Rush Limbaugh

WASHINGTON – In a prelude to likely efforts to legislate the Fairness Doctrine in 2009, Democratic Party leaders in the Senate, including the party’s likely presidential nominee next year, Sen. Hillary Clinton, are turning up the heat on Rush Limbaugh’s network, attempting to force him to apologize for maligning anti-war soldiers as phonies – something he didn’t say.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter, signed by 41 Democrats, to Clear Channel Chief Executive Officer Mark P. Mays demanding he repudiate Limbaugh’s comments and extract an apology from him. Mays responded the same day in a letter to Reid defending Limbaugh’s right to express his opinions openly on the airwaves.

But Reid is not dropping the matter.

In an e-mail to Democrats today, he urges the public to inundate Mays with similar demands.

“I normally ignore Rush Limbaugh, but his comments last Wednesday went too far for me to remain silent,” Reid wrote. “It’s one thing to call me ‘Dingy Harry’ – it’s another to insult our men and women in uniform, calling those who oppose the war ‘phony soldiers,’ as Rush did during his Sept. 26 broadcast.”

None of the calls for repudiation or apology, however, contain a transcript of Limbaugh’s remarks. That’s because other than the two words “phony soldiers,” it wouldn’t be possible to make the case that Limbaugh was maligning anti-war soldiers generally. He was, in the context of Wednesday’s commentaries, specifically addressing the case of Jesse MacBeth, an anti-war activist who claimed to have witnessed atrocities as a Purple Heart recipient in the Army Rangers.

MacBeth, however, never served in Iraq. He was expelled from the military after 44 days in uniform.

“He became a hero to the anti-war left,” explained Limbaugh. “They love phony soldiers, and they prop ’em up. When it is demonstrated that they have been lying about things, then they just forget about it. There’s no retraction; there’s no apology.”

Nevertheless, the “phony soldiers” remark was posted on the website of Media Matters, where it was alleged that Limbaugh characterized all anti-war military personnel that way.

Limbaugh has spent the better part of a week explaining all this on his daily, three-hour radio program, the most popular talk show in the country. Yet, Reid and the Senate Democrats remain undeterred about using their government power to rein in Limbaugh and his network.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Reid had also made a speech on the Senate floor accusing Limbaugh of making a “hateful” and “unpatriotic” attack on U.S. troops opposed to the war in Iraq.

Limbaugh, contending he was “smeared” with false charges, demanded Reid come on the top-rated radio program, confront him “like a man” and “stop hiding behind the speech-and-debate clause and your Senate immunity.”

“You want to come on this program and call me unpatriotic, come on this program and call me unpatriotic,” Limbaugh said. “You want to call me a liar, you want to tell me that I did not say what I said, you come on this program and you tell me to my face that I said what I did not say.”

Democrats seized on the issue as a counterattack to criticism from Republicans over a ad that referred to Gen. David Petraeus as “General Betray Us.”

Reid, demanding Limbaugh apologize to U.S. troops, told his Senate colleagues: “Last week, Rush Limbaugh went way over the line, way over the line. While I respect his right to say anything he likes, his unpatriotic comments I cannot ignore. During his show last Wednesday, Limbaugh was engaged in one of his typical rants. This one was unremarkable, indistinguishable from his usual drivel, which has been steadily losing listeners for years, until he crossed that line by calling our men and women in uniform who oppose the war in Iraq, and I quote, ‘phony soldiers.’ This comment was so beyond the pale of decency, and we can’t leave it alone. And yet he followed it up with denials and an attack on Congressman Jack Murtha, who was a 37-year active member of the Marine Corps, combat veteran.”

Limbaugh called Reid’s speech “Kafkaesque,” noting he had just finished an interview with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, “talking about the lies and stuff spread about him during his confirmation hearings, and now I, little old private citizen, Rush Limbaugh, the subject of Senate action, the subject today of House of Representatives action, all based on a purposely told lie, which they know is a lie, and yet they are persisting in this.”

Many elected officials, mostly Democrats, expressed their displeasure with talk radio following the defeat of what President Bush called his “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” legislation – a plan characterized by many talkers as “amnesty.” There were a number of calls for reinstating the Fairness Doctrine – which has also been called the “Hush Rush” bill.

The 41 Democratic senators who signed the challenge to Limbaugh’s network were:

  1. Harry Reid, majority leader

  2. Richard Durbin, assistant majority leader

  3. Charles Schumer, vice chairman, Democratic Conference

  4. Patty Murray, secretary, Democratic Conference

  5. Daniel Akaka

  6. Max Baucus

  7. Joseph Biden

  8. Barbara Boxer

  9. Sherrod Brown

  10. Robert Byrd

  11. Benjamin Cardin

  12. Tom Carper

  13. Bob Casey

  14. Hillary Rodham Clinton

  15. Kent Conrad

  16. Christopher Dodd

  17. Byron Dorgan

  18. Dianne Feinstein

  19. Tom Harkin

  20. Daniel Inouye

  21. Edward M. Kennedy

  22. John Kerry

  23. Amy Klobuchar

  24. Mary Landrieu

  25. Frank Lautenberg

  26. Patrick Leahy

  27. Carl Levin

  28. Blanche Lincoln

  29. Bob Menendez

  30. Barbara Mikulski

  31. Bill Nelson

  32. Barack Obama

  33. Jack Reed

  34. Jay Rockefeller

  35. Ken Salazar

  36. Bernie Sanders

  37. Debbie Stabenow

  38. Jon Tester

  39. Jim Webb

  40. Sheldon Whitehouse

  41. Ron Wyden

In another example of government officials going after talk radio programming, this week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors condemned nationally syndicated host Michael Savage for comments he made about illegal aliens. They characterized his remarks as “hate speech.”

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