On Hannity & Colmes, Limbaugh again misrepresented his "phony soldiers" controversy

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

During an interview on the October 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Rush Limbaugh offered another version of the conversation preceding a remark he made on the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show characterizing service members who support U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as "phony soldiers." On October 18, Limbaugh said that during the September 26 broadcast he spoke with a caller to his show who "claims to be a Republican and claims to be a soldier, we're losing, why don't I just admit we're losing? Why can't we get out of there and save the soldiers, and so forth?" Limbaugh then said that a second "guy calls after that and says, you know, I hate these guys. The media always goes and finds these guys that do not support the mission. And these guys that never served, and they're just fake. And I said, yeah, the phony soldiers." In fact, at no point preceding his "phony soldiers" comment in the September 26 conversation did either Limbaugh or the caller mention "guys that never served" who are "just fake." While Limbaugh subsequently posted a transcript of the Hannity & Colmes segment in which the words "And these guys that never served, and they're just fake" do not appear within quotation marks, Limbaugh gave no indication on Hannity & Colmes that the caller on September 26 did not actually say those words.

During the September 26 broadcast, Limbaugh discussed with a caller a conversation he had with a previous caller, "Mike from Chicago," who said he "used to be military," and "believe[s] that we should pull out of Iraq." The second caller, whom Limbaugh identified as "Mike, this one from Olympia, Washington," asserted that he had "a retort to Mike in Chicago, because I am a serving American military, in the Army." The caller stated that "what these people don't understand is if we pull out of Iraq right now, which is about impossible because of all the stuff that's over there, it'd take us at least a year to pull everything back out of Iraq, then Iraq itself would collapse, and we'd have to go right back over there within a year or so." After Limbaugh said that "it's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people," the caller replied: "No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media." Limbaugh then interjected, "The phony soldiers." Neither mentioned "guys that never served" or said "they're just fake" before Limbaugh's reference to "phony soldiers."

On Hannity & Colmes, Limbaugh offered the following description of his September 26 conversation with the caller:

LIMBAUGH: Let me make it as brief as I can. I had a call on my program on a Wednesday. I guess this was about two weeks ago now. I'm still amazed how long this has survived.

And two days prior to that, NBC -- or ABC's World News Tonight had done a story on Jesse MacBeth, the phony soldier, one of the many people who's never served, didn't even survive through boot camp, and claimed he had been in Iraq, claimed he had been a Green Beret, and a Purple Heart and all this, and saw all these atrocities, sort of like John Kerry in Vietnam.

And on the day of the questionable call, I had done a morning update on Jesse MacBeth. And I think this is Wednesday when this all happens. The guy calls and claims to be a Republican and claims to be a soldier, that we're losing, why don't I just admit we're losing? Why can't we get out of there and save the soldiers, and so forth?

Another guy calls after that and says, you know, I hate these guys. The media always goes and finds these guys that do not support the mission. And these guys that never served, and they're just fake. And I said, yeah, the phony soldiers. Two words that I uttered have been now magnified and blown up into, like, hundreds of thousands of words by now.

A transcript (subscription required) of the Hannity & Colmes segment on Limbaugh's website punctuates his description of the conversation as follows:

LIMBAUGH: Another guy calls after that and says, "You know, I hate these guys. The media always goes and finds these guys that do not support the mission." And these guys that never served, and they're just fake. And I said, yeah, "the phony soldiers."

The actual conversation went as follows:

LIMBAUGH: Another Mike, this one in Olympia, Washington. Welcome to the EIB Network. Hello.

CALLER: Hi Rush, thanks for taking my call.

LIMBAUGH: You bet.

CALLER: I have a retort to Mike in Chicago, because I am a serving American military, in the Army. I've been serving for 14 years, very proudly.

LIMBAUGH: Thank you, sir.

CALLER: And, you know, I'm one of the few that joined the Army to serve my country, I'm proud to say, not for the money or anything like that. What I would like to retort to is that, if we pull -- what these people don't understand is if we pull out of Iraq right now, which is about impossible because of all the stuff that's over there, it'd take us at least a year to pull everything back out of Iraq, then Iraq itself would collapse, and we'd have to go right back over there within a year or so. And -

LIMBAUGH: There's a lot more than that that they don't understand. They can't even -- if -- the next guy that calls here, I'm gonna ask him: Why should we pull -- what is the imperative for pulling out? What's in it for the United States to pull out? They can't -- I don't think they have an answer for that other than, "Well, we just gotta bring the troops home."

CALLER: Yeah, and, you know what -

LIMBAUGH: "Save the -- keep the troops safe" or whatever. I -- it's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people.

CALLER: No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media.

LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.

CALLER: The phony soldiers. If you talk to a real soldier, they are proud to serve. They want to be over in Iraq. They understand their sacrifice, and they're willing to sacrifice for their country.

LIMBAUGH: They joined to be in Iraq. They joined --

As Media Matters for America documented, Limbaugh has previously offered several inconsistent explanations for his September 26 comments.

Later in the Hannity & Colmes interview, co-host Alan Colmes noted that when Limbaugh aired the exchange "a couple of days later, you edited out about a minute and 35 seconds of time." As Media Matters documented, on his September 28 broadcast, Limbaugh aired an edited audio clip from his September 26 broadcast. Excised from the clip was a full 1 minute and 35 seconds of the 1 minute and 50 second discussion that occurred between Limbaugh's "phony soldiers" comment and his mention of Jesse MacBeth, an anti-war activist who pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for pretending to be an injured Iraq war veteran. Limbaugh did not disclose on the September 28 show that the audio had been spliced.

Limbaugh replied to Colmes that the edits had been made "for the purposes of my website," and asserted that the editing was done because the caller, "after discussing the phony soldiers, went into a discussion of weapons of mass destruction. At the time he's doing that, I am talking to my producer on the other side of the glass on the IFB [intercom], I'm saying, 'Find the commentary I did yesterday morning on Jesse MacBeth,' who, by the way, whose birth name is Jesse Al-Zaid." Limbaugh continued: "This guy is going on. He's got diarrhea of the mouth about weapons of mass destruction. I'm asking people to find this commentary so I can illustrate what I mean by phony soldiers." Limbaugh added: "I finally told this guy, I said, look, weapons of mass destruction is a moot point now. Whether they're there or weren't there, it's not relevant because the situation in Iraq has gone way beyond that. We just edited that out. It had nothing to do -- there was nothing hidden. There was nothing I was trying to cover up."

Contrary to his assertion that "there was nothing hidden," during the September 28 broadcast of his radio show Limbaugh said that his selectively edited audio clip of the exchange was "the entire transcript" of the segment. Prior to airing the edited clip, Limbaugh said: "Here is, it runs about 3 minutes and 13 seconds, the entire transcript, in context, that led to this so-called controversy." After the clip ended, Limbaugh stated: "That was the transcript from yesterday's program, talking about one phony soldier. The truth for the left is fiction that serves their purpose, which is exactly the way the website Media Matters generated this story."

As Media Matters documented, the transcript (subscription required) of the September 28 broadcast posted on Limbaugh's website does not make clear how much time elapsed between his "phony soldiers" remark and his discussion of MacBeth on September 26 -- or even that any time did elapse: Limbaugh's September 28 transcript does not provide any notation or ellipsis to indicate that there is, in fact, a break in the transcript of the September 26 clip he used. By not indicating this gap, Limbaugh made it appear as though his MacBeth remarks came almost immediately after his "phony soldiers" remark, falsely supporting his claim that his "phony soldiers" comment was a reference to MacBeth.

In addition, Limbaugh falsely asserted that "on the day of the questionable call, I had done a morning update on Jesse MacBeth." Later in the interview, Limbaugh correctly noted that after his conversation with the caller to whom he made his "phony soldiers" remark, he "started in repeating a commentary on Jesse MacBeth that I had aired the previous morning."

Further, Limbaugh asserted that Media Matters "is a Hillary Clinton front group, which is designed to get her elected president." In fact, Media Matters is an independent, progressive organization and is not affiliated with any candidate or political party.

From the October 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Thanks very much. Look, first of all, you've got to tell us, what's the update here, in terms -- I understand it's up to $851,000, this smear letter that you're auctioning off.

LIMBAUGH: Eight hundred and fifty-one thousand, one hundred dollars. It's amazing. It's just absolutely -- this is more fun than I've ever had in my life.

HANNITY: Look, you know, for those that don't fully and completely understand the whole story here, Rush, why don't you just explain it to them?

LIMBAUGH: All right, let me make it as brief as I can. I had a call on my program on a Wednesday. I guess this was about two weeks ago now. I'm still amazed how long this has survived.

And two days prior to that, NBC -- or ABC's World News Tonight had done a story on Jesse MacBeth, the phony soldier, one of the many people who's never served, didn't even survive through boot camp, and claimed he had been in Iraq, claimed he had been a Green Beret, and a Purple Heart and all this, and saw all these atrocities, sort of like John Kerry in Vietnam.

And on the day of the questionable call, I had done a morning update on Jesse MacBeth. And I think this is Wednesday when this all happens. The guy calls and claims to be a Republican and claims to be a soldier, that we're losing, why don't I just admit we're losing? Why can't we get out of there and save the soldiers, and so forth?

Another guy calls after that and says, you know, I hate these guys. The media always goes and finds these guys that do not support the mission. And these guys that never served, and they're just fake. And I said, yeah, the phony soldiers. Two words that I uttered have been now magnified and blown up into, like, hundreds of thousands of words by now.

I have, in 20 years of my broadcast career, have never denigrated a serving serviceman, regardless his political opinions whatsoever. I was strictly talking about these fakes, these phonies that never served and claimed that they did, saw all these atrocities that they didn't see. And it happened to happen a week or so after the "General Betray Us" ad, so the left totally had that backfire on them, after [Gen. David] Petraeus showed up at the congressional hearings, the Senate and the House. The American people loved the guy.

The MoveOn.org ad in The New York Times just backfired totally. So they had to deflect that, and they thought they would focus on me. And this led to Senator [Harry] Reid [D-NV] accepting the words of an organization called Media Matters for America, which is a Hillary Clinton front group, which is designed to get her elected president, and went to the floor of the Senate, read a letter, asked as many senators as possible to sign it condemning me, and asking the syndication partner of mine, Mark Mays, the CEO of Clear Channel, to also condemn me, make me apologize, spank me, this sort of thing. And we got hold of the original letter. Mark Mays gave it to me. We put it on eBay to auction it off. We're up to $851,000 because this -- Sean, this is just a -- one of the most -- in my lifetime, one of the most focused abuses of power that I've ever seen.

[...]

COLMES: Let me talk to you for a second about the phony soldiers comment, because those who criticize you have pointed out you said "soldiers," plural, and that when you played it back a couple of days later, you edited out about a minute and 35 seconds of time. So it wasn't clear initially you were talking about one particular soldier.

LIMBAUGH: I did not edit -- here's what we edited out, for the purposes of my website. You know, Alan, brevity is the soul of wit. That is what Shakespeare said. The second caller, after discussing the phony soldiers, went into a discussion of weapons of mass destruction.

At the time he's doing that, I am talking to my producer on the other side of the glass on the IFB, I'm saying, "Find the commentary I did yesterday morning on Jesse MacBeth," who, by the way, whose birth name is Jesse Al-Zaid. Find me that commentary. This guy is going on. He's got diarrhea of the mouth about weapons of mass destruction. I'm asking people to find this commentary so I can illustrate what I mean by phony soldiers.

We edited -- that was about a minute and a half or a minute and 45. When we put the transcript up -- and I finally told this guy, I said, "Look, weapons of mass destruction is a moot point now. Whether they're there or weren't there, that's not -- it's not relevant because the situation in Iraq has gone way beyond that." We just edited that out.

It had nothing to do -- there was nothing hidden. There was nothing I was trying to cover up. You've got to stop listening to these partisans and these propagandists at Media Matters for America. They are nothing but a bunch of hacks who are producing the prime time at MSNBC. If they ever went dark, MSNBC -- er, Media Matters, MSNBC would have nothing to say.

They do -- Alan, you have a radio show, and I have a radio show. You have a website. I have a website. All you have to do is turn on the radio to listen to each of us or go to our websites.

The drive-by media does not listen to my show, does not go to my website. They take for granted whatever Media Matters says about what I said is true. It is irresponsible. It's journalistic malpractice, and it's silly. We edited that out simply for the sake of brevity and to stay on point. When we got to the -- when I found the commentary, when they printed it out to my printer behind me, that's when I got rid of the call, and that's when I started in repeating a commentary on Jesse MacBeth that I had aired the previous morning.

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