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ON THE MEDIA

Limbaugh, Hannity ring in a new season of partisan shots

November 09, 2008|JAMES RAINEY | Rainey is a Times staff writer.

You have to give Rush Limbaugh a perverse kind of credit. At least when he is demonizing Barack Obama, fabricating Obama policies, blaming Obama for single-handedly causing the recession and the stock market crash, he doesn't pretend to be fair.

Opening his first post-election rant against the president-elect, Limbaugh launched in with a certain relish. "The game," he told his radio listeners, "has begun."

Sean Hannity, on the other hand, insisted on feigning a post-election detente, telling his Fox News television audience last week, "I want Barack Obama to succeed."

Didn't he think anyone would notice that, just a moment later, he was back parroting the failed campaign argument that Obama is a "mystery"?

"I fear [this] is the guy that has these radical associations 20 years ago," Hannity added, an odd way of demonstrating support for the new commander in chief.

A healthy skepticism is not only the media's right but its obligation. Indeed, commentators at many mainstream outlets -- including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal -- have already argued that Obama's best bet to succeed will be if he hews to a centrist path.

But many on the losing end of last week's election want to hold on to their anger. And there are those in the media -- led by the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity -- only too ready to feed that animus, along with their own ratings.

"The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen," Limbaugh told his radio audience of 15 million to 20 million on Thursday. "Stocks are dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama recession. Might turn into a depression."

Apparently the tanking of the real estate market, record losses in the auto industry, and massive failures in the banking and investment industry have very little to do with our problems. The economic system is collapsing, Rush wants us to know, because it anticipates the tax increases Obama has pledged on capital gains and for the highest income earners.

But maybe that shouldn't be so surprising, because radio's Biggest Big Man also assures us that the Democrat welcomes "economic chaos" because it gives him "greater opportunity for expanded government." In a time when the nation calls out for cool leadership and rational discussion, Limbaugh stirs the caldron, a tendency he proved in a particularly grotesque way last week when he accused Obama's party of plotting a government takeover of 401(k) retirement plans.

"They're going to take your 401(k), put it in the Social Security trust fund, whatever the hell that is," Limbaugh woofed. "Trust fund, my rear end."

A slight problem with Limbaugh's report: Obama and the Democrats have proposed no such thing.

The proposal, in fact, emanated from a single economist, one of many experts testifying to a congressional committee.

The president-elect has thus far shown as much interest in taking over your 401(k) as he has in moving the capital to Nairobi. (If you look hard, you might find that one somewhere out there in the blogosphere, too.)

To broadcast such a report -- so drained of context as to constitute a lie -- would be a shameless act at any time. But Limbaugh needlessly stirred the fears of the millions he holds in his thrall -- making the 401(k) thievery sound like nearly a done deal. Shameless.

Hannity and Limbaugh filleted Obama's selection as chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, in a way that exposed their partisan gamesmanship.

Mainstream newspapers have filed plenty of unflinching accounts of Emanuel's tough, occasionally ruthless tactics as a Democratic congressional leader and onetime operative in the Clinton White House. That assessment of bare-knuckle partisanship Hannity seized on. But it wouldn't do to report another aspect of Emanuel's record -- his Clintonesque bent for the political center.

So the Fox-man simply created a new persona for Emanuel as, you guessed it, "one of the hardest left-wing radicals on the left."

Ever open-minded, Hannity concluded, "I think they're going to overreach, and I think we're going to see the person that I think Barack Obama is. I think he is hard, hard left."

Then, I kid you not, Hannity ended with this pledge: "We'll see. We'll give him an opportunity."

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham apparently didn't get the memo requiring Obama's opponents to sink immediately and mindlessly into rank partisanship.

The South Carolina senator, one of Sen. John McCain's closest allies in his bid for the presidency, praised Obama's selection of Emanuel as "a wise choice." He added that the new chief of staff could be a tough partisan, but was also "honest, direct and candid" and willing to "work to find common ground where it exists."

Perhaps Hannity, Limbaugh and the rest of those intent on poisoning the soil before bipartisanship can take root might recall words of wisdom from Brit Hume, a veteran newsman who is close to leaving the Fox anchor desk for semi-retirement.

The problem with the accusations of Obama being "dangerous" and "radical," Hume said on election night, "was that it just didn't fit with the man you saw before your eyes."

--

james.rainey@latimes.com

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