Charles Sykes and Mark Belling employ Limbaugh logic to do Todd Rongstad’s ill-fated bidding.
I was very disappointed earlier this month when rightwing radio star Rush Limbaugh gave up his job as an ESPN pro football analyst. I really was.
I was not disappointed that Limbaugh fanned the flames of racism or that he offended Donovan McNabb by claiming the sports media overrates the Philadelphia Eagles all-pro quarterback because he is African American.
Rather, I was disappointed because sports analogies are illustrative, and in Limbaugh’s few weeks as a football commentator he managed to do a great job of illustrating just how demonstrably full of crap he is. Football games have final scores and players compile precisely recorded statistics. Hours after Limbaugh made the stupid remarks that eventually cost him his job, McNabb had a big game and his team won 23-13. Life and politics are often not so clearly understood, the results not so immediately known.
In Limbaugh’s first week on the job at ESPN, the buzz in the NFL was over the New England Patriots’ premature release of all-pro defensive back Lawyer Milloy. The ex-players who sat on the ESPN panel with Limbaugh said Patriot management’s brazen disloyalty would affect Milloy’s ex-teammates and make it hard for them to win their season opener against Milloy’s new team, the Buffalo Bills. Limbaugh said football players are immune to all that pro-labor stuff and predicted a big win for the Patriots. Final score: Buffalo 31, New England 0.
Mental blocks, intellectual blind spots and an aversion to facts cause Limbaugh to blame trees for global warming and argue that prison sentences are better for addicts than drug treatment (with one notable exception) on his daily radio show. He is wrong virtually every time he opens his mouth; his errors are just easier to spot when he is talking football.
Court cases and elections are sort of like football in this way. There are winners and losers, beginnings and ends, and sometimes we get to see how wrong the analysts are.
Take, for example, the Lassa v. Rongstad lawsuit and the “analysis” offered by Milwaukee’s own rightwing radio stars, Charles Sykes and Mark Belling.
Julie Lassa sued Todd Rongstad for defamation for producing and mailing a postcard that used sexual innuendo and computer graphics to accuse her of committing crimes. Rongstad did it last fall at the behest of Alex Paul, a wealthy young man who was worried that Lassa might run against him if there were a Democratic primary in Wisconsin’s 24th Senate district. As it turned out there was a primary, Lassa did run against Paul, and she beat him even though he broke the state Senate's primary spending record.
In addition to an unlimited personal bankroll, Paul also had Wisconsin’s most high-profile campaign consultant and the endorsements of the governor and the senator he was vying to replace. But Lassa creamed him, 68 percent to 32, because voters were appalled by Rongstad’s postcard and seemed to believe it represented Paul and his campaign. Let me repeat: Lassa won.
Rongstad then lost the lawsuit Lassa filed against him (Lassa’s attorney was FightingBob.com editor and publisher Ed Garvey). Rongstad was so uncooperative in court and put up such an inept defense that Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi ruled against him in a default judgment on August 15. At one point Rongstad was found in contempt of court and fined $1,000 a day. To review: Rongstad lost.
Lawsuits can drag on for a long time at great cost in the sentencing phase, and by winning her lawsuit and her election Lassa had already proven her point. So Lassa did what anyone in her situation would do by negotiating a settlement with Rongstad. The settlement was expensive for Rongstad, requiring him to pay all of Lassa’s attorneys’ fees and make a contribution to a charity.
Like a desperado emptying his gun in the air as he goes over a cliff, Rongstad used the publicity afforded him by news of the settlement to continue to attempt to impugn Senator Lassa. The self-described “political hit man” penned oddly reasoned news releases, gave nonsensical newspaper interviews, and filed a complaint with the state Elections Board that was dismissed within hours of when it was received.
Sykes and Belling took up Rongstad’s cause and employed Limbaugh logic in trying to claim that Lassa lost, the moon is made of green cheese, and two plus two equals 759.
Sykes devoted a week of airtime to promoting Rongstad and attacking Lassa on his daily WTMJ radio show. In columns, Sykes depicted Rongstad as a hero for free speech and bizarrely claimed that the court violated his man’s right to free association by requiring him to disclose who paid for the defamatory postcard (it was Paul). Sykes accused Lassa of attempting to participate in a “cover up” by settling her lawsuit.
Belling does his work on another Milwaukee radio station, but he joined Sykes’ chorus on the air and in print. Belling wrote that Lassa “dropped” her suit against Rongstad when the going got tough, apparently unaware or unwilling to admit that she won. You cannot “drop” a lawsuit you have already won.
Sykes recently took time off from railing against Lassa to shill for ex-Senator Gary George, another thoroughly discredited Rongstad client. Despite all the hours of airtime Sykes used up on his behalf, George lost his October 21 recall primary to Spencer Coggs by a margin almost as large as the one by which Paul lost to Lassa. With George now gone, expect Sykes to rededicate himself to helping Rongstad attack Lassa.
That’s fine, because Sykes’ faulty arguments and empty charges probably cannot hurt anyone. The constituents in Lassa’s district have already shown that they are too smart to fall for these tactics, and the courts prefer facts to whatever it is that Sykes traffics. Still, am I the only one who would like to see him turn his attention to football?
October 26, 2003
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Dustin Beilke is a FightingBob.com contributing editor who lives in Madison.