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The Malicious Irresponsibility of Rush Limbaugh

This vile, foolish man has blood on his hands.
April 2, 2020
The Malicious Irresponsibility of Rush Limbaugh
(Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

1. The Reckoning

On March 31, over a 24 hour period, 1,049 Americans died from COVID-19.

That’s the official number for now—as we’re seeing in Italy, the real number may be higher, because it’s not clear that deaths are being tabulated as caused by COVID-19 unless there is either pre- or post-mortem testing for the virus.

But let’s just pretend that the 1,049 number is right. Put in context, that makes it one of the deadliest single days in U.S. history. But put it in another context and you’ll see that this isn’t some crazy one-off, like most of the other bloodiest days in American history—it’s part of a trend that is increasing.

This is the geometric progression I kept shouting about weeks ago: The number of deaths per day doubles roughly every three of four days.

Doubling. That’s the key to understanding how virality functions. We will soon be at 2,000 deaths per day.

Just try to get your head around that.

This New York Times piece does a nice job trying to hold to account some of the people from Conservatism Inc. who worked to prevent Americans from taking COVID-19 seriously. But honestly, it’s not enough. When this is all over, there should be a reckoning—a very real, very thorough reckoning—for all of the people who made this pandemic worse by pushing disinformation and lies in the service of making it harder for the country to quickly respond to the crisis.

But why wait? Let’s talk about Rush Limbaugh, because what this man has said over the last month ought to mark him for the rest of his life.

  • February 24: “Folks, this coronavirus thing, I want to try to put this in perspective for you. It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. You think I’m wrong about this? You think I’m missing it by saying that’s — Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”
  • February 25: “Why couldn’t the coronavirus get Donald Trump reelected? What if the United States comes up with a dramatically great policy to deal with it—and the number of cases in the United States dwindles, goes down, or does not expand like the cases around the world? Then why wouldn’t that be beneficial to Trump? Notice: Here we are in February, and they’ve already got this virus ruining the economy by November, in time to take out Trump. This is proof they’ve got nothing. They know they can’t beat the guy, folks…. Donald Trump has survived every coup attempt, every assault on him, that has been made up and now the coronavirus, they’re trying to lay it at his feet and make him responsible for it and they’re doing irresponsible news reports claiming that the coronavirus is gonna destroy the US economy by when? November! Isn’t it magical? The coronavirus is the new Russians…”
  • March 9: “Democrats out the wazoo are showing up at Trump rallies. This is why they want these rallies stopped. This is why — it’s not because of public safety, not because of public health.”
  • March 11: “This coronavirus, they’re just — all of this panic is just not warranted. This, I’m telling you, when I tell you — when I’ve told you that this virus is the common cold. When I said that, it was based on the number of cases. It’s also based on the kind of virus this is. Why do you think this is “COVID-19”? This is the 19th coronavirus. They’re not uncommon. Coronaviruses are respiratory cold and flu viruses. There is nothing about this, except where it came from, and the itinerant media panic…”
  • March 13: “We’re shutting down our country because of the — the cold virus, which is what coronaviruses are. This is COVID-19, the 19th version of the coronavirus. We’re shutting it — can you imagine our enemies watching this? You think the Chinese are not laughing themselves silly over how easy this has been?”
  • March 27: “We didn’t elect a president to defer to a bunch of health experts that we don’t know. And how do we know they’re even health experts? Well, they wear white lab coats, and they’ve been in the job for a while, and they’re at the CDC and they’re at the NIH, and they’re up, well — yeah, they’ve been there, and they are there. But has there been any job assessment for them? They’re just assumed to be the best because they’re in government. But, these are all kinds of things that I’ve been questioning.”

There was another moment on March 11 where Limbaugh claimed that “medical professionals” weren’t overly concerned and then did a little rant against the very idea of suppression and mitigation protocols:

[A]s I’ve watched any number of other experts speak, you know what I’ve observed, ladies and gentlemen? Is that medical professionals seem the least panicked of anybody. The people that seem the most panicked are politicians, followed by media. . . .

Has anybody ever contained the spread of the common cold? Has anybody ever contained the spread of the flu? No. It’s a guaranteed failure, and when the failure is announced, guess what? It’s more panic. “We have lost the ability to contain the spread of COVID-19!” Well, you can’t contain the spread of anything else, either.

These diseases run their course. But when you announce that your objective is to contain the spread, you are. I’m sorry, folks, that’s a political decision, and it’s guaranteed to fail, by design. Have we contained the spread of cancer? Have we contained the spread?

“The spread of cancer?” AYFKM? I can’t believe I have to say this to a guy who has cancer, but cancer is not an infectious disease. How on God’s earth can Limbaugh talk like this—telling people that suppressing the spread of COVID-19 is impossible because we haven’t been able to stop “the spread of cancer”—and not be looked at as a dangerous and irresponsible crank.

Or worse, actually.

Because I suspect that Limbaugh does understand the difference between an infectious disease and cancer. I suspect that he’s just lying about it to his audience for profit. But either way, this man has blood on his hands.

2. Italy

This Wall Street Journal piece is behind a paywall, but it’s important because the WSJ did some concrete reporting on what lots of people in the medical community have been suggesting anecdotally: That not all of the COVID-19 deaths are being attributed to COVID-19.

Here’s the executive summary:

Italy’s official death toll from the virus stands at 13,155, the most of any country in the world. But that number tells only part of the story because many people who die from the virus don’t make it to the hospital and are never tested.In the areas worst hit by the pandemic, Italy is undercounting thousands of deaths caused by the virus, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows, indicating that the pandemic’s human toll may end up being much greater, and infections far more widespread, than official data indicate.

And here’s a chart to illustrate what’s going on in just one town, the city of Bergamo:

Just a quick summary of what you’re looking at: In March 2019, Bergamo had something like 120 deaths. In March 2020, the total deaths for the city was over 500.

Yet the total confirmed COVID-19 deaths for March 2020 are only 200. So what explains the rest of the giant disparity between March 2019 and March 2020?

Some of it could just be random fluctuation. But I would bet that at least some of it is not. Instead, what’s happening is that the tabulation process is chaotic. There’s a shortage of tests, which means that many docs are not going to waste tests in post-mortem cases when they need them for the living. The end result of which is that you wind up with a lot of dead bodies who almost certainly had COVID-19, but who aren’t confirmed cases—and so don’t make it onto the official total.

We’ve heard anecdotal reports that this same thing is happening in the United States in areas with high concentrations of cases.

And if/when this bug gets loose in the developing world, getting real numbers is going to be orders of magnitude more difficult still.

3. Proof of life

This Vanity Fair piece on advice for Fauci and Birx from a former hostage negotiator is the laugh I needed:

Dear Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci,

If you are reading this, you are now entering your third month as members of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force. As you attempt to infuse presidential decision-making with medical and scientific knowledge, those of us who have experienced successful hostage resolution [The author oversaw an FBI squad that responded to kidnappings of Americans throughout Latin America and ran another squad that addressed kidnappings in northern California] are seeing some uncanny comparisons to siege scenarios. In order for all of us to survive the next month and beyond, you’ll both need to understand how similar your predicament is to a hostage standoff, and how you can employ kidnap and ransom negotiation techniques to overcome the challenges of your figurative captivity. Since you just bought us all another month of smart social distancing, there are already signs that you are applying some of these proven methods even if you don’t fully grasp them as such. But this can go south quickly, and we’re counting on you to get it right.

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.