After President Donald Trump awarded radio host Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union address, several mainstream media headlines downplayed Limbaugh’s extensive career of hate.
The radio career of Rush Limbaugh, who was recently diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, has been a never-ending parade of bigotry and hatred aimed at people who do not look or think like him. Americans who don’t listen to Limbaugh’s radio show may have been introduced to him when he repeatedly told his millions of devoted listeners that then-law student Sandra Fluke was a “slut” and a “prostitute” for defending birth control.
Before, during, and since the significant backlash to Limbaugh’s attacks against Fluke, the newest recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom has maintained a remarkable record of hatred. Limbaugh compared a then-12-year-old Chelsea Clinton to a dog, claimed actor Michael J. Fox was exaggerating the symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease, attacked criticism of the Constitution for permitting slavery, defended his alleged right to say the n-word, and for years promoted an extremely racist song called “Barack The Magic Negro.”
Despite all this and more, headlines from USA Today and The Associated Press -- whose content is reprinted daily in thousands of news outlets all over the world -- erased Limbaugh’s decades-long record of hate. As Media Matters’ Parker Malloy has explained, the viral nature of headlines underscores how important it is that they convey as much relevant information as possible -- including, in this case, the fact that Trump’s honoree has been one of the most bigoted figures in political media for decades.
With its headline comparing Limbaugh to civil rights icon Rosa Parks, The Washington Post arguably suggested that the bigoted radio host is an outlier among Medal of Freedom recipients, as the article itself strongly suggests. However, the piece couches criticism of Limbaugh’s record in rhetoric of “critics say” and “has been accused of” instead of speaking the plain truth that Limbaugh is a public bigot and has been for decades.
Vox’s headline was one of the very few that didn’t mince words when reporting on Limbaugh: “One of America’s most prominent racists just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”