It must have been 15 years ago that I walked into a paint store and was stopped dead in my tracks by the sound coming out of the shop’s loud speaker. It was Rush Limbaugh spouting something derogatory about women.
I contemplated leaving as his words droned on, but I really wanted that gallon of Misty Green I needed to finish painting my living room. I stuck it out and tried to keep the eye rolling and harrumphs to a minimum.
Over the years, I paid scant attention to Mr. Limbaugh, who by the time he died a couple of days ago was a household name with 15 million listeners. I was not one of them. I didn’t really care what he had to say. Still, to my surprise, I found myself thinking that in death the poor guy didn’t get a fair shake.
Consider what The New York Times had to say in his obituary:
He became a singular figure in the American media, fomenting mistrust, grievances and even hatred on the right for Americans who did not share their views, and he pushed baseless claims and toxic rumors long before Twitter and Reddit became havens for such disinformation. In politics, he was not only an ally of Mr. Trump but also a precursor, combining media fame, right-wing scare tactics and over-the-top showmanship to build an enormous fan base and mount attacks on truth and facts.
Well, that was brutal, I thought when I read it. And as an aside … right-wing scare tactics? What’s that all about?
I know a lot about obituaries, having written my fair share when I was a reporter. Even in recent times, I have helped friends craft final remembrances for loved ones. I always looked for the positive: they were kind to animals or gave money to the needy. It didn’t feel right for The Times to treat Mr. Limbaugh like he was Hitler, even if he was a political shock jock.
It seems to me okay to attack someone when they are alive; when they can defend themselves. Once they are gone and there is no way for them to deflect the slings and arrows directed their way, maybe they should be given a break.
The phrase “controversial figure” comes to mind or “loved by some on the right and hated by the left.” That’s what Walter Cronkrite might have said. Instead, The Times wrote that he had a “slashing, divisive style of mockery and grievance reshaped American conservatism, denigrating Democrats, environmentalists, “feminazis” (his term) and other liberals….”
As I thought about Rush, my mind wondered over to Howard Stern and his obituary. Would The Times call him a disgusting misogynist pervert who used sexual depravity to become one of the highest paid radio hosts of all time, or would they praise him as ground-breaking and ahead of his time in the discussion of modern sexual mores? I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say.
Other reports of Mr. Limbaugh’s death said there was much celebrating going on. I don’t remember ever wishing that someone was dead. Well, maybe on one or two occasions. But nothing serious – which is why I was shocked at a friend’s recent reaction when she learned an acquaintance of mine was suffering from terminal cancer.
“He’s a white supremacist. I’m not sorry to hear about him,” she said.
“Really, how do you know that he’s a white supremacist?”
“It says so on the Internet,” she replied.
“Oh, so that makes it true. I have never heard him express those kinds of opinions,” I said, “and, honestly I feel bad that he and his family are having to go through this.”
“Sorry but I don’t share your compassion,” she said. I’m guessing that she also celebrated the death of Rush Limbaugh.
It’s a vicious world we live in. Some would say that people like Mr. Limbaugh helped make it that way. I say it falls on all of us to avoid giving cruelty and judgmentalism a platform, no matter what our political beliefs. And if we have to aim arrows, let it be at the living, not the dead or dying.