The earthquake in Haiti has given the world in general and Americans in particular the opportunity to reveal their generosity and spirit. In many parts of the world Americans are perceived as self indulgent and uncaring but the truth I have witnessed over and over again is that Americans are willing to step up and help in times of crisis.
Perhaps the current economic crisis that many Americans are enduring makes us all the more aware of what it means to be caught in the midst of tough times not of our own personal making. Research has demonstrated numerous times that the poor are more willing to give a higher percentage of their assets/income than those with the economic advantages of wealth. Americans have deluged collection points with goods, money, and offers of service for the people and nation of Haiti.
Amongst this generosity there is a blight that is, at its lightest impact, an embarrassment to Americans of all beliefs. The comments of Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson defy logic, compassion, and humanity in their perverse and bombastic rhetoric. How do these two continue to maintain hold of such large microphones? Who on earth listens to these two? Who provides financial support to these two?
William Rivers Pitt (see www.truthout.org/the-scum-earth56138 )writes a powerful call for the silencing of these two “scum of the earth.” While I believe in the rights of Limbaugh and Robertson to hold onto their limited and hateful views, I do not think we need to be subjected to them through accident or design – they are offensive at the very least and hate-mongering drivel at their worst. They appeal to the lowest, basest of human character, ignorance and fear. They inspire violence and hateful actions among the fearful and ignorant.
So how do they remain on the air? Who supports them?
Rush Limbaugh came out of the south from a conservative Missouri family. He was in radio by the time he was 16, flunked out of Southeast Missouri State University after two semesters and a summer, fired from a string of radio shows under numerous pseudonyms, he was advised to go into sales as he wouldn’t make it in radio. Then along came President Reagan, the man we have to thank for numerous devastating domestic policies, and he provided the portal opening for the likes of Limbaugh and Robertson to vomit their venom. Reagan repealed the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, which had required that stations provide free air-time for responses to any controversial opinions that were broadcast. This meant stations could broadcast editorial commentary without having to present opposing views. Limbaugh stepped up to and through the hole in the wall Reagan had blasted.
Limbaugh is now reported to be one of the highest paid commentators on the air. He owns the majority holding of his show that airs courtesy of Clear Channel. In 2008 he reportedly earned $33 million and signed a contract extending his show into 2016 for a whopping $400 million. Where does this money come from?
Here’s where it starts to get murky – nowhere near as murky as it does for Pat Robertson, but murky nonetheless. There are sites that have attempted to delve into the sponsors and advertisers that lend their corporate dollars to Limbaugh’s bombast. Many of these corporations deny that they support his views and state that their advertising is merely part of national campaigns. So, maybe we should hold them accountable for their thoughtless and irresponsible ignorance. Some have withdrawn their advertising as a result of public pressure.
Corporations exist to make money. They do not like adverse publicity or the threat of boycott let alone the actual action of boycott. At www.rushlimbaughonline.com you will find a surprising number of links to businesses that do not control who links them to particular sites and an equally surprising lack of actual advertisers. The same is true on sites for Pat Robertson or his 700 Club. So who are the advertisers who bring in the bucks that enable contracts worth $400 million? Turns out there is a potentially long list. You can find some of them at www.topplebush.com/boycott_rush.shtml including some of those past advertisers who reconsidered their folly. Apparently, and it may come as no shock to those of you who have dipped a toe into the online singles pool, eHarmony is one of the advertisers who contributes to Limbaugh’s wealth. Others vary from General Motors who have trouble enough supporting themselves let alone anyone else, On Star, Smithfield Food Products, Mission Pharmacal, makers of Citracel and Theragesic, and the list goes on and on.
Pat Robertson’s website contains ads for Regent University and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (E.C.F.A.) and Swiss America. The E.C.F.A. has on its board of directors and list of staff a number of people with clear affiliations to the broadcasting industry. Swiss America offers peace of mind after asking, “You do own gold, right?” They have numismatists, coin historians, on their staff and clearly aim their marketing sights at conservative retirees who are scared about their diminishing wealth. Who isn’t scared right now?
Regent University is the brain-child of none other than Pat Robertson. It received a great deal of help from Oral Roberts University, which donated the bulk of the Regent’s law library. They boast that contributors to its law journal include the likes of Justice Clarence Thomas and Bush administration Attorney General, John Ashcroft. More than 150 graduates of Regents were hired by the Bush administration.
There are no other advertisers on the web site. The 700 Club, the mouthpiece for Pat Robertson’s views on the world, is billed as an infomercial. When the Christian Broadcasting Network was sold to the ABC family and Fox network in the late 90’s for a reportedly enormous amount of money, the deal included a supposedly ironclad clause that will have the 700 Club being broadcast in perpetuity. Robertson may seem like the voice of the darkest side of American religiosity but he is not stupid. He has manipulated the placement of a very large megaphone to carry his perverse messages and ensured that it remains on and loud for a long time to come.
Complaints about Robertson’s messages simply slide down the wall he has erected between himself and rational thought, compassionate action, and the hearts of the majority of the American people. He and Limbaugh epitomize the phrase found in Alcoholic’s Anonymous Big Book, “self will run riot.”
Robertson and Limbaugh have found a niche in American culture and established themselves as the alpha dogs on the dark side. Full of hate, bombast, ego, deceit, delusion, and intolerance, they know exactly how to tap into the fears of those who will stand still long enough to listen to them. Unfortunately in America, the number of people who lack the ability for critical thought has blossomed under generations of an education system that strives for mediocrity. And now, the economic catastrophe that has visited this country makes us all afraid. Robertson and Limbaugh’s audiences are listening. So is Comcast. In response to numerous complaints about the 700 Club, they have provided token credit on billing for those complaints.
At this time , we may not be able to wrest the megaphones Robertson and Limbaugh hold from their hands but we can refuse to listen. We may not be able to avoid their messages, but we can use our higher faculties to question and debunk their messages. We cannot unspeak their hateful rhetoric but, as a people, we can make amends to the people of Haiti. We too may be afraid, we may be angry and we can appeal to the better part of our natures and endure these tough times with the same spirit of generosity that pitiful men like Limbaugh and Robertson do not seem fortunate enough to possess.