Cooper: Rush Limbaugh a conservative pioneer

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2020 file photo, Rush Limbaugh reacts as first Lady Melania Trump, and his wife Kathryn, applaud, as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. Limbaugh, the talk radio host who became the voice of American conservatism, has died. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Individuals can quibble about whether the State of the Union address was the proper venue in which to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom last week, but the recipient who was awarded is every bit as deserving as the hundreds of people already honored.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who announced a day earlier he had advanced lung cancer, is as much of a pioneer and innovator in his field as other names on the list.

People under 30 have no idea what it was like when they couldn't chose from a cornucopia of sources for their news and information, and in just what flavor they'd like them.

Today, they can get their broadcast news with very liberal, mainstream liberal, business, conservative and comedic viewpoints.

But before June 1, 1980, when CNN made its debut, people had only three television broadcast news channels from which to select, ABC, CBS and NBC. The Public Broadcasting System also had some news shows, but they had a limited following.

The news divisions of the three broadcast channels also handled most of the radio news segments that stations aired at the top and bottom of every hour.

Most of the news had a left-wing bent, but it wasn't as blatant as it is today. And people couldn't do anything about it because that's all there was.

But more than half the people in the country were moderate to conservative. Increasingly, they didn't feel like the news spoke to them.

That's where Limbaugh came in. After a four-year stint doing a radio talk show that featured political commentary with a conservative bent in Sacramento, California, he was hired to do a similar show at WABC in New York City in 1988. The show entered national syndication the same year.

In the decade before the internet, when television was king, he drew millions of listeners - on more than 650 stations - to the 70-year-old medium of radio. It was a phenomenon.

Shortly thereafter, Limbaugh wrote two bestselling books further explaining his conservative values and helmed a syndicated television show from 1992 to 1996 that drew him even wider acclaim.

Conservatives loved him because they never had anyone in the media who spoke their language or voiced their viewpoints. Democrats hated him with the rancor they reserve for President Trump today.

They hated him because he was horning in on their domination of news and information. They hated him because they knew a majority of the country's population thought like him. And they hated him because he could skew them with the same type of humor they had used to berate conservatives in the past.

In the early years of his well-known show, Limbaugh frequently turned his humor on feminism, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton and environmentalism, among other subjects.

He also called out the hypocrisy in the use of the term racism, the unfulfilled climate change scares and the excesses of animal rights.

As with Trump, we believe there are times when Limbaugh goes too far with what he says and how he belittles people. Instead of making us laugh, he can make us cringe.

Also like Trump, the talk show host has his foibles. He's been married four times, has had an acknowledged addiction to painkillers, and has admitted to being a college dropout and being fired from numerous jobs.

But Limbaugh, with a radio show that appealed to conservatives, was onto something. Numerous other conservative hosts have ridden his popularity to start shows of their own, and Fox followed his lead and began a news organization with a conservative bent in 1996.

Today, Fox News has topped all cable news sources for more than 17 years and has been the most watched cable network for nearly four years.

Meanwhile, Limbaugh, 69, still garners some 15.5 million listeners a week and can claim the most-listened-to radio show in America.

Previous Presidential Medal of Freedom honors have gone to the likes of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II but also to imperfect individuals such as Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby and Ted Kennedy.

Indeed, if perfection were the qualification, no names would be on the list. But does Limbaugh, who saw a place for a broadcasting niche that wasn't being filled and pioneered it, deserve a place beside the other two award winners from radio, Lowell Thomas and Paul Harvey? You bet.