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Conservative Radio Host Rush Limbaugh's Influence On The Media


He is one of the biggest names in conservative American talk radio, and yesterday, the influential and at times controversial host Rush Limbaugh shared some health news with his millions of listeners.


RUSH LIMBAUGH: I wish I didn't have to tell you this, and I thought about not telling anybody. I thought about trying to do this without anybody knowing because I don't like making things about me. But there are going to be days that I'm not going to be able to be here because I'm undergoing treatment or I'm reacting to treatment.

GREENE: Limbaugh says that treatment is for advanced lung cancer. The diagnosis came after he says he was experiencing a shortness of breath. I want to bring in NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Hi there, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Can you just describe how towering a figure like Rush Limbaugh is in conservative media?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he's been a figure for so long it may be hard to remember. But in a sense, he was Fox News before there was Fox News - you know, a nationally syndicated radio show. He's now 69. He started out in the '80s. He was a radio DJ, highly talented. In the mid-'80s he, in Sacramento, hit on a format that included a commentary on the news, taking calls, offering a conservative take. And then in the late '80s, he went to WABC here in New York City, and he built a national platform.

Such an important figure that by 1994, Newt Gingrich and his cadre, his wave of Republicans who took over the House of Representatives for the GOP for the first time in decades, appointed him an honorary member of the class of 1995. They gave him an enormous amount of credit of helping them with messaging, helping them get out the vote, helping them incentivize voters to help them sweep back. So he was - he's been a mainstay ever since.

GREENE: Well, I know it's been, like, more than a decade, but you interviewed him back in 2007. And you talked about, you know, the fact that he's a divisive personality at times and also about the political polarization of that time.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. In its way, it was a great interview. I loved it. He loved it. He played it for several days. We were doing a series about trying to bridge polarized divides. And his idea was, not my problem. His idea was, people have been smotheringly civil for so long that it's papered over a lot of concerns conservatives have, and it's left us out of the conversation. Here's what he had to say.


LIMBAUGH: Getting along is not the objective when it comes to the war on terror, when it comes to tax policy. To me, defeating, politically, people I disagree with is the order of the day, and I don't think I defeat them by compromising with them.

FOLKENFLIK: He was a performer - he is a performer. He's a broadcaster. He's very savvy about what he does, but he also has political sensibility and embraces it and spreads it.

GREENE: I mean, millions of people tune into his show and know his voice. But even those who aren't fans know him for news that he sometimes generates. I mean, he's just no stranger to controversy.

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, there's a number of them - some of them, not all, but a lot of them involving women. Sandra Fluke was a law student who testified about birth control access. He basically called her a prostitute. When Nancy Pelosi took over as speaker over a decade ago, he questioned whether she - jokingly, whether she'd be breastfeeding. He invented the phrase feminazis (ph) - a lot of controversy there for a lot of reasons over the years.

GREENE: OK. Again, the news - Rush Limbaugh is in treatment for advanced lung cancer. He announced that to his listeners yesterday. Speaking about him and his role with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.


(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "BECOMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.