Rush Limbaugh’s Very Bad Week in Social Media

It’s been an exciting week in Limbaugh Land. There’s no need to recount the tragic story of Rush Limbaugh’s hubris in calling a Georgetown U law student a slut and a prostitute, and then how all his attempts to apologize only seemed to make matters worse, and how he struggles to retain his advertisers even as I write this. No, we’ll leave all that to the mainstream media. What interests me about the Limbaugh saga is its effect in my own social media circles.

Granted, these are small ripples in a quiet backwater. But I’ve learned a few things about “discussions” in social media in recent weeks.

It all begins with my penchant for posing a question each week in Facebook on Saturdays, called, as you might expect, the Saturday Question. Last Saturday’s was: does boycotting Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers infringe upon Limbaugh’s right to free speech?

This one drew a lot of comments, 28 at this point, making it probably the Saturday Question’s #1 hit. About midway through the comment chain, one of my Facebook friends, a professional McLuhanite– that is, an Information Resource Officer for the U. S. State Department – posed this question:

Weird. None of George’s friends are rushing to defend Rush. How’s that possible?

It’s a good question. One wag fired back: “George’s friends are all of above average intelligence?! ;-) ” There’s a certain truth in that, but it’s too facile. I happen to know that among my 236 Facebook friends are approximately 10 or so folks who voted Republican the last time around, good people of the conservative persuasion, people who on the face of it are neither foolish nor craven. Yet none was rushing to defend Limbaugh. Why?

Phoo of Sandra Fluke, the law student Limbaugh attacked.

Sandra Fluke, the law student Limbaugh attacked.

I have a couple of theories, but first I have to tell you of my encounter in Twitter with a fellow I’ll call Jerry Nutso. (I’m not using his actual Twitter handle here because I’d like never to have any further dealings with him, and in the age of Google, I fear that blogging about him would only encourage him. Jerry Nutso, though, is not far from his nom de guerre in Twitter.)

This incident began with Joe Paterno’s death in January. Feeling very bad about Paterno’s sad end and the fact that I’d not publicly defended him in social media the previous fall when the Penn State sex- abuse scandal got him fired, I tweeted out on the day he died:

stat of day: number of Penn State Academic All-Americans while Joe #Paterno was coach = 47

Kind of a subtle statement of support for a man’s life and legacy, wouldn’t you say? Jerry Nutso was monitoring the #Paterno hash tag feed, though, and he was on it right away with this:

How many boys raped on his watch? RT@RasoirJ: stat of day: number of Penn State Academic All-Americans while Joe #Paterno was coach = 47

(For those unfamiliar with Twitter lingo, that RT indicates he was simply retweeting or repeating my tweet and making his own statement on top of it.)

It was pretty clear to me from the outset that Jerry Nutso and I had a profound difference of opinion. And I did give in to the weaker side of my nature. My tweeting reply:

Like your Twitter name. It’s appropriate.

Jerry fired back:

@RasoirJ the name always deprecates the wise from the idiots, wise stock to facts, idiots stab at the name. You’re on the idiot spectrum.

I was a little baffled by Jerry’s phrasing. I wasn’t quite sure whether he was careless of typos (forgivable), dyslexic (also forgivable), or punningly clever in his use of the word “deprecates.”

Trying to flush him out a little further, I decided to use Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy of backing away from an aggressive opponent to let him punch himself out. Thus my reply:

Oops, sorry for the ad nominem attack. Now that you explain it, I see your wisdom. No deprecation intended.

Get it – “ad nominem” – pretty clever on my part. But Jerry came right back with:

wow, great grasp of the English language you have. It’s ad homonym dumb ass.

Now he really had me. Was Jerry Nutso an idiot himself or word-clever in a positively Joycean way? What I realized was that I’d never get the last word with this guy. It was clear he was an attack dog, maybe rabid, who would go down snapping and growling and slobbering till the end.

So I did not reply. But I did go back from time to time over ensuing weeks to lurk on Jerry Nutso’s Twitter feed. I learned more about him, but none of it made me want to know him better. His Twitter profile says this about Jerry:  “The Constitution is about limiting the government, not limitation of the individual.”

I also learned he tweets a great deal – 44 times, for example, on the not atypical day of January 25 – that he has much to say about the Republican primaries, and that he despises Mitt Romney. I no longer think Jerry Nutso has much facility with words. Here’s a representative sample of his tweets:

@NYTFury @Patriot1059 you’re both phonies, keep pushing the phony republican line. I am conservative by the way, just not republican.

Hoping for topless pics RT@breelsilva: Drunk Tweeting Tonight!!! #staytuned

There is no such thing RT@breeLsilva: How slutty is to slutty?

I nominate @garnetscoach for a shorty award in #PedophileSupporter because he loves kid touchers.

@smellywetdog you’re an asshole who isn’t deserving to speak to a lady like @Miss_Wisconsin w/your lack of civility & class must be a lib

#Paterno should have fought child rape as hard as he fought cancer. He was selfish, and narcissistic in life, sacrificed child ass.

Photo of Muhammad Ali doing the rope-a-dope.

Muhammad Ali doing the rope-a-dope.

Somehow I have the feeling that if Jerry Nutso were one of my Facebook friends the response to my Saturday Question on Limbaugh would have been less one-sided, but I can live without him as a friend.

Note: Part 2 of this post will continue tomorrow with a few lessons learned from my experiences with Jerry Nutso and the Rush Limbaugh comment chain.

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