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Brent Bozell's Profile in Cowardice

Not only can't the Media Research Center president be bothered to issue but tepid criticism of Rush Limbaugh's sleazy attacks on a congressional witness, he effectively rewards Limbaugh's hate with an "I Stand With Rush" website.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/9/2012
Update 3/15/2012

The Media Research Center has long been in the tank for Rush Limbaugh, defending him and giving him a pass on his behavior, no matter how offensive. For instance:

  • The MRC defended Limbaugh regarding his failed bid to be part of an investor group that wants to buy the NFL's St. Louis Rams by engaging in a selective reading of history and blurring the line between apparently false racially charged statements attributed to Limbaugh and undeniably true racially charged things Limbaugh actually did say.
  • The MRC stayed mum about Limbaugh's repeated references to anal sex on his radio show, despite its longtime criticism of such references elsewhere in the media and popular culture.
  • The MRC gave Limbaugh its inaugural "William F. Buckley, Jr. Award for Media Excellence" in 2007.

That gave us an idea of how the MRC and its leader, Brent Bozell, would deal with Limbaugh's sleazy attacks on Sandra Fluke, a law school student testifying on Capitol Hill to advocate for President Obama's policy of requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of contraception for women, calling Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" and repeatedly asserting that she sleeps around. (At no point during her testimony did Fluke discuss her sexual behavior.) Limbaugh's attacks on Fluke began on Feb. 29 and continued for the next two days.

Limbaugh's tirade was inspired by an MRC product -- a Feb. 29 blog post by CNS director of communications Craig Bannister, in which he slimed Fluke as a "sex-crazed co-ed" who is "having so much sex that it's hard to make ends meet."

Despite Limbaugh's offensiveness and one of its employees serving as his inspiration, the MRC's initial response was silence. By contrast, when MSNBC host Ed Schultz called right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut" on his radio show, the MRC threw a fit, complained that certain parts of the media ignored it, cheered his suspension for the remark, then complained that Schultz's apology wasn't all-encompassing enough by not apologizing for previous alleged insults.

Instead, the MRC endeavored to smear and slime Fluke for her testimony. Then, rather than actually criticize what Limbaugh said, the MRC played the equivocation game, claiming that remarks by liberals were so much worse, even though those remarks were essentially one-time cracks and not comparable to the three-day onslaught of misogyny Limbaugh unleashed against Fluke. For instance, the MRC's Scott Whitlock responded to Chris Matthews' criticism of Limbaugh by retorting, "MSNBC, of course, is no stranger to controversial comments. One anchor on the network recently compared Rick Santorum to mass murderer Joseph Stalin."

The MRC's Brent Baker wasn't offended by Limbaugh's remarks; instead, he was offended that they were reported. In a March 1 NewsBusters post, Baker declared that criticism of Limbaugh's remarks was "a left-wing effort to impugn and silence Rush Limbaugh." Baker went on to play the "it was a joke!" card, by saying of a Limbaugh statement demanding pornography be made of Fluke's sexual behavior: "Obviously, a bit of humor which escaped the overly-sensitive left-wing/media axis always looking to be offended."

Funny, the humor defense didn't fly with the MRC a few days earlier, when Bozell sent an outraged letter to the Huffington Post over a satirical piece by Larry Doyle, prominently labeled as "comedy," about the Catholic Church:

In answer to online reader outrage over his distasteful column, Doyle responds that it was all a joke. Intelligent readers and the millions of faithful Catholics who come into contact with this piece don’t buy such equivocating nonsense for a minute. Bigots like Doyle think they can hurl the most contemptible insults towards Catholics ("Jesus eaters") and when called out, claim it was just a joke. What cowardice. What a double standard.

Speaking of cowardice and double standards: Completely absent from the discussion at the MRC was Bozell. That silence continued for five days, as his employees tried to distract from the growing outcry against Limbaugh. In that time, buried on a Saturday afternoon, in the face of an advertiser exodus from his show, Limbaugh issued a so-called apology for his sleazy attacks. Limbaugh's claim that "I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke" was utterly laughable; he apparently wants us to believe that calling Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" was not a personal attack.

Nevertheless, that apology is apparently what gave Bozell permission to finally speak out on Limbaugh. Unfortunately, what he said was lame, and he didn't originally publish it at his own website.

Bozell published a column at, of all places, Fox News' website. (It was reposted a couple hours later at NewsBusters.) Here is all the outrage he can muster over Limbaugh denigrating Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute":

Let’s all agree Limbaugh crossed a line.

He agrees. He posted an apology to Fluke “for the insulting word choices.”

That's it. Never mind that when MSNBC's Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut," the MRC repeatedly denounced Schultz, as Bozell deemed his apology -- which was more sweeping than Limbaugh's who apologized only for using "slut" and "prostitute" while ignoring the dozens of other slurs he issued against Fluke -- to be insufficiently comprehensive.

Bozell's tepid remark is the first statement by anyone at the MRC regarding the propriety of Limbaugh's remarks. If we can "all agree Limbaugh crossed a line," why did it take five days for Bozell to decide if he agreed?

Having brusquely dismissed Limbaugh's sleaziness, Bozell then couldn't change the subject soon enough and politicize it on his own right-wing talking points:

The scandal-ette should be over.

So why are the Left and the media still pushing and publicizing a campaign for advertisers to dump the Limbaugh show and end his career?

This is followed by a long string of offenses committed by liberals, citing in particular remarks by Bill Maher about Sarah Palin. Bozell added:

Limbaugh has been singled out and condemned across the national media – ABC, CBS, NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.

How many of these outlets have condemned Bill Maher with equal vigor for his attacks on Palin?

Bozell ignores the crucial difference between Palin and Fluke. Palin is a nationally known political figure, while Fluke's testimony was her very first appearance in a major political forum. Also, Maher made his "c-word" attack on Palin in a stand-up comedy appearance in Dallas; Limbaugh ranted for three days about Fluke's sex life on a nationally syndicated radio show.

Bozell also fails to mention that one of his employees, Craig Bannister, inspired Limbaugh to go on his three-day tirade of insults against Fluke. Is Limbaugh proud of his subordinate's work? He must be.

But Bozell wasn't done. The same day, the MRC launched, a petition site stating:

I stand with Rush Limbaugh and appreciate the massive contribution that he has made to the conservative movement and our nation over the last 25 years. Rush has apologized. But the radical left will never accept it because they despise him and want him off the air. I condemn attempts by radical left-wing organizations and the media to censor Rush and his commonsense conservative message.

In other words, Bozell is effectively rewarding Limbaugh's hate.

Gee, If Sean Hannity or Mark Levin viciously insults someone, will the MRC build websites praising them, too?

In an accompanying video, Bozell repeats his tepid "let's all agree" comment, falsely asserts that Limbaugh has "profusely apologized," and reads from his column about liberal offenses. Bozell concluded: "It isn’t about what Rush said last week. It’s about roaring hypocrisy and about censorship."

Bozell is wrong. Claiming the controversy "isn’t about what Rush said" is a lame copout made by someone who knows very well that it's precisely about what Rush said. But it is about roaring hypocrisy too -- Bozell's.

It's true that for Bozell, this "isn’t about what Rush said," because he would rather talk about anything else. Bozell has an right-wing agenda to push, and it certainly doesn't involve explaining why three days of slut-shaming by Limbaugh received not only the most tepid criticism possible but earned Limbaugh a website to praise him, while a single instance of the word out of Ed Schultz's mouth drew howls of protest.

Bozell's cowardice continued the next day with a letter to CNN's Piers Morgan complaining that he criticized Limbaugh's three-day parade of sleaze against Sandra Fluke while having Bill Maher, who has used "far more vile sexist language," as a guest of his show. As before, Bozell couldn't bring himself to issue anything but the most tepid criticism of Limbaugh:

Rush Limbaugh made the regrettable blunder of calling Sandra Fluke, who testified on behalf of the administration’s mandate against religiously affiliated institutions, “a slut.” Let’s all agree Limbaugh crossed a line. He agrees. He issued an apology to Fluke “for the insulting word choices.” This should be sufficient, but it’s not and the skewering continues.

"Regrettable blunder"? Is that the strongest criticism of Limbaugh that Bozell can utter in public? What is wrong with him? Does Limbaugh have something on him that he will unleash if Bozell commits the offense of criticizing him too harshly, even for an offense that cries out for harsh criticism?

Bozell also didn't mention the reason Limbaugh's apology is not considered sufficient -- Limbaugh specifically apologized only for using two words, "slut" and "prostitute," and not the dozens of other attacks he hurled at Fluke.

Bozell continued:

In the interest of promoting and cultivating a meaningful dialogue based on mutual respect, you and other prominent figures in the media, including other journalists at CNN, ought to report such defamatory personal insults made towards all public figures.

Double standards only serve to make these situations worse. If you are really serious about promoting civil discourse you should treat figures like Maher, Schultz and other liberal pundits the same way you treat Limbaugh.

I think a constructive conversation can be had in the media addressing such a double standard, and you are certainly in a place to do just that.

Perhaps Morgan can start that conversation with the issue of Bozell's own blatant and pathetic double standard.

Similarly, Bozell wrote letters to two advertisers who announced their intention to drop Limbaugh's show but continue to advertise on the shows of liberal radio hosts who have made remarks he didn't like. Bozell came up with a new tepid way to describe Limbaugh's remarks, this time calling them "clearly inappropriate." Again, that falls well short of the criticisms Bozell and the MRC have made over remarks by liberals that, unlike Limbaugh's, did not occur repeatedly over a three-day period.

Further, as conservative columnist George Will said of Republican House Speaker John Boehner's similarly meek criticism of Limbaugh: “Using a salad fork for your entree, that’s 'inappropriate.' Not this stuff.”

Throughout all of this, by the way, Bozell has yet to acknowledge that one of his own employees inspired Limbaugh's three days of hatred, let alone issue anything remotely resembling an apology for it.

For the ultimate evidence of the cowardice of Bozell and the MRC when it comes to offensive comments by their fellow conservatives, though, we must go back a few weeks, to the Conservative Political Action Conference held in February.

During a CPAC panel discussion, conservative columnist Cal Thomas declared that MSNBC's Rachel Maddow "is the best argument in favor of her parents using contraception." The MRC apparently didn't think that opinion was in any way controversial, for no mention of it whatsoever can be found on any of the MRC websites, including NewsBusters. (Granted, the MRC may have been too busy pulling out of CPAC in a snit over Bozell being denied the prime speaking slot he thought he deserved to notice.)

But the MRC took this memory-hole approach to a surprising extreme.

A few days after his insult, Thomas penned a column in which he offered a full, unequivocal and abject apology to Maddow, stating: "One of the principles in which I believe is not to engage in name-calling; which, to my shame, I did. ... I had embarrassed myself and was a bad example to those who read my column and expect better from me." In short, it was the kind of apology Bozell apparently thinks Limbaugh offered to Fluke but in reality has not.

NewsBusters carries an archive of Thomas' columns. His apology column, which appeared on Feb. 16, is curiously absent.

Why would the MRC want to flush this incident down the memory hole? After all, Thomas exhibited the model of how one apologizes for making ugly remarks in public -- a model Limbaugh has thus far chosen not to follow.

Does Bozell think it's weakness for conservatives to apologize when they've clearly done wrong? Given his refusal to speak out in any meaningful way on Limbaugh and his utter silence on Thomas, apparently so.

Bozell is not a stupid man. He knows what Limbaugh said was offensive. Yet this man who is all too eager to issue moral judgment on others couldn't be moved to criticize Limbaugh in public until five days had passed and Limbaugh himself had issued a so-called apology -- and even then, that criticism was so milquetoast as to be meaningless.

Bozell's cowardice and desperateness to turn the conversation away from Limbaugh simply demonstrates that his personal morality is completely malleable and tied to the political winds. A man of true moral conviction would have criticized Limbaugh and Thomas as sharply as Maher or Schultz; Bozell did not and, apparently, could not.

We already know that Bozell's MRC is too biased be trusted on the subject of media research. With this shameful Limbaugh episode, Bozell has demonstrated beyond a doubt that he and his organization can't be trusted on matters of basic decency, either.

Update: Moved section on CNS articles about Fluke's testimony to this item.

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