The Island of Doubt

Not being a regular, or even occasional, listener of Rush Limbaugh, I have no idea if this week’s obscene call for New York Times climate reporter Andy Revkin to commit suicide was simply par for the course. We all know that Limbaugh is an entertainer who is just doing what he needs to do to attract attention, maintain audiences and retain advertiser support. It’s a free country (for most of us). But I’m a journalist and I cover climate change, too. So this hits too close to home to ignore.

On Tuesday, Limbaugh’s radio show included this line: “Mr. Revkin, why don’t you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?”

Revkin, in a valiant attempt to keep the discourse civil, responded that

This might be funny, in a sad way, if it weren’t for the fact that my mailbox is already heaped with hate mail.

But I don’t see the humor at all. Such behavior is not just reprehensible, it’s an affront to decency and an abuse of First Amendment privileges, an abuse that should not be tolerated. Period. Anyone associated with the production, distribution or support of Limbaugh’s program, including the advertisers, must ask themselves some serious questions about their ethical standards.

Those who continue to listen to him are also condoning his behavior. I would even add that anyone who patronizes a firm or service that advertises on the program is also guilty by association. It is time for all decent Americans to pull the metaphorical plug and deprive the man of a platform to spread lies and hatred.


  1. #1 Rob Jase
    October 22, 2009

    “Such behavior is not just reprehensible, it’s an affront to decency and an abuse of First Amendment privileges”

    In short, Rush was being himself & what his dittoheads identify with.

  2. #2 JohnV
    October 22, 2009

    And to think, George H. W. Bush just got done saying how mean and naughty MSNBC anchors are for calling out his son.

    From what I read, he didn’t seem to have anything to say reactionary jackasses and the hate they spew constantly.

  3. #3 Taylor
    October 22, 2009
  4. #4 Winston
    October 22, 2009

    You are correct, James. Only doubleplus goodthink should be allowed.

    it’s an affront to decency and an abuse of First Amendment privileges

    Hear hear! I look forward to your blog posts where you excoriate the uberhate unspeech uttered by people of other ideological proclivities.

  5. #5 LionDancer
    October 22, 2009

    Gee Taylor, I think you’re guilty of an epic fail. If I were to say “I”m so angry my head’ll explode” would you call for the bomb squad too.

  6. #6 Mark P
    October 22, 2009

    The difference between Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher is that when Maher says it, he’s using hyperbole for effect. When Limbaugh says it, he really means it. The unfortunate thing is that his listeners are not going to sit down and rethink anything. They’ll be too busy cheering him on.

  7. #7 Jesse
    October 22, 2009

    Speaking as a working reporter, who values free speech, I have to say that in this particular instance what Limbaugh does isn’t particularly bad.

    But in other instances, it is, and the free speech doctrine starts to fail.

    He has in the past called for violence — the only reason he got away with it is because it targeted groups of people, not individuals. Oh, that was all right then!

    This is a shameless plug for Dave Neiwert, who talks a lot about what happens when people claim “free speech” but refuse to own it. Limbaugh, Coulter, and the rest of them will loudly declaim that they wouldn’t want anyone to do anything violent, and then a minute later urge violence on people who are in no position to fight them. It’s intimidation, is what it is.

    And no, leftists are not in a position to do this. They just aren’t. There is no lefty-equivalent of Limbaugh — nobody has the kind of sheer financial backing he does. There is no leftist equivalent of Fox News. And it ignores completely that the Right has used eliminationist language for the last decade and a half, and many liberals refused to sink to that level. It was only in the last few years when some of us got a little fed up.

  8. #8 Phillip
    October 22, 2009

    Revkin handled that with admirable grace and civility, while at the same time adding to the ongoing dialog. Impressive for someone on the defensive and under threat of physical harm. James, I believe your “call to arms” is the only way to slowly dismantle the platform Limbaugh currently spouts from. Unfortunately, it has to be done with the tact that Revkin displays and not the belittling and demeaning approaches that have been so popular in the past (Maher may find himself funny but he feeds Limbaugh the quantity and quality of attention he needs to thrive, same with Oberman). Limbaugh’s empire grows exponentially from controversy (so do Maher’s, Oberman’s and Beck’s).

  9. #9 nona the whale
    October 22, 2009

    “I never listen to Rush Limbaugh, but since I’m a journalist I’ll present you with my uninformed and un-researched opinion”.

    Yes sir. You truly are a 21st century journalist. Well done!

  10. #10 Michael Varney
    October 22, 2009

    Free speech is free speech.
    If you don’t want to hear RL, do what I do and never listen to him.
    If you don’t like what he said, exercise your right to free speech like what you did here in this blog.

    And my exercise of my right to free speech is to state that it is reactionary to say that “an abuse of First Amendment privileges, an abuse that should not be tolerated.”

    The First Amendment was drafted into our constitution to make sure that what you said in the above quote could never be enforced.

    Use science and critical thinking to argue your point, like you usually do, rather than making a call to arms to promote intolerance of a persons right to express whatever moronic thing they want.

  11. #12 Mystyk
    October 22, 2009

    There is a grey area in hate-speech law, on the issue of explicit versus implicit endorsements of violence. Explicit calls for violence are covered pretty well (although selectively enforced), but what to do when innuendo is used and the issuer has every reasonable reason to believe that a sizable contingent will desire to acts of violence because of it? Limbaugh and Coulter are famous for skirting the law on this technicality, and many other prominent media faces of the right – Such as O’Reilly/Beck/Hannity/etc. – come dangerously close on a frequent basis. I have trouble finding a comparable figure on the left, though, unless you expand your criterion to include such non-mainstream entities as Greenpeace, Earth First, Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front, and PETA.

  12. #13 Dave
    October 22, 2009

    Geez, did any of you actually hear what he was talking about?

  13. #14 Michael Varney
    October 22, 2009


    Who is “he”?

    Rush Limbaugh?
    James Hrynyshyn?

    Since I assume by “hear” you mean RL, then I did indeed listen to the excerpt posted above.

    However, I am responding to the call to arms to I perceive as censorship, not to what RL spewed.

  14. #15 Hume's Ghost
    October 22, 2009

    “I have no idea if this week’s obscene call for New York Times climate reporter Andy Revkin to commit suicide was simply par for the course.”

    Par for the course. This is what he does every single day. Which is why I have absolutely no patience for people who say things like he’s just a provactive entertainer, he gets his points across with clever wit, etc. He’s a demagogue, a hate-mongering bigot.

    One example that stands out, for me, was when I flipped to his program randomly, as I often do, to hear him talking about how global warming is an environementalist religion that posits that mankind is evil because environmentalists hate humans (or something like that.) During the course of the conversation, he described liberals as cockroaches, and then implicitly picked out Carl Sagan, Rachel Carson, and Paul Erlich as examples of such cockroaches.

    Limbaugh: … even if there are nuclear detonations left and right, life somewhere, somehow, will survive, and the whole process will begin again. We may not, cockroaches will. That means some liberals will.

    Har har, almost as funny as when Radio Rwanda called the Tutsis cockroaches.

  15. #16 Fourty
    October 22, 2009

    When Limbaugh says it, he really means it.

    [citation needed]

    Not sure what the big deal is. Whenever someone spouts the “humans are killing Gaia” type of line, a common response is “so when will you be killing yourself to help?” It’s immature, but hardly new. RL is probably about the 500 millionth person to use it.

    Maybe RL should have made an independent film about Revkin being assassinated. That sort of thing seems to be lauded by the Left.

    But seriously, for ideological side in this country to accuse the other side of hate speech… geez… Wait… which ones are the Sneeches with stars and the ones without?

    I wish *both* sides walk into the sea.

    Oh, and the Preview function is totally broken. Again. When is an allegedly scientific web site going to get posting software from the current century?

  16. #17 Mark P
    October 22, 2009

    Sorry, Forty. How is this: “I think when Limbaugh says it, he really means it”?

    Is that all better?

    I notice that you do not question what I said his listeners do. You know, the ones who call themselves “dittoheads”?

  17. #18 Oakden Wolf
    October 23, 2009

    I wrote this way back in December 2008, harvesting some quotes from Revkin commenters:

    A bit more on bluefin tuna

    And I’ll quote myself from another posting: “As far as I can tell, the basics of this are that focusing on growth of an economy — i.e. more people, more production, more economic activity — as a benchmark of how well the economy is actually doing MIGHT possibly end up being a bad thing for Earthlings. This makes logical sense; if you could get to a point of ZPG (zero population growth), wouldn’t the economy also get to a point of ZEG (zero economic growth)? With the same number of producers and consumers year after year after year after year after year after year … (you get the idea), there shouldn’t be a need to grrrrow, only to sustain.”

  18. #19 Dave Koscielecki
    October 25, 2009

    Rush Lambaugh
    It’s no wonder his wife left him.I can’t stand listen to him for one minute let a lone years.

    And when he used this on his show
    Mr. Revkin, why don’t you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?”
    That tells me he did read my email because I said that exact quote about Rush in a email I sent him.

    It really should be aginst the law to listen to a jerk like him. He keeps all people fighting with each other.I wish he would shot his self in the head.

    Oh and Rush I have some land I’ll sell ya Dumb _ _ _

  19. #20 Alex
    October 25, 2009

    You are correct, James. Only doubleplus goodthink should be allowed.

    Thoughts =! Speech

    Whenever someone spouts the “humans are killing Gaia” type of line

    [Citation needed]

    I’m fairly sure Revkin was not making that argument.

  20. #21 TheRaven
    October 25, 2009


    Rush Limbaugh isn’t worthy of consideration or discourse. He is a 21st century hate clown who appeals to people lacking higher education, much like that other uneducated fool, Glenn Beck. For anyone whose who didn’t know, Glenn Beck isn’t educated past high school. No surprise he’s clueless. The question is why he has 3 million viewers.

    The US constitution grants citizens the right to believe in and speak nonsense. This is a fundamental principle of a free society: your right to be an idiot or a genius is one and the same. Limbaugh and Beck have obviously chosen the first interpretation. Their followers do not get credit for making a conscious choice.

    Limbaugh and Beck do know basic American demographics: at present, uneducated adults outnumber the educated by roughly 3-to-1. Massachusetts and Colorado are states with the highest ratios of educated adults yet only ~40% of the adult population of these states have college degrees (US Census Bureau, 2005 data). The Limbaugh/Beck audience skews towards states with much lower ratios of educated people because northern/western states also tend to have generally more intelligent people, regardless of education level. Perhaps there’s a halo effect when 2-in-5 adults are educated, as opposed to, for example, 1-in-7 (West Virginia).

    David Hackett Fischer explains historical antecedents of the north/south educational divide in Albion’s Seed. Fischer’s brilliant historiography does impose a literacy requirement, so mentioning it here only benefits people who knew better to begin with. I cannot recommend this book enough for its clinical analysis of “modern” cultural issues in America. Who knew that high-school dropout, trailer park culture originates in 12th century Anglo conflict?

    Fortunately, the problem of uneducated white people is self-correcting. The uneducated tend to live shorter lives. One-in-three people with a high school education use tobacco. Among college graduates the ratio is only one-in-eight. Lack of education correlates to other life-shortening conditions, such as obesity. You could say that the uneducated vote with their mouths in several ways.

    The November 2008 presidential election ushered in a post-racial age. The new division, epitomized and revealed by hate clowns, is education. This issue is self-correcting for two other reasons: (1) education levels in most states rise in younger cohorts; (2) aspirational tendencies of immigrants.

    The irony in Limbaugh’s comment regarding Revkin is two-fold. First, if Revkin is guilty of anything it’s that he’s been fairly passive (I’ve corresponded with him on this point). Second, when Limbaugh says “drop dead”, he’s really describing the aspirations of his own audience, insofar as aspirations are unwittingly expressed by behavior.

    Between here and the day when we graduate to a post-uneducated America, uneducated whites will be progressively marginalized. When you acknowledge the existence of Limbaugh or Beck, you retard that process. It’s better to leave the hate clowns unmolested in their dwindling circus.

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