On Tuesday, when radio icon Rush Limbaugh passed away at the age of 70 from lung cancer, there was almost a sinking feeling when you read the obituaries. What grudges, anecdotes and villainies would be attributed to one of the most popular talk show hosts in radio history?
The Washington Post’s obit, written by Marc Fisher, managed to sink beneath my Mariana Trench-low expectations. There were the usual gripes, mind you, and much more time was meted out to settling scores than to assessing Limbaugh’s influence on the conservative movement. Beyond that, however, some genuinely bizarre qualms you wouldn’t necessarily expect made it there.
Limbaugh, in his youth, was a “chubby boy who lacked close friends” — a curious thing to pick at, given the amount of the write-up given over to making him look like a verbal bully.
In one paragraph, Fisher tacitly accuses him of peddling populist nationalism with one of his books, described as “a blend of nostalgic yearnings for a more united and homogeneous America and an energetic embrace of individual rights.” Fisher forgets about this no more than three paragraphs down, where he says Limbaugh’s “career began to wane as the populist nationalism that Trump espoused shouldered out more-traditional Reagan conservatism.”
But above all, The Post seemed to find hypocrisy in the fact that Limbaugh, a man whose talents were worth $40 million a year, lived like a man who was paid $40 million a year.
“Like Trump, Mr. Limbaugh mastered the art of portraying himself as a man of the people who fought the elites even as he relished a luxe life in which he collected $5,000 bottles of wine, owned a $54 million private jet, outfitted the vast salon of his Florida mansion in the manner of Versailles, and socialized with top corporate and political leaders,” The Post reported.
The Post doesn’t necessarily offer us any ways it feels the radio icon should have dispatched his money while he was sitting on the porch of his Palm Beach mansion, cooling his feet and drinking a Yuengling. The paper also doesn’t mention his generosity with that money.
When Zev Chafets did a profile on Limbaugh for The New York Times Magazine in 2008, he too spent considerable column space on Limbaugh’s home, cars and jet. He also described a dinner out with the radio icon to “Trevini, one of Limbaugh’s favorite Palm Beach restaurants.”
“Throughout dinner, people approached our table. Most were prosperous-looking Republican men of a certain age. ‘God bless you,’ they told him, or, ‘Keep up the fight.’ He smiled and thanked them in a good-natured way. One elderly gent in a blue blazer and gray slacks went into a long spiel about his good works on behalf of several conservative causes. Limbaugh nodded through the recitation, but when the man left he confided that he had not understood a word of it,” Chafets wrote.
“Meanwhile, waiters buzzed around our table. They seemed to anticipate Limbaugh’s every wish, refreshing our drinks, serving unasked-for delicacies, periodically checking to make sure everything was exactly to Limbaugh’s satisfaction.”
Chafets later offered this by way of explanation: “Dinner was winding down, and I called for the check. It tickled Limbaugh to be taken out to eat on The New York Times. A few weeks later, he sent me a copy of an interview with Jeremy Sullivan, a waiter at the Kobe KobeClub in New York,” he wrote.
“Sullivan told a reporter that Limbaugh, a fellow Missourian, was the biggest tipper in town: ‘He likes to throw down the most massive tips I’ve ever seen. The last few times his tips have been $5,000.’ When I read this, I felt a stab of guilt toward the hyperattentive staff at Trevini. If I had only known, I would have let Limbaugh leave the tip.”
This was Limbaugh’s habit. And yet, some were angry that it was his money on the giving end of the gratuity.
In 2014, The Dallas Morning News ran a short piece on Merritt Tierce, a local author whose debut novel described her experiences working at a steakhouse. The anecdotes were taken from real life, but The Morning News’ Chris Vognar wrote that “her best story, to my mind, didn’t make it into the book”
“Tierce used to get some high rollers at the restaurant, including conservative talk show mogul Rush Limbaugh. Tierce waited on Limbaugh twice,” Vognar wrote.
“Both times Limbaugh left her $2,000 tips on modest-size checks, once with twenty $100 bills. ‘That was like blood money to me,’ says Tierce, who does not share Limbaugh’s social views.”
So she decided to put his money to good use, or really the opposite of that.
“Tierce was also executive director of the TEA Fund, which provides money to women who can’t afford to get abortions,” Vognar wrote.
“So she did the only logical thing with Limbaugh’s cash. She donated a sizable chunk of it to the TEA Fund.”
“[T]he only logical thing,” for a man who had apparently earned “blood money” by having social views that clashed with Tierce’s (and, one presumes, Vognar’s) own.
The Washington Free Beacon’s Sonny Bunch pointed out the incongruity in the tone of the coverage.
“In case you’re keeping track at home: Money made by talking on the radio = blood money, while money donated to a baby-killing factory = a charitable contribution,” he wrote, before contrasting it with an NFL running back then in the news for his miserliness with servers.
“Contrast El Rushbo’s generosity with that of Philadelphia Eagle LeSean McCoy, who has earned the enmity of servers everywhere by leaving just 20 cents during a recent trip to a Philadelphia eatery because the waiter was ‘disrespectful,’ or something,” Bunch wrote.
“Given all the (entirely deserved) grief that LeSean McCoy got for being a terrible person and enemy of the waiting class, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate Rush Limbaugh for his generosity. People should be praised for doing the right thing just as people should be [excoriated] for doing the wrong thing. Kudos to you, king of talk radio. You’re a good man.”
And keep in mind, tipping wasn’t Limbaugh’s only charitable work. In 2007, he auctioned off a letter of reproach sent to him by Senate Democrats over remarks he made about soldiers who opposed the Iraq War; that auction raised $2.1 million for the children of fallen Marines, according to Reuters. In 2008, Forbes said he was fourth among the top 10 celebrities in charitable giving, “donating $4.2 million, or approximately 13% of the $33 million he earned last year, to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, a charity that helps support the children of Marines or federal law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty.” Through 2016, he’d raised $47 million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The Washington Post seemed to delight in, among other things, dragging Limbaugh through the mud because of a narrow look at how he spent his money. The generosity and charity, apparently, weren’t worth mentioning.
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