Some thoughts on scandal
A lot of Republicans think that the Los Angeles Times report on Arnold Schwarzenegger's groping problem was an unfair, last-minute surprise. Not so. The Times article left five days for Arnold and his allies to respond and explain. Stories about Arnold feeling up and talking grossly to random women have been circulating for years. What was the Times supposed to do, sit on the evidence it had that the tales were true? Besides, the Times carefully included quotes from women depicting Arnold as a sort of lighthearted and sexually frisky innocent. Could be, but putting your hand up a woman's skirt or down her blouse isn't just harassment. It's assault. And the tales told by the Times aren't just about groping. They are about attempts to degrade. After the story broke, Arnold quickly apologized to all the women involved. Smart move. But does that eliminate the issue?
Rush Limbaugh's football comments on ESPN were certainly boorish and insensitive, but so what? Most watchers of highly opinionated pregame shows care less about sensitivity than whether the speaker is talking nonsense. On this score, Limbaugh was vulnerable. Limbaugh said Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb gets undeserved credit for his team's success because "the media are very desirous that a black quarterback do well." If a commentator thinks race is playing an unfair role in sports, he should say so. The real problem is that Limbaugh's comment was so wrong-headed. There is no racial issue here. McNabb is going through a difficult season, but he's a genuine star, possibly the best scrambling quarterback ever. He didn't deserve the insult.
At this writing, the story of Limbaugh's alleged addiction to painkilling pills is still unfolding. The timing of the story is surely interesting--piggybacking on the racial comment (which got Rush to quit ESPN) and breaking just as Limbaugh, who gives few speeches, was about to deliver a major talk to the National Association of Broadcasters.
Details released by the National Enquirer, which broke the Limbaugh story, are sketchy. Wilma Cline, Limbaugh's former housekeeper who allegedly sold him pills, told the tabloid that he was hooked on the powerful painkillers OxyContin, Lorcet, and hydrocodone and went through detox twice.
The first question is whether the left's famously sensitive concern for people who are hooked on drugs will emerge as strongly for a conservative talk-show host as it does for Hollywood drug abusers. The addict's brain is "hijacked by drugs," Bill Moyers once said on Meet the Press, adding that "relapse is normal." If addictions are purely medical problems (in this case, presumably, Limbaugh's response to the pain of his approaching deafness), look for Moyers and the entire cultural left to defend him. (Look, maybe, but don't expect.)
Curious details. The initial report was full of curious details. Cline was wearing a wire for law enforcement the last two times she talked to Limbaugh, she told the Enquirer. Wearing a wire is unusual in a case of anyone buying painkillers for personal use. Cline told the tabloid she sold him 4,350 pills in 47 days. Can anyone take 93 powerful pills a day for seven weeks, or is the enquirer asking us to believe, with no supporting evidence, that Rush is a drug dealer himself?
We seem to be in the midst of a campaign to take down high-profile conservatives. The gay lobby did a job on Laura Schlessinger, in effect getting her new TV show canceled and portraying her as a hater for holding the traditional Judeo-Christian view of homosexuality. Dr. Laura is brusque and blunt, but no hater. There is plenty of testimony about her kindness to gays and the help she gave to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). But the gay lobby took her down anyway.
William Bennett went down too, for his over-the-top slot-machine gambling. He did it to himself, of course, but the only moral rule always observed in Las Vegas casinos is Thou Shalt Never Reveal How Much the Heavy Roller Hath Lost. That rule was somehow suspended in Bennett's case. The total amount of his losses, $8 million, was somehow fed to the media. Curious, no?
John Fund, the very talented conservative journalist, got pretty much the same treatment. He was smeared as a woman-beater. Eric Alterman, the liberal commentator, helped clear the air with a piece in the nation headlined, "Who framed John Fund?" Alterman's question for the left was this: Who do we want to be, people who try to destroy opponents or people who act on principle? It's a good question for the right, too, and for everyone now poised to jump into the Limbaugh case.
This story appears in the October 13, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.