards, the way you think of liberals now?

    And if you did, and now find that the people you used to loathe are paragons of wonderfulness and those who were once your friends are now the scum of the earth, does the fact that you were once so completely, absolutely wrong ever make you wonder if you’re capable of making a similar mistake now?

    Or is reality only that what you see at the precise moment?

  26. G.A.Phillips says:

    Just out of curiosity, back when you were a liberal, did you think all conservatives were evil, scumsucking, lying evil bastards, the way you think of liberals now?

    No but I was indoctrinated to think Christian were.

    And your reading a lot into what I write, Mostly I think that they have also been lead astray but do enjoy giving them a heavy dose of their own belligerent elitist attitude:)

    And if you did, and now find that the people you used to loathe are paragons of wonderfulness and those who were once your friends are now the scum of the earth, does the fact that you were once so completely, absolutely wrong ever make you wonder if you’re capable of making a similar mistake now?

    To further my answer, comparing the two sides of the conflict, er, issues keeps me in the know about such differences as to right and wrong in the ideological formula.

    Or is reality only that what you see at the precise moment?

    ha, it’s more like seeing history repeated while not many else can.

    I do not give up or hate my friends, or any of you for that matter, doesn’t mean I will not use what I use to make you think, or to to just piss you back off.

    I tried being a good debater against those who are not, I can’t handle it, so I have chosen to stop posing and be myself. you don’t have a problem with that, do you?

  27. Richard Bottoms says:

    Teabaggers.

    There, I said it, incivil discourse doesn’t bother me one bit.

    Death threats, secessionists, and the glorification of Confederate stormtroopers does. Oh, yes I went there.

    For us black people seeing glorious, brave Confederate soldiers coming over the hill in the midst of the Civil War would be much a cause for celebration as Jews seeing the SS stroll into downtown Warsaw.

    The GOP’s love for the Stars and Bars waving Southern romantics ensures we will continue to loathe the party in massive numbers well into the new century.

  28. Andre Kenji says:

    When Rachel Maddow is not talking as a partisan hack she is kinda good. He is very good interviewer, especially with conservatives.

    The problem is that he talks too much as a partisan hack. And outside MSNBC, several people on the left criticize Olbermann, without saying sorry to him.

  29. Mary says:

    “Back….when? I mean, when I used to listen to the guy back in 1993, he was calling 13 year-old Chelsea Clinton a dog.”

    You never listened to him because he never did that.