Knock it off. Yes, after weeks of tomfoolery, Rush Limbaugh challenged President Obama to a debate. And it’s not going to happen.
I’m talking to you, Chris Matthews, and you, David Shuster, who both gave considerable play to the story on your television programs last evening, treating this publicity stunt as an actual possibility. Perhaps you think that Obama v. Limbaugh could be the Burr-Hamilton duel of our time. Not a chance, cupcake.
Just how much longer will the Limbaugh story last? Well, the answer, ladies and gentlemen of the press, is in your hands.
In case you didn’t know, Limbaugh’s debate stunt comes after weeks of at-arm’s-length bickering among Limbaugh, who proclaimed that he wants Obama to fail, RNC chair Michael Steele who tried to distance the GOP from Limbaugh, and then apologized, and Rahm Emanuel, who may or may not be using Limbaugh as a Republican punching bag.
The probability of Limbaugh and Obama debating is exactly equal to the probability that the two will meet in a head-to-head Jello wrestling tournament. It’s ridiculous. It’s preposterous. And yet, you insist on covering it like a real news event, where each side’s position must be examined and subjected to endless asinine speculation. When was the last time a sitting American president debated a private citizen?
Setting aside its massive failures in news judgment and objectivity, the Limbaugh story fails journalistically because it imagines an audience that could be informed and enriched by coverage that puts the antics of a hyper-partisan radio personality on the same level as coverage of actual issues. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The public loses when the media wastes its time with cynical, manufactured, destructive stories like this. The only parties benefiting from RushFest ‘09 are the Obama administration—which is using Rush as a bogeyman in order to delegitimize the honest ideological opposition to its economic recovery plan—and Rush Limbaugh himself, whose profile is arguably higher than ever.
I recommend enacting an adaptation of the Golden Rule: if you can’t say something insightful, don’t say anything at all. If you’re going to talk about Rush Limbaugh, then don’t skirt questions about the validity of his ideas as a critique of Obama’s proposed policies. If you’re not going to do that, then just stop. Stop playing into Rush and Rahm’s hands. Stop perpetuating an empty debate that thrives on superficial conflict.
The “hope he fails” controversy started on January 16, and the fact that it’s still going strong is confirmation that Matthews and his ilk suffer from an addiction to acrimony-as-news, and the media’s willingness to manufacture those narratives when a drop of conflict bubbles up and then pretend that it’s a meaningful discussion of what’s going on in American politics is hard proof that they still have the post-election DTs.
They should seek treatment. Maybe Nick Kristof would be willing to take Matthews along as his travel partner instead of George Clooney next time?
So, please, enough with the Limbaugh stuff, okay? If you have nothing better to do, at least find another meaningless story to report, like the cat in a bong incident, or the porn rescue with sword affair. Seriously.
KatiaKatia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.