Rush Limbaugh's dismissive comments about detained New York Times reporters in Cairo have drawn sharp criticism from several veteran war correspondents - including a longtime Times war reporter - as well as those who monitor journalist safety overseas.
Limbaugh said on his Feb. 3 show about two New York Times reporters being detained:
Ladies and gentlemen, it is being breathlessly reported that the Egyptian army -- Snerdley, have you heard this? The Egyptian army is rounding up foreign journalists. I mean, even two New YorkTimes reporters were detained. Now, this is supposed to make us feel what, exactly? How we supposed to feel? Are we supposed to feel outrage over it? I don't feel any outrage over it. Are we supposed to feel anger? I don't feel any anger over this. Do we feel happy? Well -- uh -- do we feel kind of going like, "neh-neh-neh-neh"? I'm sure that your emotions are running the gamut when you hear that two New York Times reporters have been detained along with other journalists in Egypt. Remember now, we're supporting the people who are doing this.
Later in the same show, upon hearing about Fox News crew members and others being beaten and hospitalized, he contended that his previous comments were a joke:
Also, according to Mediaite, Fox News' Greg Palkot and crew have been severely beaten and are now hospitalized in Cairo. Now we were kidding before about The New York Times, of course. This kind of stuff is terrible. We wouldn't wish this kind of thing even on reporters. But it's -- it's serious. And you know, Anderson Cooper got beat upside the head 10 times when he was there. Still feeling it -- still feel sorry about -- reporters all think that the protestors ought to welcome them, they're on the same side.
Still, several leaders of the international journalism community contend the comments are unfair and even harmful to American safety overseas, as well as reporters' ability to gather news.
John Burns, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for The New York Times based in London, covered the Iraq War from 2003 to 2007.
After reviewing the comments made by Limbaugh, Burns stated in an e-mail that his remarks, "inevitably play into a wider climate of disdain for the media that has been building in some quarters in the United States for some years now, and that is something to worry about, whether your politics are of the left, the right, or the centre.
"The fact that the Fox News crew were among those attacked in Cairo suggests powerfully that thuggery against the media is a universal threat, just as encouraging hostility for the press at home ultimately threatens the very basis of press freedom, for all."
Dion Nissenbaum, a Kabul correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers who was himself detained by Palestinian forces in The Gaza Strip in 2005, also questioned Limbaugh's motives.
"I can't quite fathom why Rush Limbaugh would be gleeful about the crackdown on reporting. International reporters are risking their lives to report on this pivotal chapter in Egyptian history," he stated. "Without having these folks on the ground, without having these people risking their lives to write, photograph and document the volatile events, Americans would be at a serious disadvantage as we all try to make sense of what is unfolding in Egypt."
Kelly Kennedy, USA Today military writer and president of Military Reporters and Editors, the top military reporting association, added:
"It's horrifying to wish harm on any American -- or any person -- who is expressing one of our cherished freedoms. In this case, the reporters in Cairo help us, as a country, understand a situation that directly affects us, and they're doing it at great risk to themselves. We should support them. To laugh as the government harms and silences journalists, even as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protest their inability to govern themselves, makes no sense.
"It was brave for them to go out into the streets even after hearing what had happened to their colleagues. And now the wires are silent? And there are journalists with injuries? How is this something to joke about? We should be proud, even if you don't always agree with what they report."
Clothilde Le Coz, director of Reporters Without Borders' Washington, D.C., office, called Limbaugh's comments rude and disrespectful.
"How did he know about the fact that reporters were attacked? It is rude and disrespectful to say that. How did he know reporters were attacked and one got stabbed? How did he know about this? Because there are reporters," she told Media Matters. "When you don't care about them, you don't care about how the information can come to your country."
"Saying that he doesn't care, when you say that it is because you don't know what is going on. It might seem very, very small compared to the 300 people who are dead there. It is small, but it is also The New York Times. That is someone who can get the word out."
Mike Francis, a military reporter at The Oregonian in Portland and a MRE board member, echoed that view.
"Presumably, Rush gets his news from people who are risking their necks to bring it to him, whether they're employed by Fox News or The New York Times," Francis said. "No matter what he thinks of the way news stories are written or edited, he, of all people, should value what reporters do, because he needs their work. Alternatively, he could take his microphone to Cairo and tell it the way he sees it."
Sig Christensen, military affairs writer for the San Antonio Express-News has served more than a dozen reporting stints in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
"Rush foams at the mouth over the possibility of the Fairness Act being reinstated but feels no apparent outrage over the treatment of journalists who are risking their lives to inform the world about a critical development in U.S. foreign policy," Christensen e-mailed after hearing the Limbaugh comments.
"Anyone who is part of the American media ought to hope that we receive more information, not less, and support the journalists now there."
John Yemma, editor of The Christian Science Monitor, which has several reporters and photographers in Cairo, added:
"Mr. Limbaugh is, as he often says, an 'entertainer.' Our reporters and those of other news organizations in Egypt are doing serious and dangerous work to tell this dramatic story. Thoughtful people know the difference."
Then there is Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who noted simply: "These comments are so stupid and ill-informed, they don't require comment from me to point it out."