Brent Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center, was good friends with Limbaugh. Bozell joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share stories about how the talk show host often frustrated those on the left and challenged conservatives to stand firm in their beliefs.
We also cover these stories:
- President Joe Biden unveils a bill that would give at least 11 million illegal immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.
- Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot launches a review of 41 statues and monuments in an effort to confront the “hard truths of Chicago’s racial history.”
- The president says he is willing to give reparations for slavery to black Americans.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: That of course was conservative radio talk show host and legend Rush Limbaugh talking on his program this past December about his battle with cancer.
Limbaugh lost that battle at the age of 70 on Wednesday and the world is mourning his loss.
He was a titan in the world of radio and he really had a way of going straight to the heart of an issue and challenging people to think for themselves.
Here to talk with us about the life and the legacy of Rush Limbaugh is Brent Bozell, founder and president of Media Research Center. Mr. Bozell, thank you for being here.
Brent Bozell: Thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure.
Allen: Shortly after the news broke of Limbaugh’s passing, you wrote on Twitter, you had this to say, “Rush was one of the most humble men I have ever met. I once told him that America would have been lost but for him. He recoiled, insisting he done no such thing. But he did. And so, America mourns a magnificent man.”
Could you talk a little bit about your relationship with Rush Limbaugh?
Bozell: Sure. I’ve struggled to remember when I first came in contact with him, but it was right after his show began because it was right after the Media Research Center was launched in 1987.
So I think his show was launched in 1988 and I invited him to come to a roast that I was doing about Lee North. And I had people like Pat Robertson and Phil Crane and men like that, and Rush came. And I think that was probably his first national forum that he did. And that just started a friendship.
I was always admiring of him on so many fronts, the personal and the professional. There are so many stories on both that are being retold by people. But the common theme is the man was brilliant. The man had an understanding of the world. He was principled and he was also a genuinely nice man.
Allen: Do you have a favorite memory of Rush Limbaugh as you think back on your interactions with him?
Bozell: Yeah, I think I do. I mean, I’ve got several. I’ll give you two. One was about, I don’t know, whenever it was that he came out of his drug rehab program, Rush had not made any public appearances.
I invited him to have some fun at one of our big galas in Washington, D.C., and to in fact crash the gala, to come on the stage unannounced.
But this would his first public appearance since coming out of rehab, since going through what was a controversy or a scandal where he had been so roundly ridiculed by his enemies for the struggle he was going through.
So, on the appointed evening, we were doing our gala and we had guests and speeches and some such thing. And suddenly on cue, we started the music playing his theme song, playing in the background, and it got louder and louder.
I watched from the stage looking at the audience and everybody started looking at each other, just wondering what was happening, and out came Rush. And the place went wild.
That wasn’t the teller. The teller was what happened at the end of it.
He gave a talk, huge standing ovation. And when he came off the stage, he looked at me with this kind of surprised smile on his face. And he said, “Brent, they gave me a standing ovation.” As if he were thinking, well, maybe they wouldn’t like him anymore. It was that kind of genuine spirit.
But my second memory is one I have more fun with because it’s more unique. This goes back to very, very early times when he was becoming a national figure.
He and I were talking one day and he said, “’60 Minutes’ has contacted me and they want to do a profile on me.” And I said, “Rush, for the love of God, why are you agreeing to do this?”
… They told me he had done the interview. [And I said,] “What I want you to do is to tell me when the show is going to air. And as a gift, I’m going to buy you a one-way ticket to some island in the Pacific, as my guest, one way. And I’ll tell you when you can return based on what they’re going to do to you.”
So a few weeks later, we’re having dinner at Ruth’s Chris in Washington, and he said, “I got a call from CBS and they’re going to air it on Sunday.”
“Well, what’s the island that we’ve chosen, because I’ve got to get to the travel agency to buy you that ticket, because you got to get the hell out of this country. I can’t believe that.”
And he said, “Oh, but they told me I’m going to like it.” And I said, “Oh, that’s the kiss of death. That’s what they do when they’re going to kill you.”
He said on the appointed day—I don’t know if it’s in the files—my memory may not be 100% clear, but it went something like this, it began with a video of him on his radio show. First he’s talking about, I think it was gays, and he’s making fun of gays.
And at the end of it, they play that video to some gay organization. That gay organization is very upset and denounces him. And then they show that video to Rush. Rush laughs. He’s just having fun with this.
Second one is him doing an animal rights routine where he plays “Born Free,” the music with the machine gunfire in the background. And at the end of it, it is shown to an animal rights organization and they go ballistic on Rush. It is sent then to Rush, and Rush watches them going ballistic on him and bursts out laughing.
The third one is his routine on feminazis, and he was having fun with feminazis. And again, they show this clip to, run this clip by this feminist organization that goes bonkers on Rush. They show it to Rush. Rush is laughing even harder.
The bottom line was that this was a complete home run for Rush Limbaugh because America got to see this guy’s having fun. … He is politically incorrect, but he’s having fun with the people.
And these people have no sense of humor. And they are all attacking him viciously and personally, which he never did to anyone.
So that really showed the flavor of Rush. But you know what has showed me more than anything else was he really understood media. He understood how to work it to his advantage.
He told me once, he said, “Everybody says that I’m a politician, that I’m an analyst.” He said, “I’m not.” He said, “I’m an entertainer. I entertain. I’m a conservative who entertains.”
Allen: I think it’s so fun to hear those personal interactions and just being able to look back on how unique Rush Limbaugh was. There wasn’t anybody else like him. He totally changed the game on media, really.
How do you feel like he did really become such a disruption in the media? I mean, he was so unique. What made him stand out from all of the other news commentary voices on the radio?
Bozell: There was a columnist for The Washington Post, William Raspberry, who passed away, I don’t know, maybe 15 years ago. He was one of the very, very left-wing columnists in the newspaper.
He wrote a piece one day about Rush Limbaugh—and again, these being the very early days when Rush was first emerging on the scene—and he absolutely eviscerated Rush as being a right wing, a flamethrower, character assassin, bigot, on and on it went.
About two or three weeks later, William Raspberry filed a second column. It was an apology to Rush Limbaugh.
He did something that made him, in my book, a man’s man. He admitted he never listened to the show, that he was going by what everybody was telling him about Rush. And he felt uneasy after he filed a column and decided to listen to Rush Limbaugh. …
The more he listened, the more he realized they weren’t completely at odds politically, but this man was nothing like he was being portrayed as a personal human being.
He was actually enjoying the show that he was watching. So he openly apologized to Rush. …
The similarities between Rush and Bill Buckley are quite interesting. It’s not that they thought the same way. And they did. It’s not that they were both highly intelligent, which they were. It was that both were portrayed as having these personalities that were ugly, misogynist, bigoted, hate-filled, etc., etc.
And yet, if you knew them both, you knew they were just the opposite of that. Rush was a gentle man. In that sense, he was a gentle person, as is being said by so many who know him. He was a quiet person. He was a humble person, but he was one whale of an entertainer and he knew how to do it.
Allen: How did he challenge conservatives? I think that was critical. And at a time, in the 80s and 90s, he was this powerful voice that really challenged conservatives to stand up for what they believed in.
Bozell: I’ll tell you how he did it. There’s an anecdote. I don’t know if it’s being reported out there, but it’s one I clearly remember.
He was doing a show one day and … somebody called in. … Rush had started his newsletter, his very, very successful newsletter. The person who called in, this young guy called him and asked if he could have a free subscription. It was just a few dollars, but he just couldn’t afford it because he was out of work, etc., etc. And he explained that.
Rush flat out refused and told him that what he was saying was utterly inexcusable. And he said, “In America, you can always find a way to pay for things. And you can always succeed if you choose to.” And he said, “You go do whatever you need to raise the money for this blasted subscription, but I’m not going to give it to you.”
He said, “Go out and have a … ,” I think he called it a donut sale. Well, the guy decided to do that. And he told Rush he would. Rush promoted it for him.
And when he had the donut sale, if I recall, I could have this number wrong, I think it was 25,000 people came to it and he got the money for a subscription.
But that was Rush. He understood the left. He knew how to get under their skin, but not in a vicious way, in a fun way.
There was a lobster somewhere in New England. And it was like a million years old or something, because lobsters live to be forever, and it was huge. …
Some left-wing group, environmental group, or animal rights-type group was doing an auction to raise money, to auction it to put it in a big aquarium, to care for it, blah, blah, blah.
And Rush on his radio—Rush always did these things as publicly as possible—Rush on his radio announced that he was going to bid on it and that he was going to win that bid. And when he did, he was going to take that lobster and cook it and eat it for dinner. And oh, he giggled and he laughed. And of course, I think they took it off the market at that point.
Allen: Hearing these stories is just so great. I love it. I love how all of these facets kind of come out that, you know, looking back, gosh, it is wild.
For so many years, Rush Limbaugh, he hosted his three-hour daily radio program. He was on more than 600 radio stations. And like you say, he had this way of really using humor to draw people in.
Was he really one of the first who, in your mind, figured out that balance of how do you make a program both really fun and enjoyable, but also relay facts and information?
Bozell: He was a trailblazer. I don’t think he’s been given enough credit for the businessman that he was. … Paul Harvey had his commentary in the afternoon out of Chicago, but there really wasn’t any established talk show hosts out there. So Rush started.
Now, since he began his show 33 years ago and was at No. 1, there have been quite literally thousands of people who have gone into this business. So many of them very, very talented at what they do.
And yet for 33 years, he was No. 1. Even though thousands challenged him, he was No. 1. And not only was he No. 1, but no one came close to him in challenging him. That’s how much he dominated the market. …
I think he did it this way—and he’s very unique in this. But I think that he was perhaps the most outstanding in this regard. He really did see his audience as his family. When he went on the radio show, he was talking to his audience. He was talking to his family.
What a way for him to go. Most anyone else who has cancer dies a horrific death. Most deaths are horrific, but he goes off silently into the night if he’s a public figure.
Rush was on his show up to almost the very end. And he was talking to his audience. He was telling them how he was doing. It was as if he was talking to a brother or talking to a sister. That’s the connection he had with his audience.
And I don’t know that any other show, any other talk show hosts in the business today [have] that personal connection as he does.
Witness when people called in how Rush responded. His tone of voice was always respectful to his guests, always respectful because he had such respect for his audience.
So at the end, I think it was, frankly, it was his audience that kept him alive in his final months. I really do believe that.
Allen: Wow, that’s powerful. That’s really powerful. If you had to summarize the legacy of Rush Limbaugh, how would you do that?
Bozell: I would say that Rush Limbaugh connected with the cultural heart, not the political heart, but the cultural heart of America better than virtually any public figure in the history of the republic, which is why it made him unquestionably the most powerful media figure in the history of America.
Allen: Wow. Powerful words. Mr. Bozell, before we let you go, I do want to give you just a moment to share a little bit about the work of your organization, the Media Research Center.
Bozell: Well, Rush more than once publicly made the statement that his show would not have been possible without the work that we did, which is absolute nonsense because Rush was his own force of nature. And he, frankly, didn’t need me for anything.
We began several months before Rush, the Media Research Center, with a focus on trying to expose, confront and expose, the bias of the left-wing press.
At that time, 1987, if you look at the national surveys, 3 out of 4 Americans believed that the media were objective. Seventy-five percent believed that the media had no bias, which is, of course, nonsensical.
When we did our first meeting, we had nothing. We had no assets whatsoever, a handful of employees. We had two desks and seven phones because we got a good deal. We had a black-and-white TV set and we had to rent a computer. And that was the Media Research Center.
And I was visiting with the donor. And she said, “With all due respect, who do you think you are going up against a billion-dollar industry?” And I told her that was a good question, but she had to recognize two things.
No. 1 was that if we didn’t succeed, it really didn’t matter what anybody believed in, whether you were pro-life, pro-tax cuts, pro-Israel.
It didn’t make any difference because your vision was going into the media as prime steak and coming out raw sewage to the American people. And if you couldn’t communicate your message correctly, then it just didn’t matter what you did.
So the public needed to learn that what they were getting when they were talking about abortion or talking about Israel or talking about tax cuts was a leftist perspective.
Second point we made to her was that they have an underbelly and a weakness, an Achilles’ heel, and that was credibility. And if you could take away their credibility, what you would get as a natural response would be a market curiosity for an alternative. And you would open the door for alternative media.
Now, I didn’t know what that alternative media might be, but I did know market economics. And I know that that could create it.
Well, we were immediately successful with what we did because it was manna from heaven, the research that we were able to accumulate. And as we started turning the trends with the public understanding of the bias, so too the market opportunity came in.
So here comes Rush Limbaugh with his radio show, and he immediately connected with the public for that reason.
To give you an example of that, I had my wife and I had a girlfriend from college, and I’d had some surgeries and back surgery. And in this girl called me and I was laying on my back one day and she said, “Brent, I just heard.” And I said, “Well, that’s very sweet. You didn’t need to call.” And she said, “No, no, no. I just heard.”
And I said, “Look, it’s just simple back surgery. I’m fine.” And she said, “What back surgery? I just heard this guy Rush Limbaugh on the radio. I had to call you.”
The point being that somebody out there was talking and suddenly the people who were understanding that what they have been getting was a leftist bias and wanted to hear someone who might agree with them, suddenly comes this guy, Rush Limbaugh, who connects with them immediately.
And that’s what led to things like the “Rush Hours,” where people would get together at lunch just to listen to him.
… He called me one time—and he was doing these weekly appearances with his different radio stations around the country. And he called me once and he said, “Four hundred people showed up tonight.” And then the next weekend, “Eight hundred people came to this rally.” The next weekend, “Fifteen hundred people came.” He was genuinely befuddled by how he was connecting so well with the public. …
So anyway, a long answer to your question, the Media Research Center, our goal was to confront the press and to show America just how leftist they are. And they’re getting worse by the minute. But the public understands that what they’re getting is not objective truth. In fact, it’s leftist propaganda.
Allen: So really your mission, the mission of the Media Research Center and the mission that Rush Limbaugh was on, very, very similar. You just all had maybe a slightly different way of going about pursuing that mission, but very much so in alignment.
Bozell: Well, the big difference between Rush and everybody else on the left was he was honest. Isn’t it interesting? … Rush was a commentator and a reporter is a reporter. A reporter is supposed to tell you the who, what, when, where of a story. A commentator is supposed to give commentary on that story.
I would submit to you that there was more news that came from Rush Limbaugh then there was news that came from CNN from this perspective.
Whether you’re CNN or MSNBC, or NBC, or The Washington Post and The New York Times, it doesn’t matter. They have put a complete kibosh on whatever it is the conservative movement thinks, what it’s doing, and its perspective on things, on the world.
Rush could speak to that. That’s news.
When Rush talked about what might be happening in Israel and the media were covering it up because it went against their narrative, Rush was reporting news. When Rush talked about the economic picture that you saw during the Trump administration month by month, that was news. … And the media weren’t reporting news.
So ironically, at the end of the day, Rush gave more news to his audience then news outlets gave to theirs.
Allen: Mr. Bozell, thank you. I think it’s just a joy to hear these stories, hear your reflections on the life of Rush Limbaugh. …