Frontline; Rush Limbaugh's America
You might expect that a Frontline profile of Rush Limbaugh would do its best to squash the multimedia personality like a very big bug, but Rush Limbaugh’s America (PBS, Feb. 28, 9-10 p.m.) gives him his due as an exceptionally skilled broadcaster, if a rather opportunistic ideologue. Correspondent Peter Boyer visits Limbaugh’s hometown of Cape Girardeau, Mo., and offers fun snippets of Rush’s early days as a first-rate rock & roll disc jockey. What comes across is a smart guy driven to succeed, a loner whose immense popularity both delights and frightens him, and a fellow as surprised at his influence as any of his liberal critics are.
One of Boyer’s most effective points is the spinelessness of Limbaugh’s opponents. From Bill Clinton on down, there is much whining to be heard here about how pernicious Limbaugh’s rhetoric is. But where is the far-left entertainer building an audience as creatively as the far-right Limbaugh has done? (The filmmakers interview popular New York radio yakker Don Imus for a liberal contrast, but as always, Imus’ vaunted outrageousness is notably lame; Howard Stern is mentioned, but Stern is far too much of a social-political anarchist to be labeled either left or right.)
Rush Limbaugh’s America gives the lie to the notion that the media are pervasively liberal; they are, in fact, so instinctively, traditionally conservative that Limbaugh himself had trouble getting heard early in his career because he was perceived as being too radical in his rightness. This Frontline carries the strong implication that both sides of the political process are always underestimating what the public will accept.
Rush is no great risk taker — Boyer and producer Stephen Talbot show how Limbaugh has cravenly softened his anti-abortion-rights stance and homophobic attacks in the face of criticism. Whether you’re cheered or appalled by the notion that this is now ”Rush Limbaugh’s America,” Boyer’s hour suggests why it was an inevitability. B+