Phony soldiers controversy
The phony soldiers controversy ensued when the media watchdog site Media Matters brought attention to the "phony soldiers" remark made by Rush Limbaugh during a conversation with a caller on his radio talk show. Critics claim that he was referring to Iraq war veterans critical of the war. Limbaugh argued that the comment referred to persons falsely claiming to be such veterans.
In response to Limbaugh's comments, United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to Mark P. Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications. The letter of complaint requested that Mays "publicly repudiate these comments and ask Mr. Limbaugh to apologize" for the remarks. The Reid letter was signed by 41 Democratic senators. Limbaugh obtained the letter and sold it on eBay for $2,100,100, the record for a charitable auction on that site. He promised to donate the funds to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation with a matching donation of his own.
On September 21, 2007, the Associated Press released a story in which Doug Carver from the Office of the Inspector General of the Veterans Administration called individuals who never served in the military and attempted to defraud the government of veteran benefits "Phony War Heroes":
"The phony war hero phenomenon ... tarnishes the service of thousands of veterans who have served honorably," -- Doug Carver
The story was about Jesse Macbeth, who claimed at the onset of the Iraq War that he had personally witnessed attacks on Arabs in mosques and abuses of civilians. In reality, he did not graduate from Army boot camp. He was also receiving veteran benefits after he made those claims. MacBeth was eventually sentenced to 5 months in prison.
On September 24, the ABC News program World News with Charles Gibson ran a segment on "phony heroes". The show's opening stated that "A famous recruiting slogan once touted the Army as a place to be all you can be. But increasingly, scam artists are posing as the war heroes they never were, claiming credit for acts of courage in Iraq and Afghanistan."
September 26th broadcast transcript
On the September 26 radio broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh took a call from two listeners. The first, a man who claimed to be a Republican and former member of the military, expressed a desire for the US to withdraw from Iraq. The second, responding to the first caller, complained that the media never talked to "real soldiers". In response to the caller saying "They pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media", Limbaugh said "the phony soldiers". After the conversation, Limbaugh read aloud the Associated Press article about MacBeth.
The unedited transcript of the conversation is as follows:
CALLER: Hi, Rush. Thanks for taking my call.
LIMBAUGH: You bet.
CALLER: I have a retort to Mike in Chicago, because I am serving in the American military, in the Army. I've been serving for 14 years, very proudly.
LIMBAUGH: Thank you, sir.
CALLER: 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, what these people don't understand, is if we pull out of Iraq right now, which is not possible because of all the stuff that's over there, it would 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.
LIMBAUGH: There's a lot more than that that they don't understand. The next guy that calls here I'm going to ask them, "What is the imperative of pulling out? What's in it for the United States to pull out?" I don't think they have an answer for that other than, "When's he going to bring the troops home? Keep the troops safe," whatever.
LIMBAUGH: 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 pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media.
LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.
CALLER: Phony soldiers. If you talk to any real soldier and they're proud to serve, they want to be over in Iraq, they understand their sacrifice and they're willing to sacrifice for the country.
LIMBAUGH: They joined to be in Iraq.
CALLER: A lot of people.
LIMBAUGH: You know where you're going these days, the last four years, if you sign up. The odds are you're going there or Afghanistan, or somewhere.
CALLER: Exactly, sir. My other comment, my original comment, was a retort to Jill about the fact we didn't find any weapons of mass destruction. Actually, we have found weapons of mass destruction in chemical agents that terrorists have been using against us for a while now. I've done two tours in Iraq, I just got back in June, and there are many instances of insurgents not knowing what they're using in their IEDs. They're using mustard artillery rounds, VX artillery rounds in their IEDs. Because they didn't know what they were using, they didn't do it right, and so it didn't really hurt anybody. But those munitions are over there. It's a huge desert. If they bury it somewhere, we're never going to find it.
LIMBAUGH: Well, that's a moot point for me right now.
LIMBAUGH: The weapons of mass destruction. We gotta get beyond that. We're there. We all know they were there, and Mahmoud even admitted it in one of his speeches here talking about Saddam using the poison mustard gas or whatever it is on his own people. But that's moot. What's more important is all this is taking place now in the midst of the surge working, and all of these anti-war Democrats are getting even more hell-bent on pulling out of there, which means that success on the part of you and your colleagues over there is a great threat to them. It's frustrating and maddening, and why they must be kept in the minority. I want to thank you, Mike, for calling. I appreciate it very much.
Here is a Morning Update that we did recently, talking about fake soldiers. This is a story of who the left props up as heroes. They have their celebrities and one of them was Army Ranger Jesse Macbeth. Now, he was a "corporal." I say in quotes. Twenty-three years old. What made Jesse Macbeth a hero to the anti-war crowd wasn't his Purple Heart; it wasn't his being affiliated with post-traumatic stress disorder from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. No. What made Jesse Macbeth, Army Ranger, a hero to the left was his courage, in their view, off the battlefield, without regard to consequences. He told the world the abuses he had witnessed in Iraq, American soldiers killing unarmed civilians, hundreds of men, women, even children. In one gruesome account, translated into Arabic and spread widely across the Internet, Army Ranger Jesse Macbeth describes the horrors this way: "We would burn their bodies. We would hang their bodies from the rafters in the mosque." Now, recently, Jesse Macbeth, poster boy for the anti-war left, had his day in court. And you know what? He was sentenced to five months in jail and three years probation for falsifying a Department of Veterans Affairs claim and his Army discharge record. He was in the Army. Jesse Macbeth was in the Army, folks, briefly. Forty-four days before he washed out of boot camp. Jesse Macbeth isn't an Army Ranger, never was. He isn't a corporal, never was. He never won the Purple Heart, and he was never in combat to witness the horrors he claimed to have seen. You probably haven't even heard about this. And, if you have, you haven't heard much about it. This doesn't fit the narrative and the template in the Drive-By Media and the Democrat Party as to who is a genuine war hero. Don't look for any retractions, by the way. Not from the anti-war left, the anti-military Drive-By Media, or the Arabic websites that spread Jesse Macbeth's lies about our troops, because the truth for the left is fiction that serves their purpose. They have to lie about such atrocities because they can't find any that fit the template of the way they see the US military. In other words, for the American anti-war left, the greatest inconvenience they face is the truth.
On September 28 Limbaugh published an edited audio and transcript versions of the September 26th exchange. Deleted from what he called the "entire transcript" was a one minute 35 seconds exchange. Limbaugh provided, according to Media Matters, no "notation or ellipsis to indicate that there is, in fact, a break in the transcript of the September 26 clip he used." Media Matters referred to the edits as being employed "selectively" in an attempt to "recast" the controversy while he "misrepresented" his comments.   Media Matters published the September 26 transcript and audio with September 28 edits. The excepted transcript below notes and highlights the deletions.
CALLER 2: A lot of them -- the new kids, yeah.
LIMBAUGH: Well, you --
[begin Limbaugh edit]
LIMBAUGH: -- know where you're going these days, the last four years, if you signed up. The odds are you're going there or Afghanistan or somewhere.
CALLER 2: Exactly, sir. And, and my other comment was -- and the reason I was calling for -- was to report to Jill about the fact that we didn't, didn't find any weapons of mass destruction. Actually, we have found weapons of mass destruction in chemical agents that [inaudible] been using against us for awhile [sic] now.
I've done two tours in Iraq. I just got back in June and there were many instances of -- since [inaudible] not know what they're using in their IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. They're using mustard artillery rounds. The VX artillery rounds in their IEDs.
Because they didn't know what they were using, they didn't do it right, and so it just kind of -- it, it didn't really hurt anybody but there are -- those munitions are over there, it's just -- it's a huge desert. If they've buried it somewhere, we're never gonna find it.
LIMBAUGH: Well, you know, that's a moot point for me right now --
MIKE: Rush --
LIMBAUGH: -- the weapons of mass destruction. We gotta get beyond that. We're, we're there. What -- who cares if, if -- we all know they were there and, and Mahmoud [Ahmadinejad, Iranian president] even admitted it in one of his speeches here about -- talkin' about Saddam using the poison mustard gas or whatever it is on his own people -- but that, that's moot, right? What, what's more important is all this is taking place now in the midst of the surge working.
And all of these anti-war Democrats are getting even more hell-bent on pulling out of there, which means that success on the part of you and, and your colleagues over there is, is a great threat to them.
[end Limbaugh edit]
On September 27, 2007, Media Matters for America published a report headlined "Limbaugh: Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are 'phony soldiers'", touching off a series of rebukes from Democrats demanding that Limbaugh apologize. John Kerry called Limbaugh's comment "a disgusting attack", and stated, "In a single moment on his show, Limbaugh managed to question the patriotism of men and women in uniform who have put their lives on the line and many who died for his right to sit safely in his air-conditioned studio peddling hate."
The Senate rebuke drew criticism from Congressional Republicans like Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado who said on the floor of the House of Representatives, "Mr. Speaker, I rise today to denounce the liberals' fraudulent attacks on Rush Limbaugh. Anyone who reads the widely available transcript, as I have done, sees that Mr. Limbaugh was appropriately referring to the pretenders who pose as medal winners, or who falsely claim to have committed atrocities in Iraq, when he used the phrase "phony soldiers." No, the real scandal here is that liberals in America and here in this Congress are willing to manipulate facts to smear those they disagree with. But there’s an even more insidious agenda by liberals going on, and that is to reinstitute the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which is actually a way to silence conservatives on the radio waves. Mr. Limbaugh deserves mega kudos for being a forceful and effective voice on the side of common sense and for being an example of the First Amendment in action. After all, isn’t that what our country is supposed to be about?"
In the days that followed Limbaugh stated on his radio program that when he referred to "phony soldiers" he was specifically referring to Jesse MacBeth, whom he mentioned by name in the dialogue of his show, and those who never actually served.
On October 2, 2007, Harry Reid authored a two-page letter to Mark Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications (the radio company which broadcasts the Rush Limbaugh show) requesting that he "publicly repudiate these comments and ask Mr. Limbaugh to apologize."
Forty-one U.S. Senators, all of the Democratic Party, signed the letter, four of whom were running for the Democratic nomination for President: Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and Barack Obama. The other signatories are Harry Reid, Blanche Lincoln, Richard Durbin, Kent Conrad, Bob Menendez, Charles Schumer, Barbara Mikulski, Patty Murray, Byron Dorgan, Bill Nelson, Daniel Akaka, Dianne Feinstein, Max Baucus, Tom Harkin, Jack Reed, Daniel Inouye, Jay Rockefeller, Barbara Boxer, Edward M. Kennedy, Ken Salazar, Sherrod Brown, John Kerry, Bernie Sanders, Robert Byrd, Amy Klobuchar, Debbie Stabenow, Benjamin Cardin, Mary Landrieu, Jon Tester, Tom Carper, Frank Lautenberg, Jim Webb, Bob Casey, Patrick Leahy, Sheldon Whitehouse, Carl Levin, and Ron Wyden.
Clear Channel response
On October 2, 2007, Mark Mays sent a reply to Senator Reid stating, "I have carefully read the transcript from the episode in question. I hope you will appreciate that I can not speak with authority to whom exactly Mr. Limbaugh's comments were directed or what was his intent. Only Mr. Limbaugh can speak to those issues, which he has done." Mays goes on to explain to the Senate Majority leader that, "The first Amendment gives every American the right to voice his or her opinion, no matter how unpopular. That right is one I am sure you agree must be cherished and protected." Mays then turned the Reid letter over to Rush Limbaugh.
On October 11, 2007, on his "Rush to Excellence" tour in Philadelphia, he announced that he would be putting the letter on eBay the following day to sell to the highest bidder, the resulting revenue to be turned over to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, a charity which provides scholarships and assistance to the children of servicemen and police officers killed in the line of duty and an organization for which Limbaugh is a Director and one of the chief fundraisers.
On October 19, 2007, the letter sold for a record $2,100,100 to Betty Casey, Director of the Eugene B. Casey Foundation. Limbaugh matched the donation with his own money bringing the total donation to the Foundation to $4,200,200. Betty Casey remarked, "The Eugene B. Casey Foundation believes freedom of speech is a basic right of every citizen of this country. Their purchase of the smear letter was to demonstrate their belief in this right and to support Rush Limbaugh, his views and his continued education of us."
Within an hour of the record setting auction closing, Senator Reid addressed the issue again on the floor of the Senate stating, "I strongly believe when we can put our differences aside, even Harry Reid and Rush Limbaugh, we should do that and try to accomplish good things for the American people."
- Strom, Stephanie (2007-10-20). "Limbaugh Sells Critical Letter for $2.1 Million". NY Times. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Limbaugh, Rush (2007-09-28). "The Anatomy of a Smear: "Phony Soldiers" Is a Phony Story".
- Mooney, Alexander (2007-10-03). "Clear Channel defends Limbaugh after 'phony soldiers' remark". CNN. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- "Rush Limbaugh's Auction of Original 'Harry Reid Smear' Letter Goes for $2,100,100: A Record-Breaker on eBay for Charity Auction" (Press release). Premier Radio Networks/PRNewswire. 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- "Phony soldiers cost VA, tarnished medals". KOMO TV. 2007-09-21. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Ross (ABC News), Brian (2007-09-24). "A Closer Look" Operation Stolen Valor". World News with Charles Gibson. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
- "How Long Is Too Long for Victory?". radio transcript. Rush Limbaugh. 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
- "Like radio show, transcript on RushLimbaugh.com selectively edits his "phony soldiers" comments". radio transcript. Media Matters. 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2010-08-13.
- "Limbaugh falsely recasts "phony soldiers" smear". Media Matters. 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2007-10-24.
- "Limbaugh: Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are "phony soldiers"". Media Matters. 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Mooney, Alex. (2007-10-01). "Top Democrat blasts Limbaugh for 'phony soldiers' comment". CNN. Retrieved 2007-10-23.
- Mulkern, Anne C. (2007-10-09). "Colo. Rep. Lamborn gets thanks from Limbaugh". Denver Post. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Reid, Harry (2007-10-02). "Letter to Clear Channel" (PDF). Clear Channel. Retrieved 2007-10-27.
- Mays, Mark P. (2007-10-02). "Letter to Harry Reid" (PDF). Fox News. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- "Limbaugh Letter Fetches $2.1 Million on eBay". Fox News. 2007-10-21. Retrieved 2007-10-22.
- Ferraro, Thomas (2007-10-19). "Reid-Limbaugh spat raises $2.1 million for children". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-10-22.[dead link]
- Rush on Fox News Channel's BYA -11.16.07