On Thursday, March 15, Rush Limbaugh announced to his listeners that he was starting to tweet. Over the course of a couple of days, he explained Twitter to them. Limbaugh compared Twitter to CB radio and made announcements on the air when he sent out tweets.
"Twitter is almost like digital CB radio now. But all of this social networking, this nonstop texting and tweeting, is like the modern-day CB radio craze."
"At any rate, now that I'm on Twitter, that's been validated. Just as I made Facebook when we announced going to Facebook, these things are now officially big, since I am on both, and we will be tweeting."
There are a few things about all this that did seem a bit curious. For starters, I've been following Rush Limbaugh's tweets for some time now already, and so have over 88,000 other people. So, what gives with this "starting to tweet" business?
Limbaugh said on Thursday:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I've got something somewhat curious and important I want to tell you. Over the years I've said I don't tweet, don't Twitter, and so forth and so on. But I have an account. It's there. I wanted to establish the account in my name. There are a bunch of fake Rush Limbaugh Twitter accounts. But I've decided to actually activate it now and use it for strategic purposes since it has become such an effective means of informing people outside the bounds of this program. Now, I don't know... Those of you who already tweet, to "follow" me, you would simply find me at @RushLimbaugh. Just follow me @RushLimbaugh. It's that simple."
Now, given Limbaugh's comparison of Twitter to CB radio for his listeners, it stands to reason that this verified account was probably administered by someone else within the "EIB" fold. Simple enough. So, what was started that was "new"?
Here's Limbaugh the next day:
"Have you seen how many stories there are in the news media about my announcement yesterday that I'm gonna be more active on Twitter?... And we are going to be posting a couple more things more things today on Twitter. But Politico, CNN, Reuters, a bunch of other outlets picked up that news. Some even mentioned that my "handle" is at @Limbaugh. See, that's citizens band radio lingo."
So, the Twitter handle he meant to announce was @Limbaugh, not @RushLimbaugh. This new account claims to be "The Only Genuine Rush Limbaugh Twitter Feed". But, as noted earlier, @RushLimbaugh is verified. This is all causing no small amount of confusion:
As of today, Monday March 19, @Limbaugh account now has four tweets and 120,785 followers. The content of those tweets is quite revealing about why Limbaugh is making such a fuss about the newer account. All four of them mention @MMFA, which is the Twitter feed for Media Matters For America, a liberal organization that has been reporting on Limbaugh's advertiser losses, dead air radio spots and increasing number of PSAs on Limbaugh's flagship station, WABC. This account is about fighting back against the advertiser boycott. It is about accusing Media Matters of astroturfing or manufacturing the advertiser boycott against Limbaugh. If Limbaugh can paint the boycott as a partisan attack by Media Matters, rather than a genuine grassroots effort by people who were offended by his comments, maybe he can lessen the sting a bit. Maybe he can convince some people that he is being unfairly attacked.
Trouble is, it looks like Limbaugh is out of his depth in this new CB radio. It isn't a place wehre he can control the conversation. His show takes fewer callers than other radio shows. He hasn't published a book since 1993, even though both his books were New York Times best sellers. The problem with the printed word is that it can be examined over time. Predictions and claims can be scrutinized. Limbaugh work is usually free of this kind of scrutiny. He even deletes unflattering transcripts of his own comments from his website.
Of course, you can delete tweets that you regret sending. But, if anyone at all sees it before you realize that it was a terrible idea, a simple screen shot of that tweet will still come back to haunt you. Ashton Kutcher and Patricia Heaton know all about that.
But, social media technology has caught up to Limbaugh. His Sandra Fluke comments, for example, have been spread far and wide. Back in 2006, Limbaugh accused Michael J. fox of faking his Parkinson's symptoms in a televised spot about stem cell research. A Youtube search for “limbaugh michael j fox” nets 189 results. A search for “limbaugh sandra fluke” gets you 734 results. That's 71 more than when we made the same observation last week.
Likewise, Twitter is no bully pulpit. Twitter talks back.
Forbes Magazine says that Limbaugh's decision to tweet about this issue is a terrible idea. He is heading into waters that will not likely be kind fo him, and may even hasten his downfall:
"You might think that a guy with a well-established penchant for blurting out things that brought the world down on his head would want to maintain minimum safe distance from a medium that at times seems to exist primarily to lull smart people into committing public acts of stupidity. The list of public figures who’ve self-immolated, or at least self-maimed, with the help of that little blue bird is long, but a cursory rundown includes Anthony Weiner,Gilbert Gottfried, CNN’s Roland Martin, CNN’s Octavia Nasr, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendendall, and NYU professor Nir Rosen."
Meanwhile, Media Matters For America, for its part, does not seem concerned about Limbaugh's Twitter Offensive. On the day his new account launched, they fired off 13 tweets displaying Limbaugh's remarks from his television show days, his comments about women, and his advertiser woes.