Big Fat Lies

Media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting spent two years listening to–and checking up on–Rush’s claims. Below, a selection of the Big Blowhard’s twistings of the truth.

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[Excerpted from The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error (N.Y.: The New Press, 1995). Written for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) by Steven Rendell, Jim Naureckas, and Jeff Cohen. Foreword by Molly Ivins, from which the essay at left was adapted for Mother Jones.]


Limbaugh: “Don’t let the liberals deceive you into believing that a decade of sustained growth without inflation in America (in the ’80s) resulted in a bigger gap between the have and the have-nots. Figures compiled by the Congressional Budget Office dispel that myth” (Limbaugh, The Way Things Ought to Be, p. 70).

Reality: CBO numbers for after-tax incomes show that in 1980 the richest fifth of our country had eight times the income of the poorest fifth. By 1989, the ratio was more than 20-to-1.


Limbaugh: “The poorest people in America are better off than the mainstream families of Europe” (radio, 1993).

Reality: The poorest 20 percent of Americans can purchase an average of $5,433 worth of goods with their income. Meanwhile, in Germany, the average person can purchase $20,610 worth of goods; in France, $19,200; in Britain, $16,730 (World Development Report 1994, published by the World Bank).


Limbaugh: On the official poverty line: “$14,400 for a family of four. That’s not so bad” (radio, Nov. 9, 1993).

Versus Limbaugh: A few months earlier, Limbaugh was talking about how tough it was to live on more than 10 times that: “I know families that make $180,000 a year and they don’t consider themselves rich. Why, it costs them $20,000 a year to send their kids to school” (radio, Aug. 3, 1993).


Limbaugh: “All of these rich guys–like the Kennedy family and Perot–pretending to live just like we do and pretending to understand our trials and tribulations and pretending to represent us, and they get away with this” (TV, Nov. 18, 1993).

Versus Limbaugh: Limbaugh’s income was an estimated $25 million over the last two years (Forbes, Sept. 26, 1994).


Limbaugh: “So many people are either refusing to recognize or unable to recognize the difference between blacks who riot and the majority of blacks in the American middle class. According to University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson, of the 29 million blacks in America, the largest percentage–35 percent–are upper middle class, both professional (lawyer, doctor) and white collar; 32 percent are middle class; and 33 percent are considered poor” (Ought to Be, p. 224).

Reality: Wilson actually says that 20 percent of blacks are in the “professional middle class,” which includes teachers and nurses, and that a further 15 percent are in “nonprofessional white-collar positions,” such as secretarial or sales jobs. Limbaugh deceptively calls all these “upper middle class”–a description that hardly fits teachers, let alone salesclerks. The category Limbaugh calls “middle class” Wilson refers to as “working class,” who he says are “vulnerable to job loss through economic restructuring” (Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1992).


Limbaugh: “There are more acres of forestland in America today than when Columbus discovered the continent in 1492” (Limbaugh, See, I Told You So, p. 171).

Reality: Forestland in what are now the 50 states covered about 1 billion acres before European settlement, according to U.S. Forest Service historian Douglas MacCleery. Today, there are only 737 million acres of forestland, much of which lacks the ecological diversity of old-growth forest (the American Forestry Association).


Limbaugh: Frequently denies that he uses his show for political activism: “I have yet to encourage you people or urge you to call anybody. I don’t do it. They think I’m the one doing it. That’s fine. You don’t need to be told when to call. They think you are a bunch of lemmings out there” (radio, June 28, 1993).

Reality: One hour later, he urged his followers into action against Clinton’s tax package: “The people in the states where these Democratic senators are up for re-election in ’94 have to let their feelings be known.. . .Let’s say Herb Kohl is up in ’94. You people in Wisconsin who don’t like this bill, who don’t like the tax increases, you let Herb Kohl know somehow.”


On “The Homeless Trap,” a work of art that employs a large mousetraplike device and uses a bedroll as bait: “I’ve got this idea. Instead of one of these, have 1,000 of them. And use them as a solution–not as a piece of art. Just put these things all over the city and if they trap homeless people, use them” (TV, March 9, 1994).

“This is asinine! A Cesar Chavez Day in California? Wasn’t he convicted of a crime?” (radio, 1994).

“I don’t give a hoot that [Columbus] gave some Indians a disease that they didn’t have immunity against” (Ought to Be, p. 45).

On the endangered northern spotted owl: “If the owl can’t adapt to the superiority of humans, screw it” (Ought to Be, p. 162).

“The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies” (radio; reported in the Flush Rush Quarterly, January 1993).

On Tipper Gore’s decision to give up her career for the sake of her marriage: “If you want a successful marriage, let your husband do what he wants to do.. . .You women don’t realize how fortunate you are to be watching this show. I have just spelled out for you the key ingredient to a successful marriage” (TV, Feb. 23, 1994).

“I think this reason why girls don’t do well on multiple choice tests goes all the way back to the Bible, all the way back to Genesis, Adam and Eve. God said, ‘All right, Eve, multiple choice or multiple orgasms, what’s it going to be?’ We all know what was chosen” (TV, Feb. 23, 1994).

Excerpted from The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error (N.Y.: The New Press, 1995). Written for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) by Steven Rendell, Jim Naureckas, and Jeff Cohen. Foreword by Molly Ivins, from which the essay at left was adapted for Mother Jones.


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