Monday, November 19, 2007
Rush Limbaugh graciously boosted Fox News's daytime ratings today by
agreeing to a simulcast with Martha McCallum. The sparks were flying.
IMPROVING ON THE OLD WAY. Is he getting soft? Friday, he had an on-air guest, which is usually verboten. "The Great One," a.k.a. Mark Levin, the most ruthlessly go-for-the-jugular conservative there is (including Ann Coulter), appeared with Rush to promote his book about Sprite, a dog. At times, they were both in tears, and Levin parted the show biz curtain to reveal that Rush is a warm, compassionate, and generous friend. Limbaugh was clearly surprised and a bit befuddled at being unmasked as a real human being. Or so I thought.
Today, the Limbaugh Show threw us another curve. Rush did a simulcast with Martha McCallum of Fox News, who confessed her nervousness about being on the radio with an audience much larger than her usual TV audience. Rush was becomingly bashful in her presence and made a joke about how dumb men become in the presence of blondes. He subsequently said he was "drawing a blank" on one of her questions, although he answered it in his usual direct fashion.
The real surprise was that he allowed her to televise photos of him as a boy and young man, and he answered personal questions about his relationship with his father and his experience of drug rehab, which he called one of the best experiences of his life and something he "thanked God" for having gone through.
Rush Limbaugh doesn't have to do any of these things. His listeners know that he's not as pompous and arrogant as he pretends to be. They also don't need him to confess his personal failings or to share intimate parts of his private life. Why, then, is Rush developing an entirely new mode of communication with the mass audience?
I think he's stepping up in anticipation of the electoral ordeal the country will be experiencing in the next year. No one knows better than he does just how vicious Democrats, particularly Clintons, can get. In the past month he's already been the target of an unprecedented attack on a private citizen from the floor of the Senate, which he brilliantly turned against Reid, Pelosi, Clinton, et al. Still, he knows that the media environment -- thanks to blogs and reality TV and tabloid journalism -- is changing on a daily basis, and he has concluded that the disembodied Lowell Thomas/Edward R. Murrow "voice of reason" is not long for this world. That's what he's been for more than a decade to American conservatives. He's done it so effectively and so uniquely that he could retire forever at a moment's notice without having to surrender any more of his (obviously) intensely valued privacy.
Instead, he's innovating again. He's going to show us that a grandiloquent media identity and a sincerely humble personal identity can coexist in a way that enhances the credibility of both. Today's performance was an exemplary masterpiece. Yes -- like most single divorced men -- he found Martha McCallum attractive and allowed himself to be seen finding her attractive. Then he protested like crazy when his emails noted the fact. Genius. He's allowing his listeners to look behind the mask of managed celebrity and draw their own conclusions, confident that what they learn about him as a human being will only increase his believability when the partisan tornado that is the next Democrat assault on his (and our) integrity begins.
Hats off, Rush. It's a clever strategy and a brave one. You are personally committed to your beliefs. Showing a personal vulnerability you never had to proves it. Q.E.D.
P.S. Martha. He likes you. He really does. Give him a call.
Old guys are mostly just old guys. But we do have our points.