Has Time Magazine Ever Been 'Rather Gentle' With Rush Limbaugh?

In New York magazine, film critic David Edelstein (not to be confused with L.A. film critic David Ehrenstein, the man who launched the "Magic Negro" controversy) whacked away at Rush Limbaugh’s "freaky and terrifying" and even "psychopathological" story of how he intimidated a journalist by threatening to go into his personal life and his past writings.

Edelstein is scared by a Media Matters item on how Limbaugh criticized the new ProPublica investigative journalism group and its search for exposés with "moral force" – Rush made the point that investigative journalists have their own foibles that no one exposes – and said he once threatened a news magazine cover story writer that he could dish dirt back at him. Edelstein charged that Limbaugh was intimidating Time's Richard Corliss, who in return offered a "rather gentle" treatment of Limbaugh:

In January 1995, Time’s Richard Corliss wrote a Limbaugh cover story that was, to my mind, rather gentle on its subject — who back then was single-handedly moving public discourse in a new and viciously inflammatory direction. Corliss covered the bases, but he seemed to be pulling his punches. I might be unfair: As its more recent Ann Coulter cover story demonstrated, Time is hardly the place for ringing denunciations of media figures — on any side — with substantial followings. It’s possible the story was edited to appear neutral — to call attention to Limbaugh as an intriguing new phenomenon rather than a reeking fount of lies and misinformation.

Sadly for Edelstein, it’s very easy to pull up Corliss’s Time cover story, and if he thinks it’s "rather gentle" and "pulling its punches" or "neutral," he’s relying on foggy memory, or his idea of a hatchet job is rather extreme.

Start with the actual cover. Over a picture of Rush with a cigar (his face obscured by what looks like painted-in smoke) is the headline "Is Rush Limbaugh Good for America?" The subheadline suggested the answer was no: "Talk radio is only the beginning. Electronic populism threatens to short-circuit representative democracy."

That’s a strange conclusion for the first month of the Republican Congress, since representative democracy looked mighty Limbaughesque at that historical crossroads. Here’s how the "rather gentle" Corliss piece begins, with Air America-anticipating parody, more stand-up comedy routine than magazine journalism:

Hi there, listeners! This is Rash Lambaste, the liberals' Limbaugh, with all the news you need to know. Well, we just had another beaut from Newt. The Speaker hired a House historian who thought Nazism should be taught in schools. That's good sound Republicanism: instead of condoms, let's distribute SS armbands. Newt dumped her, but in the nicest way: he visited her and served her with divorce papers. And how about term limits, that great notion of an electorate that can't trust themselves to vote the rascals out? Old Guard Republicans must love that! Newt's in his ninth term, so he's way over the limit. And Senator Thurmond -- wasn't he the Founding Father who filibustered against the Declaration of Independence? C'mon, Republicans! Don't make it so easy for me!

This is gentle? It’s true that this article is not so much a profile on Limbaugh as much as it is a denunciation of conservative talk radio in general, from Sean Hannity to Neal Boortz to Ken Hamblin to Michael Reagan. Corliss may have planned to impale Limbaugh, and then pulled back. But it’s not as if Limbaugh was promoted as a swell guy in any way. Here are the other two significant Limbaugh passages in the piece:

On the radio side, conservative talk also had '50s and '60s pioneers: cantankerous Joe Pine and Bob Grant. Grant and Limbaugh, who have broadcast back to back on New York City's WABC since 1988, have set the limits -- one growly, the other comic-pompous -- for Right Radio.

....Decades of power made Democrats soft, logy, too eager to compromise; they showed compassion but rarely passion. By the time Limbaugh went national in 1988, the Dems could do little but sleepwalk into the propeller. How could they know that the winning attitude of the '90s -- on radio and on the stump -- would be to show a killer instinct?

But let’s return briefly to Edelstein’s point: he thought Limbaugh, who said he suggested to the magazine writer that he knew something about the writer and masturbation, had some opposition research in his formerly nicotine-stained fingers:

Corliss, as one of the chief critics for the middlebrow, high-circulation Time, likely didn’t want a piece he’d written in the mid-seventies for the Village Voice hauled into the light — a piece from the days when he was a cheeky and passionate young writer trying to push the envelope. The subject was porn, and I remember it beginning (I don’t have the exact quote, but, believe me, it sticks in the memory): "Like many people, I go to porn theaters to masturbate." (The title of the piece, we've confirmed, was "Confessions of an Ex-Pornologist.")

Edelstein then mourned how masturbation has ruined fine careers, from Pee Wee Herman to Joycelyn Elders, and how film critics can no longer be frank about enjoying the old porn houses.

What Edelstein evades in this whole denunciation of Limbaugh’s alleged "gangster" tactics is this: don’t reporters ever use these kinds of tactics to muscle sources into providing the goods? Even more importantly (re: the Hillary apple-polishers at Media Matters), haven’t liberals like the Clintonites ever intimidated reporters about how their careers or personal reputations might be a wee bit ruined if they keep pursuing a Clinton expose? If it's offensive when a conservative does it, then it ought be offensive when a liberal does.

As for Time, it was not in the habit of gentleness toward Limbaugh. Just two weeks later in 1995, Christopher John Farley was defending Louis Farrakhan by attacking Rush Limbaugh.

Last month Senator Ernest Hollings joked about Africans being cannibals, but no other white Senators were pressured to condemn him. Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern make questionable racial remarks, and yet President Bush invited Limbaugh to the White House, and Senator Alfonse D'Amato attended Stern's book party.

Farley provided no example of racist Rush remarks.

Please support NewsBusters today! [a 501(c)(3) non-profit production of the Media Research Center]


Or, book travel through MRC’s Travel Discounts Program! MRC receives a rebate for each booking when you use our special codes.

Time New York Magazine Richard Corliss
Tim Graham's picture