In an interview Thursday with the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie, Vice President Mike Pence — who has been placed in charge of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus — was asked to respond to some of the reckless statements that have come from none other than President Donald Trump.
If Pence was really concerned about “irresponsible rhetoric,” perhaps he should not have granted an interview two weeks ago to Rush Limbaugh, who has been at the forefront of right-wing talk radio hosts dismissing coronavirus as a mere political ploy to take down the president. Interestingly, Limbaugh suspended his anti-scientific demagoguery and calls for complacency — though just for the duration of that interview with Pence.
“I mean, this problem needs to be dealt with successfully, hopefully as apolitically as possible,” Limbaugh said at the time. “The virus doesn't know whether it's infecting a Republican or a Democrat, a woman, a man, anything. And until we get a better handle on it, we want competent people working on this.”
But before then, that very week Limbaugh had falsely claimed that COVID-19 is actually just “the common cold,” but added that it “probably is a [Chinese Communist] laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized” as part of “an effort to bring down Trump” through negative media coverage. He only dug in further in the days that followed, downplaying the potential impact of coronavirus in the U.S. and declaring: “I’m not going to play ball with this, I'm not going to join a panic over something that I have been independently informing myself about.”
None of Limbaugh’s own rhetoric was mentioned at all during his interview with the vice president. Perhaps Limbaugh learned something about the threat and decided to take his public responsibilities and the respectability bestowed upon him by the vice presidential appearance — not to mention his recent Presidential Medal of Freedom — more seriously, right? Not at all. In fact, since his interview with Pence, Limbaugh’s only gotten even worse.
This past Monday, he claimed that calls for Trump to suspend his political rallies were really a ploy to undermine the campaign and not about legitimate public health concerns: “If you can’t beat Trump and if you want to stop the appearance of excitement about the Trump campaign, then stop the rallies.”
On Tuesday, he called it a built-up media hype — just like hurricanes. (Limbaugh’s long-running claim that hurricanes are just media hype — and his recent declaration that Trump has never messed up a natural disaster — might be news to the people of Puerto Rico.)
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): The coronavirus is one of those moments for the drive-by media, and just as a hurricane is an opportunity to blame people who don’t believe in climate change — man-made climate change. Just as a hurricane is exaggerated and built-up, lied about before anybody knows its true strength and nature in order to advance a political agenda — i.e., climate change — coronavirus is being used to advance the agenda that Donald Trump:
A. Doesn’t care about you, he only cares about himself;
B. Donald Trump is incompetent;
C. Donald Trump’s not taking it seriously enough;
D. You might die, it’s all going to be Donald Trump’s fault;
E. It’s an opening for the Democrats!
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): You know, it’s such a great point. Rather than treat the sick, we’re all obsessed with containing the spread. Well, good luck with that. 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.
And to cap it off that day, Limbaugh reacted with anger and confusion to news that the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told lawmakers that “COVID-19 is probably about 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu,” asking: “Ten times more lethal? Lethal than what? What does lethal mean? Does lethal kill you? Does lethal infect you? Does lethal give you a temperature of 102 versus 100? What does it do to you?”
In his NBC interview, Vice President Pence made one legitimate point here: People should consider going to Coronavirus.gov to get all the latest health information about how to respond to the pandemic. But they definitely shouldn’t go to Rush Limbaugh — and neither should Pence.