Letterman and Limbaugh

Why these two are more alike than different

Recent days were marked with a peculiar combination of news stories that brought two mainstays of the entertainment industry back to trending status on social media—David Letterman and Rush Limbaugh. While being two distinctively different stories, there is also a curious similarity between the two…

February 17 saw the passing of Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio personality. Love him or hate him, Limbaugh knew how to work a room and instinctively knew how to rile up his frenzy of listeners known as Dittoheads. Radio Personality is an appropriate moniker for Limbaugh because he most definitely was playing a character when sitting at the microphone. It is doubtful that he walked down his street calling his neighbors Femi-Nazis, and was, in all likelihood, a likable man. And a smart man who understood the pipeline he had tapped into, growing his base and popularity by appealing to right-wing listeners who appreciated his humor and insight while he unabashedly made fun of liberals and any caller daring to lean left.

It was a curiosity as to why left-leaning people called into his show to argue his politics and rhetoric. Surely, they understood that they would become his radio-wave punching bag. He never let up and never uttered the words, “Maybe you have a point,” to anyone daring enough to question his beliefs and insight. He didn’t have to, for his dittoheads weren’t tuning in for thoughtful discussions. They were there to cheer him on while he steamrolled differing opinions. Limbaugh knew this and never disappointed his listeners.

Which brings us to David Letterman, host for many years of The Late Show on network TV, and now on Netflix with My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman. He is an entertainer who understands that his success is tied to being a smart interviewer who doesn’t shy away from asking the uncomfortable questions. He doesn’t pretend to be a nice guy. Instead, Letterman takes delight in making his guests squirm in the hotseat. So it should come as no surprise that there are numerous instances of him belittling guests—ranging from Lohan, Cher and Winfrey to Justin Bieber, back when he was just a kid invited to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman.

While there is probably extraordinarily little crossover in the target audience for these two entertainers, one thing makes them remarkably the same. Simply put, David Letterman is, and Rush Limbaugh was, a bully.

As the popularity of these two bullies grew, so did their actions, as they took delight in strangling and cutting off the voices of select guests who made the unfortunate decision to appear on their shows. While most of us mature as we grow older, so should our penchant for belittling those around us. And as we condemn or applaud the action of these two men, perhaps we should understand that they grew in power because we were clapping and cheering on the sidelines. They are a mirror of us.

Heidi McCrary is a writer and author of Chasing North Star. Keep up with her at https://heidimccrary.net/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HeidiMcCraryAuthor

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