- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

It is a piquant cultural moment: Rush Limbaugh, the nation’s most popular radio host, returns to the airwaves today after spending 33 days in a rehab center after a public disclosure that he was addicted to prescription painkillers.

The listening audience will include friends and foes. There are the 20 million regular listeners who savor his return and the critics who chronicled his travails in recent weeks with glee and sarcasm.

“Everyone is going to be listening to this — those who love him, those who hate him, too,” said Fox News anchorman Tony Snow, who has guest-hosted Mr. Limbaugh’s three-hour, daily show on dozens of occasions.

“This is a guy who can rise to each drama in his life while he’s on the air — when he lost his hearing, when he got it back, his addiction,” Mr. Snow continued. “I have a feeling that today’s broadcast will have soul-searching moments which Rush will examine with brutal honesty.”

That is Mr. Limbaugh’s style.

“I have always tried to be honest with you and open about my life,” he told his listeners in a live broadcast on Oct. 10. “I am addicted to prescription pain medicine.”

His announcement was followed by calls for prayer and compassion from his fans. Therapists and op-ed writers cautioned against “judging” Mr. Limbaugh, and Jesse Jackson suggested the radio host lead a charge to reform U.S. drug laws.

Liberal pundits dredged up Mr. Limbaugh’s often years-old rants against illicit drug use in their own analyses for irony’s sake. Much was mean-spirited.

A Nov. 3 Newsweek cover story on Mr. Limbaugh “reads like a bar-stool rant against an ex-spouse … long on name-calling, cheap shots and gotchas,” stated one of a hundred letters to the weekly magazine that deemed its coverage unfair.

Comedian Al Franken, who has had a long-running tiff with Mr. Limbaugh, called him “a dishonest demagogue” during a CNN appearance just hours after the radio host made his troubling announcement.

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman characterized the situation as “when bad things happen to annoying people.”

Many believe Mr. Limbaugh, 52, will prevail.

“This has been a tough personal time for Rush. Lots of demons,” said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers, a talk-radio-industry magazine.

“Professionally, he’s at the peak of his career, however. His addiction never had an impact on his talent and, unlike a politician or a clergyman, Rush can’t be recalled. He’s a talk-radio attraction,” Mr. Harrison continued. “And more listeners than ever will want to hear what he has to say.”

The California-based Claremont Institute, a research and advocacy group that urges a return to America’s founding principles, will give Mr. Limbaugh a “Statesmanship Award” on Friday.

In a statement, the group praised him for bringing his listeners “a conservative point of view, year in, year out, on virtually every significant issue — trenchantly, intelligently, wittily and inimitably” and for “his unblushing conviction that America is a good and great country.”

Such ideas resonate with his audience.

“Rush Limbaugh talks about what is basically right about America. And for that, I am loyal to him,” said one devoted fan.

The announcement that Mr. Limbaugh would return to his regular show was made during his show on Wednesday — guest-hosted by online newsman Matt Drudge and Mr. Limbaugh’s younger brother, David Limbaugh.

“Rush is champing at the bit to get back to doing what he does the best, and that’s getting back on the air,” the younger Mr. Limbaugh said, adding that his brother “successfully completed the first phase of his treatment” and was “committed to staying the course.”


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