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August 13, 2014

No, Rush Limbaugh Did Not Say That the Leftist Worldview Drove Robin Williams to Suicide

I can't chastise the media too much over this because when I heard his remarks -- out of context -- I also thought Limbaugh was saying Williams' pessimistic, everything-is-awful Leftist worldview contributed, somehow, to his suicide.

I thought that suggestion (and understand now, I am specifically saying Limbaugh did not intend this suggestion) was both ignorant and weird.

Ignorant, of course, because only a complete imbecile would not know at least a little about depression.

And weird, because it suggests an anti-humanly worldview in which there is literally no emotion, no impulse, no fear, no joy which is not in some way directly sprung from ideology.

I was kind of shocked that Limbaugh would say such a thing. I think he often seems too ideological, but certainly he's very intelligent -- certainly he's not ignorant. Certainly he is not unaware of depression, and certainly he doesn't think it's "just something the Liberal-Psychological Complex is making up."

In fact, having listened to his remarks in context as well as his explication of what he'd meant, I think it's pretty clear he's telling the truth, and did not mean to suggest such a dumb thing.

He set up the whole segment as a discussion about the politics of the coverage of Robin Williams' death. The media coverage of it-- not the suicide itself.

His first few remarks about it were a very fair criticism of the media's maudlin celebration of him, and heaping praise and sympathy on him.

Why is that a problem?

Well, think about it: There are tens of thousands of suicidal people in the world at any moment. What is the Very Last Thing you could possibly want to say to such a person?

That you'll be praised as a wonderful human being who just felt the pain of the world too intensely, and that your decision to take your own life (leaving behind emotionally-slain children!!!!) is completely understandable and even, if not quite justifiable, certainly deserving of sympathetic respect.

The problem with giving this sort of adulation to a suicide is not because we don't want to praise the person who killed himself.

The problem is that we don't wish to suggest to the tens of thousands of still-living potential suicides that we support them in their decision.

This is a dicey thing. On one hand, we do not wish to sound callous about someone who, reportedly and very plausibly, lived a less-than-happy life due to clinical depression. Our hearts go out to such persons-- as they go out to anyone living his life with a serious burden.

But on the other hand, we must not be so praiseworthy as to give encouragement to other people currently living right on the edge!

Limbaugh noted, quite properly, this tension, this ambiguity. How should we talk about suicides?

To call them "cowards" -- as Shep Smith did -- is to be cruel to they themselves (though, being dead, they can hardly feel the sting of the epithet), and yet it is also to be kind to those who have suicidal thoughts, and more importantly, to the families of those having suicidal thoughts.

We do not wish to put those families through the living nightmare of a suicide. For the rest of their lives, they will wonder: "What did I miss? Could I have done more? Was it all my fault?"

A suicide is actually a murder in which the killer makes his own family and close friends self-suspected conspirators in the murder for the rest of their lives.

So yes, we do wish to exhibit normal human sympathy for the dead.

But on the other hand, we do not want to encourage more people to kill themselves, thereby put more innocent victims (such as Robin Williams' daughter Zelda) through the never-ending pain of always wondering, "Was I actually responsible for my father's self-murder?"

It's tricky, and people come down on this in different ways.

Limbaugh found that the media was being too praiseworthy of Williams, too understanding, and thus, with every good intention in the world, they wind up giving the signal that it's really okay to kill yourself, if that's where your demons drive you.

Do they intend that? Of course not! They intend nothing so terrible as that. But this is the natural consequence of being too effusive about a suicide.

As I said, it's Tricky.

Sometimes by being cruel, you wind up being kind.

And sometimes by being kind, you wind up being cruel.

At any rate, Limbaugh then went on to make his remarks about the "leftwing worldview." Here's what he said (but remember the running context of looking at the politics of media coverage of the suicide, not the actual suicide itself).

Also note that the below is a transcript of Limbaugh commenting upon the remarks he made the day before.

Here's what I said yesterday that's being totally distorted, taken out of context -- and predictably so, by the way. I should have known yesterday. I should have given you a heads-up it was gonna happen. Here it is.

RUSH ARCHIVE: So our last caller from Des Plaines, Illinois, wanted to know, "What is the politics in the coverage of the suicide of Robin Williams?"

RUSH: Stop the tape.

RUSH ARCHIVE: Well, I believe there is some.

RUSH: Stop the tape. Did you hear what I said? "'What is the politics in the coverage of the suicide.'" Not, "What is the politics in the suicide." And that's what I addressed. Resume tape.

RUSH ARCHIVE: But I don't think that the politics is driving it. I think there was, on the part of media and Hollywood, genuine affection for the guy that is driving it, but there is politics. If you notice the coverage is focused on how much he had, but it wasn't enough. "He had everything, everything that you would think would make you happy. But it didn't." Now, what is the left's worldview in general? What is it?

If you had to attach not a philosophy but an attitude to a leftist worldview, it's one of pessimism and darkness, sadness. They're never happy, are they? They're always angry about something. No matter what they get, they're always angry. They are animated in large part by the false promises of America, because the promises of America are not for everyone, as we see each and every day.

I mean, right here there's a story on the Fox News website. Do you know, it says right here, that the real reasons that Robin Williams killed himself are he was embarrassed at having to take television roles after a sterling movie career. He had to take movie roles that were beneath him, sequels and so forth, and he finally had to do television just to get a paycheck because he was in so much financial distress.

He'd had some divorces that ripped up his net worth, and he had a big ranch in Napa that he couldn't afford any longer and had to put up for sale, and a house in Tiburon that he couldn't afford anymore. This is all what's in the Fox News story. He had it all, but he had nothing. He made everybody else laugh but was miserable inside.

I mean, it fits a certain picture, or a certain image that the left has. Talk about low expectations and general unhappiness and so forth. Right here it says that one the contributing factors to Robin Williams deciding to kill himself was "survivor's guilt." It's in the headline.

What Limbaugh is saying is that the left has a particular worldview -- none of your money or accomplishments mean anything, etc. -- and are using that worldview to frame the story of Robin Williams.

That is, they're applying their narrative to the event.

He's not talking about the suicide itself, but about the media's applying their "leftist worldview" to create a narrative.

Is that a good point? Um... no. The media's narratives here are the easy, stupid, obvious narratives -- "The man who had it all felt he had nothing;" "The clown who made us laugh was crying on the inside" -- that are so stupid and basic that they're very much sub-political.

You don't need a political worldview to come up with a painfully hack storyline.

Never explain by ideology what can be explained by the Rule of Easy and Dumb:

In Modern America, Dumb is Easy and Easy is Holy!

But while you can criticize him for making a weak point, Limbaugh really shouldn't be criticized for a point he didn't make, or at least did not intend to make.

I would also note that his "leftist worldview" remarks connect up, sort of, with his initial criticism of the media for being so effusively pro-Williams as to be effectively pro-more-families-ripped-to-pieces-by-suicide.

Imagine if the media had dropped its stupid, thoughtless Let Us Praise This Man Because He Was a Celebrity impulse and instead got really into the topics of depression, the possibility of cure (which most depressives won't acknowledge, because depression makes you think that you are doomed forever), and, most importantly, the painful and life-changing impact of a suicide on his family.

Which would be the more thoughtful, useful, and pro-social message, as between those two options?

But no: We get days of "Robin Williams, the Magical Sprite Who Was Too Magical For This Base World." *

One more point: I've had 48 hours to think about this, then I had an hour to pre-write it in my head, and then write it, and then lightly edit it.

Writers need to admit the obvious: We writers have much more control over our words than someone speaking (for three hours) without a script, extemporaneously.

The various scolds in the print media might do the world a favor and consider their own extemporaneous speech -- not the polished product of their writing -- is not always the most precise thing, and is frequently open to misinterpretation because, of course, it takes time and patience to get the words on the page to precisely match the thoughts in your head.

This time is not available when speaking live, off-the-cuff. There are naturally going to be imprecisions and ambiguities.

Writers should stop seizing upon these in order to read them with the most outrageous and uncharitable meaning possible.


* The worst message I keep seeing is that He inspired us. Rack up the clip from Dead Poets Society.

Do we really want to push the "he inspired us" storyline about a man who hung himself while his wife slept in the next room?

Update: A fairly solid Slate article criticizes this kneejerk feel-goodery from the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences (SCIENCES!!!):


I'll have to check the timeline, there, but the fact that Williams' death was a suspected suicide (suspected enough that the police came right out and said so right off the bat, which I doubt they do when it's more ambiguous) was known from the very first minutes of the reportage of his death.

Ergo, when the Academy tweeted this, they knew -- or suspected -- it was a suicide.

I don't want to beat up on them too hard because as I keep saying: this is a tricky thing to handle.

Nevertheless, this is another example of where the media's embrace of a dumb, easy storyline filled with nothing but thoughtless feelgoodery actually works against the public interest.

We should not be saying of suicides, "Now you're free, O blessed Spirit!"

I think that's sort of obvious. Isn't it?


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posted by Ace at 04:40 PM

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