In 2008, radioman Rush Limbaugh signed an eight-year contract for $400 million. Last year, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million. Limbaugh can’t dunk, pass or hit a curveball. Can’t sing, dance or run a hedge fund. So it must be some other prodigious talent that explains the stratospheric paycheck.
The Washington Post has hundreds of reporters tapping thousands of experts to produce articles on a variety of subjects. Limbaugh has a single entry in his Rolodex, filed under "L." He has no academic or scientific credentials, but his secret is taking any subject and making it simple and political, even if it isn’t.
Last week, he proclaimed "polar vortex" was a term invented by the press to explain away the inconvenient cold snap in the midst of that "hoax" known as "global warming." And just like that, his audience became smarter than the rest of us. This assessment required no research and no peer review. He came up with it while doing a radio show and got millions of people to believe it.
Meanwhile, scientists have to study technical data, construct complex models and defend the results to peers before issuing reports. By the time they do that, Limbaugh has moved on to economics, health care, immigration and myriad other topics where he holds forth with authority, if not accuracy.
I had to look up "polar vortex" and found that climate scientists have been using it for decades. But if they’re so smart, why does the radioman with "talent on loan from God" make more money than all of them combined?
Experts in weather and climate acknowledge the limits of science, which is fine when you’re talking to other scientists. But the public wants - and will reward - certitude, especially if a particular topic might disrupt their lives. So Limbaugh rushes in with the comforting certainty that global warming is hokum, even if it is accepted by the scientific community.
So just go about your lives. The radioman has it covered.
OLAF the Terrible. The "polar vortex" is unfamiliar to most people because it usually has the decency to stay home. Think of the vortex as obnoxious Uncle Olaf who lives on the outskirts of the Arctic Circle, where the cold, unforgiving climate mirrors his personality.
One day, Olaf climbs into his car and points it east in search of a bottle. But he soon finds the road blocked in all directions except south, where he rarely goes because it’s too warm. Before he knows it, the detour funnels him into the United States, where he hasn’t been in decades. He’s greeted by signs saying "Go home, Olaf," but he hangs around, raids the fridge, drinks the booze and offers unsolicited advice.
Eventually, the roads clear, and he’s able to weave his way back north.
Yes, winter is cold. The polar vortex covered about 2 percent of North America, which covers about 4 percent of the planet. So pronouncements about global anything require a trip around the world. Argentina just endured its worst heat wave ever. Scorching temperatures in Australia caused 100,000 bats to fall from the sky, and 2013 was the country’s hottest year on record.
It’s expected that once the Earth’s average temperature for 2013 is calculated, it will be among the top 10 hottest years on record, making it the 37th consecutive year the average global temperature was higher than the long-term average. Nine of the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2000.
Still, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, lectured his congressional colleagues on how global warming is "laughable" because it’s cold outside, in winter of all seasons. So if Rush Limbaugh needs a new guest host, Inhofe is qualified.
Just make sure it isn’t summer.
Gary Crooks is associate editor at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Email him at email@example.com.