Following the release of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” it is looking more and more like “The Social Network” was probably the last good thing Aaron Sorkin will write. Generally, any show that gets reviews with lines calling its episodes “deeply offensive for three quarters of an hour” can’t be expected to survive. However, now on top of being needlessly smug, sanctimonious escapism for the Left, “The Newsroom” has apparently decided to punch above its weight class by attacking talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. According to “The Newsroom’s” fictional anchor Will McAvoy, Limbaugh “lied” twice over the past few years — once about President Obama’s record on guns, and the other time about a visit to India by President Obama.
Limbaugh, of course, wasn’t going to take this lying down. He fired back Monday on his show, excoriating the program both for potentially fabricating a quote from him, and for claiming he was lying because he quoted a news story that turned out to be inaccurate. Listen to Limbaugh’s response (which includes both the Newsroom clips), via the Daily Rushbo, below:
Now, quite apart from the extreme argument that particular people who “lie” about news stories should be forced to label themselves as such “like registered sex offenders” (in which case, MSNBC would be out of business in about two weeks thanks to labeling costs alone), we wanted to do a little looking at the two charges against Limbaugh by Sorkin’s show. Be warned, basic logic is not a strong point in either case.
Accusation #1: Limbaugh told listeners to buy guns “before Obama outlaws them all”
First, even if you assume the charge that Limbaugh encouraged listeners to buy guns before “Obama outlaws ‘em all” is true, notice the defense that Sorkin’s mouthpiece jumps to. He argues that Obama has been terrible on gun law enforcement. Now, never mind that President Obama has an exhaustive paper trail showing that he personally supports gun bans. That’s true, but it doesn’t get at the really ironic part about this defense – namely, that Sorkin is defending Obama by saying he’s a conservative. He’s quite clearly throwing any actual supporters of gun control — like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which is who labeled Obama’s record a “failure” in the first place — under the bus with the defense, because instead of going into an extended Sorkin-esque monologue about how gun control is necessary, the host instead goes for the “Limbaugh is lying” charge. Apparently, embarrassing Rush Limbaugh is more important than defending a decades-old Leftist cause celebre for Aaron Sorkin. With friends like him, we wonder if the Left really needs Rush.
But, of course, that assumes the quotation of Rush saying to buy guns before they’re all outlawed is accurate. As evidenced in the clip above, Limbaugh doesn’t remember saying it, and unlike with their second attack, the Newsroom doesn’t play a clip. Limbaugh is obviously more capable of plumbing his own archives than we are, especially since they’re not entirely digitized yet, but for something that Limbaugh allegedly said “repeatedly,” it’s rather difficult to find evidence that he said it even once. Moreover, we find it very difficult to believe that Aaron Sorkin spends day after day listening to the Rush Limbaugh show, given his obvious disdain for it. So where did he get this idea? A little googling gave us a promising potential answer: A Media Matters story dated April 9, 2009.
If this is indeed where Sorkin got the story, though, he fails basic reading comprehension on top of basic logic, seeing as the Media Matters story never directly quotes Limbaugh. Instead, the closest they get is quoting another liberal radio host, David Shuster, accusing Limbaugh of saying this with no evidence to back it up (and then promptly getting blasted by a conservative guest). Yet the only person with any connection to the Rush Limbaugh show who we can find who did say this prior to April 9, 2009, is frequent Limbaugh guest host Marc Belling, who said it on December 4, 2008. Belling’s voice sounds nothing like Limbaugh’s, and it’s not clear that he even said it while guest-hosting Limbaugh’s show. In other words, assuming there is no smoking gun evidence of Limbaugh saying this, Sorkin took a biased and frequently unreliable news source (Media Matters), quoting a dubious source (David Shuster) and took their word on a charge that was (to him) believable but unsubstantiated. Remember that, because it will be important.
Charge #2: Limbaugh “lied” about the cost of President Obama’s trip to India in 2010
This charge refers to a story from 2010 that alleged that President Obama had taken a trip to India with a price tag of $200 million/day. Factcheck.org debunked the idea this way:
The hard-to-swallow claim originated with a Nov. 2 Press Trust of India article quoting an unnamed “top official” in the government of Maharashtra (one of India’s states). The source was quoted as saying that Obama’s upcoming trip to Mumbai will cost $200 million per day for security and living arrangements, among other things. The story claimed that the president would be accompanied by about 3,000 people, including Secret Service agents, government officials and journalists, and will stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel — the scene of a 2008 terrorist attack.
We find stories based on anonymous sources always deserve special caution, especially when they come from only one news organization. In this case, the anonymous official is not even in the U.S. government, and any information about costs would necessarily have come second-hand at best, an added reason for caution.
Nevertheless, the story was widely repeated without any additional reporting.
Firstly, note that Sorkin’s script got the source of the story wrong (New Delhi TV reposted this story, but it did not originate there). Secondly, as Limbaugh notes, the reason the story was repeated was because it was believable, given the spending habits of the administration. Sorkin describes this as a “gleeful lie” done “in order to damage someone’s reputation.” This description is inconsistent, unfair and does more damage to Sorkin than anything else.
To begin with, even the Newsroom points out that the story was picked up by the Drudge Report, which is a news source that is used by more than just Rush. They claim that Drudge picked it up, “believing it to be possible, or not caring that it isn’t.” So apparently Drudge gets the benefit of a doubt. But Limbaugh, according to Sorkin, “knows this figure can’t possibly be right, but Mr. Limbaugh runs with it anyway.” Which raises the question of why Sorkin believes that Matt Drudge couldn’t tell the story was false where Limbaugh could, considering that both men apparently saw the same story, and neither of them could have known the anonymous source behind the story was faulty, seeing as they didn’t know who the source was. The double standard is obvious.
Moreover, even if you (wrongly) assume that Rush could have somehow double-checked the story to figure out it was wrong (the idea that he willfully used it for the purposes of deception is too slanderous and absurd to comment on), what is Sorkin accusing Limbaugh of doing here? Well, trying to besmirch a political opponent’s reputation using a story from a biased news source with highly questionable evidence behind it.
…Which is exactly what Sorkin may have done when it comes to the first charge regarding Limbaugh’s quote that people should buy guns before President Obama outlaws them. So if this Limbaugh quote is a “gleeful lie,” wouldn’t Sorkin’s be as well? And if so, then along with labeling Limbaugh a “willful, purposeful and gleeful” liar, does that mean that Aaron Sorkin and the writing team at “The Newsroom” should, “like a registered sex offender, be required by law to come with that warning label for the rest of their lives?” In fact, scratch that. Considering that Media Matters has repeatedly earned the status of “gleeful liars,” whereas Rush is “documented to be almost always right” and the Drudge Report is relied on by almost the entire media, the case is clearly stronger for branding Sorkin.
And lest you think that’s a cheap shot, consider this: Limbaugh’s segment was based on a breaking news story. Breaking news is often riddled with inaccuracies, as anyone who’s seen CNN’s coverage of the health care decision will tell you. Limbaugh inevitably will get one or two stories sent to his desk that are poorly sourced, but they’re stories that no one can know are poorly sourced until they’re criticized further, by which point they’re no longer breaking. In other words, working in news requires that you occasionally walk back a story or two without being branded a liar forever.
But unlike a real news anchor or commentator, Aaron Sorkin was writing his show in hindsight. He had all the time in the world to check facts, figures and quotes before throwing them into his script, yet he still used this apparently inaccurate (or at least unsourced) Limbaugh quote about guns. And all this while lecturing all of America on how journalists all over the country ought to behave.
Congratulations, Mr. Sorkin, you have just shown that you cannot even manage to do even fake news right.