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May 9, 1996

Media watch group founder tackles "Limbecility"

Did you know the press ignored the Contract with America during the 1994 elections? That the Earth's ozone layer has been depleted by volcanic eruptions and not greenhouse gases? That not one person was indicted by Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh? And that the media never let it be known that Capt. Scott O'Grady credited God for his rescue when he was shot down over Bosnia? If you are unaware of those "facts," take heart. Your lack of awareness is one indication that you have not fallen prey to Rush Limbaugh's "reign of error," as Jeff Cohen terms the misinformation with which the radio/television commentator saturates the airwaves daily.

Founder of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Cohen took issue with what he calls "Limbecility" during a lecture last month before a near capacity crowd in Frick Fine Arts auditorium. Cohen's appearance was sponsored in part by Pitt's communication department and the cultural studies program.

Armed with humor and well researched facts, Cohen pointed out incident after incident where Limbaugh's "factoids" fail to stand up. For example, contrary to Limbaugh's remark that the Republicans' Contract with America was never mentioned during the 1994 campaign, FAIR's search of the Nexis data base found that the contract was mentioned in more than 1,300 newspaper articles before election day. That total includes 45 times in one of Limbaugh's favorite "liberal media" whipping boys, The New York Times.

A similar Nexis search revealed that every major daily in the country carried stories in which O'Grady credited God for his rescue from Bosnia. Frequently, God was given credit in the second paragraph. The New York Times even mentioned God in a headline.

The source for Limbaugh's assertion that volcanic eruptions, not greenhouse gases, have caused a hole in the ozone layer was a little tougher to pinpoint. But FAIR eventually tracked it down to a follower of Lyndon Larouche. According to Cohen, Larouche believes that environmental protection is a genocidal plot masterminded by the Queen of England.

Limbaugh's comment that special prosecutor Walsh's investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal failed to produce a single indictment is proven false by the court record. Fourteen indictments were handed down as a result of the investigation, among them one for Limbaugh's substitute host, Oliver North. "Most of the 14 people indicted were either convicted or pleaded guilty, several of them to felony charges," Cohen added.

Although Limbaugh's comments might seem ridiculous when compared to the facts, or sometimes even on their own, Cohen said the talk show host needs to be taken seriously because he is the most powerful political commentator in the country. Limbaugh appears on 900 radio and television stations daily, and has an estimated weekly audience of 20 million, which is almost half the number of people who voted for Republicans in the 1994 election.

"These conservatives who have these powerful voices are always yelling how the media are unfair to them and unfair to conservatives," Cohen said. "It is a contradiction I've never quite been able to figure out. There is no one more central to the dominant media than Rush Limbaugh. There is no one in American history who has been given the privilege of being on television every night of the week, 30 minutes with no interruption.

"If you believe that somehow Limbaugh is oppressed by the dominant media and that the media are unfair to Limbaugh," he continued, "I guess you would be swayed by an argument from Wilt Chamberlain, right after he scored 100 points in a game, that the rules of basketball are unfair to seven-footers like him." Beyond the size of his audience, another reason for taking Limbaugh seriously is because he is so good at playing to people's prejudices and so overwhelmingly convincing in a monologue, Cohen said. Lim-baugh always purports to have some study to back up his opinion. Consequently, Cohen said, people believe Limbaugh even when he is so absurd as to maintain that there is a Tufts University study proving the bigger a woman's bra size the smaller her IQ. Tufts reported that no faculty member ever did a study comparing bra sizes of women and their IQs. "Remember that one the next time you see a 'Rush is Right' bumper sticker," Cohen told the audience.

FAIR was founded by former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Cohen in 1986 with money he won in a judgment on behalf of activists who had been harassed by the Los Angeles police. Cohen's group began checking the facts behind Limbaugh's comments two years ago.

Since then, according to Cohen, the group has uncovered enough errors to fill a 500-page book. Instead, Cohen and Norman Solomon have co-authored a much shorter work called, "The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error," available from FAIR (1-800-847-3993) for $7, plus shipping.

Cohen has been trying to debate Limbaugh since 1994, when Cohen first published an article challenging the commentator's accuracy, but Limbaugh has refused.

–Mike Sajna

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