Limbaugh's return to the microphone: Will his signal fade?
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To Alan Marcus, a crisis manager who's handled Donald Trump's myriad ups and downs, the difference between Limbaugh and other "fallen moralists" is that Limbaugh's fans have bought into the idea of as an entertainer, not a preacher. What's more, he has handled the situation as a true man of the media. That, and an atmosphere of constant scandal that has expanded Americans' patience for personal problems - perhaps, some say, to a fault.Skip to next paragraph
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"These self-righteous preachers, whether they wear the cloth or not, eventually fall," says Mr. Marcus. "It just happens more and more in today's culture, because there are no secrets anymore."
But Rush's "secret" is a paradox, too: After all, his wit wasn't dulled on the waves. Some say his ordeal could become a turning point in the mystique - and illicitness - of drugs, or spark a debate about addiction, and even drug use at work.
Limbaugh could follow the lead of libertarian talk-show host Neal Boortz in Atlanta, who said last week that Americans should be able to buy all drugs over the counter. Or he could use his case to support antidrug efforts.
Or, worries Fairfax, Va., writer Jacob Sullum, author of "Saying Yes: In defense of drug use," Limbaugh could blame the drugs and doctors who prescribed them. In the long run, Mr. Sullum says, that could make it harder for people in need to procure certain painkillers. "The reason the public is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt has to do with his perception that this is not the same ... as being a heroin addict," he says. "But assuming he was using it to relieve stress or unhappiness, I think it's very much the same."
Limbaugh has called for jailing more white drug users. But many fans say that's hardly the core of his quest. Sure, he may have thrown out a Rush-ism about Jerry Garcia, but "I just don't remember any long rants about [drugs]," says Rogers.
At any rate, most listeners, despite their status of "ditto-heads," make their own judgments about Limbaugh's "practical" approach, says Dan Wise, a furloughed pilot perusing the Raleigh fleamarket. It is, they say, part of the appeal: "A lot of the time, I'll yell out, 'Right on Rush,' but other times I'll yell, 'Rush, you're way out there on this one!' " says Mr. Wise.
What few debate is Mr. Limbaugh's influence since reviving the AM format in the 1990s. He commands broad respect for carrying the flag in a conservative revolution still sweeping the nation. And it's not just truck-driving tobacco farmers who tune in: He's made inroads with coastal elites from Washington to Hollywood.
Philadelphia humanities professor Camille Paglia, a Democrat who voted for Bill Clinton, agrees: "He is a master broadcaster who singlehandedly revived AM Radio and whose dynamic influence can be felt in talk radio from coast to coast," she writes in an e-mail.
In the end, some say, radio personalities may be the true Teflon crusaders: Oliver North (arms to Iran) and G. Gordon Liddy (part of the Watergate robbery) are only two examples of tarnished figures who've come roaring back on the dial.
"It's these fallen figures who do the best on talk radio," says Mr. Marcus, the crisis manager. "Nobody wants to listen to the guy who lives a clean life, who doesn't cheat on his taxes, and who doesn't have a drug problem - how interesting could that guy be? I'm sure Rush is going to be much more entertaining now. At a dull moment, he can always refer back to his eclipse."