BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." The conservative
icon, Rush Limbaugh, by far the most popular and influential radio talk
show host in the United States, stunned his listening audience on Friday,
announcing he was checking himself into a medical facility to combat
his addiction to painkillers. Joining us now for some reaction to Limbaugh's
revelation are three of his fellow radio talk show hosts. In Philadelphia,
CNN contributor and WPHT radio host, MICHAEL SMERCONISH. In Los Angeles,
the veteran radio talk show host, Michael Jackson. And here in Washington,
the radio host and syndicated columnist,
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS. Gentlemen, welcome to "LATE EDITION."
The cover of Newsweek magazine, and I'll put it up on the screen shows
this: "Rush's World of Pain." The subhead, "His path
to pill addiction, hypocrisy and the media wars. The scourge of oxycontin."
Let me begin with you,
MICHAEL SMERCONISH. This is a huge story. Why is it as big as it is?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, because there is a lot of
hypocrisy, at least in the eyes of the media who are covering this story.
He has always had a very moralistic tone to his program, and as a result,
I think that his credibility has been permanently wounded. In the same
way that I can't look at Bill Bennett the way that I used to look at
him, talking about virtues, now knowing that he likes thousand-dollar
pulls of the slot machine. You've got the same issue with Rush.
BLITZER: ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, the story was originally broken in the
National Enquirer: "Rush Limbaugh Caught in Drug Ring, Cops' Probe
MICHAEL SMERCONISH says that there's an element of hypocrisy here. Is
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, of course. I mean, he's
talked about Darryl Strawberry and others on his show. No one can deny
that. But even if there was not an element of hypocrisy, Wolf, I mean,
it is still a huge story. This has been going on for years. The man
is addicted to drugs. Some would say that he is a junkie. The fact that
he could cover this and involve other people in his behavior, we don't
know, all the facts have not come out yet, the smart thing that he's
doing right now is that he has not said anything. But it's amazing that
he was able to do this. And now all of a sudden he's checked himself
into drug rehab for 30 days, and we know that it's going to take much
more than that, that he's been in denial. And for other people who've
been in these conditions, I mean, he has such a mountain to climb. It's
just shocking and devastating, regardless of whether he's a hypocrite
BLITZER: Let me let Michael Jackson in Los Angeles weigh in as well.
Michael, how big of a problem does Rush Limbaugh have right now?
RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He has a problem with drugs. He does not have
a problem with his audience, the most ardent of his fans calling themselves
ditto-heads. In fact, I think ditto-heads would apply to many of the
conservative talk show hosts who try to emulate Rush, but they can't.
He is the most significant and important radio talk show host ever.
That means the past half-century. When I listen to him, which is seldom,
I disagree with him. When he went on the air with his hearing problems,
I was amazed at the man's stamina and fortitude. I am not bowled over
by the way in which he's reacted to the revelations about of his drug
problems. I've heard talk show hosts of conservative bent saying that
the man was brave and honest. Oh, baloney. He was outed
by the National Enquirer. That's why he was honest. There was no other
path, no other course of action that he possibly could have taken. I
don't think he will see a diminished audience at all. I know he cannot
cure himself in 30 days, or be helped by experts. Twice before, at least,
he was unable to. I hope he's giving authorities the information about
the people with whom he dealt. I know how he relished jumping on Bill
Clinton and Hillary Clinton. He's a little more humble when his own
failings are shown.
BLITZER: Well, let me -- let's let our viewers listen to what precisely
what Rush Limbaugh said at the end of his broadcast on Friday. Listen
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LIMBAUGH: Immediately following this broadcast, I
will check myself into a treatment center for the next 30 days. (END
BLITZER: Now, shortly thereafter, I interviewed Alan Dershowitz, the
Harvard law professor, who had to say this in response to Rush Limbaugh's
decision to check himself into a rehab center.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: The checking
in is a legal tactic. That's not something his doctor told him to do.
That's something his lawyer told him to do. You always check yourself
in when there is an investigation of that kind. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: MICHAEL SMERCONISH, among other things, you're a lawyer. Legally
speaking, he's got some serious problems. Checking into a rehab center,
is that part of the legal strategy?
SMERCONISH: No. I think that's a cheap shot by Alan Dershowitz. I mean,
I don't think it will ever get to the point, Wolf, where they'll go
after Rush for this type of a transaction. If you believe everything
that has been printed in the National Enquirer, and I've read it, they
never go after a person who is at the bottom end of that chain of custody
of the drugs. They'll go after the people who are the suppliers, but
it will -- and I also think there'll be a perception that Rush has suffered
enough with the public outing. No prosecution of Rush Limbaugh, in my
BLITZER: Well, you know, in the Newsweek magazine, that cover story
that I just read that's coming out today, Michael, they make the point
that that's not true, that in Florida they very often do go after those
buying the illegal prescription painkillers, especially if they are
personalities, someone that they can make an example of to show the
rest of the community how bad this is. Hold on, let
MICHAEL SMERCONISH respond.
I don't buy it. I think that Roy Black is the best in the business.
If I ever got myself into a jam, he'd probably be the first guy that
I'd want to call as well. But you cannot convince me that it was a legal
strategy for Rush to check in. I want to give him the benefit of the
doubt and accept the fact that he really wants to be treated.
BLITZER: All right, let's listen to another excerpt of what Rush Limbaugh
told his listeners on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LIMBAUGH: I'm not making any excuses, and I don't
intend to. You know, over the years, athletes, celebrities have emerged
from these treatment centers. They've come out to great fanfare and
praise for conquering great demons. They are said to be great role models
and examples for others. They've gotten a lot of praise for doing this.
I want you to know that I'm no role model. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, because when I listen to that comment
from Rush Limbaugh, I was reminded of what he told me almost exactly
three years ago, when I interviewed him on the eve of the presidential
election. There were stories circulating that then-Governor George W.
Bush had had a run-in, he had a traffic accident while he was drunk,
supposedly, and at that time, listen to what Rush Limbaugh told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LIMBAUGH: I think the thing for the American people
to focus on is the present and the future -- how he's dealing with it.
With George W. Bush, if I may, there's no pattern of behavior here.
This is a one-time thing. He faced the cameras, he didn't lie, he didn't
make excuses, didn't try to make himself a victim, didn't blame it on
anybody else. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Armstrong, how is he handling this right now, Rush Limbaugh,
based on the advice he had for a lot of other people who had similar
problems, their fall from glory, if you will? WILLIAMS: I think he's
handling it in an exceptional way. The fact of the matter is, someone
said here today that he was outed; he had no choice. I just think this
guy has been in a lot of pain. He's suffered. I just think these drugs
has really impacted his thinking. But the fact is, he has not lied.
He has not made excuses. He's -- as he just said, "I'm no role
model." He has flaws. He's dealing with it. And he says to his
audience, "When I'm able to give you more information, I will."
And he did just that. I think he's handling it, and I think he's a fine
BLITZER: Michael... WILLIAMS: His...
BLITZER: Michael Jackson, let me let you respond. But as you respond,
I want to put up on the screen a quote, a widely publicized quote from
1995. Rush Limbaugh said this: "Too many whites are getting away
with drug use. Too many whites are getting away with drug sales. The
answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it,
convict them and send them up the river." A lot of people recalling
that quote, referring to the problems -- potential legal problems --
Rush Limbaugh has right now.
JACKSON: I was watching Barbara Walters the other night with Courteney
Cox and her husband, who talked about smoking heroin. If you're white
and a celebrity, you go on television, mea culpa, and not only is all
forgiven, you become almost a hero. This guy has a sickness. OxyContin,
Lorcet -- they are terribly powerful drugs. He's got a problem. But
he's the same guy, over and over again on -- over the years, has said
put them behind bars, those who abuse drugs. Drugs are abusing him right
now. I feel great pity for him. He will be treated fairly. His celebrity,
I don't think, will help him at all, because we love to make an example
of people who have stature or high visibility. This man has problems.
Though I disagree with him, he's a brilliant, brilliant broadcaster.
He's wrong on so many issues. I love combating him. He'll come back.
He'll be stronger than ever.
BLITZER: And a lot of our viewers,
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, will remember that it was only a couple of years
ago he signed a $285 million, nine-year contract to continue that very
popular radio program. Friday night, Al Franken, who has been a great
critic -- a great nemesis to Rush Limbaugh over the years, the author
of "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations,"
was on "Newsnight" with Aaron Brown, and he said this. Listen
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL FRANKEN, AUTHOR: I don't think you can do it rigorously
on a show. I have listened to him enough, done enough books on him that
he is always -- he's a dishonest demagogue. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think? Can Rush Limbaugh,
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, survive this, go back to his listeners as Michael
Jackson suggests and have a successful program in the years to come?
SMERCONISH: Yes is the answer to that question. I think what happens
is that when he cleans himself up and gets back on the air, his audience
is actually enhanced, because everybody is going to want to listen to
the new Rush Limbaugh and was he able to weather the storm. Long-term
I think he can hold his base intact, but his credibility suffers, because
the next time that he launches into a diatribe that's moralistic in
nature, you're going to have to sit back and listen and take it with
more of a grain of salt. And, Wolf, that comes from somebody who likes
Rush. I consider his politics to be much the same as mine. But I have
to be honest. He's taken a huge blow credibility-wise.
BLITZER: All right, MICHAEL SMERCONISH, I'm going to ask you to stand
by. I want you to stand by for our next segment. But Michael Jackson,
ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, I want to thank both of you for joining us. And
just to remind our viewers, the allegations against Rush Limbaugh purchasing
illegal prescription painkillers in Florida are simply that, allegations
at this point. He hasn't been charged. There's been no confirmation
of anything along those lines. Let's not rush to judgment on that front.
Up next, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories. Then, Kobe
Bryant back in the courtroom. Our legal panel debates the controversial
defense strategy during the preliminary hearing. "LATE EDITION"
will continue right after a quick check of the headlines.
BREAK) -end segment