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10 fact-checks of Rush Limbaugh, Medal of Freedom winner

Rush Limbaugh reacts after first Lady Melania Trump presented him with the the Presidential Medal of Freedom as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address (AP) Rush Limbaugh reacts after first Lady Melania Trump presented him with the the Presidential Medal of Freedom as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address (AP)

Rush Limbaugh reacts after first Lady Melania Trump presented him with the the Presidential Medal of Freedom as President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address (AP)

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan February 5, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • PolitiFact has fact-checked Rush Limbaugh 42 times since 2009; 81% of his statements have been rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.
  • Limbaugh’s inaccurate ratings frequently were false statements about former President Barack Obama.
  • Limbaugh has also been a persistent critic of climate change.

President Donald Trump awarded conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, at the State of the Union address on Feb. 4. The White House website says the award is for people "who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

First Lady Melania Trump gave the award to Limbaugh in the gallery of the U.S. Capitol. Limbaugh was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and told his listeners he would have to miss days on his radio show to receive treatment.

PolitiFact has been fact-checking Limbaugh since 2009. Here’s a look back at our 10 most significant fact-checks of the radio host. 

"Obamacare is . . . the largest tax increase in the history of the world."

This is Pants on Fire. The Affordable Care Act did include limited tax increases, but they were much smaller than tax increases signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. Obamacare is not the largest tax increase in American history and therefore cannot be the largest in the history of the world.

"11 straight years of no major hurricanes striking land" in the United States "bores a hole right through the whole climate change argument."  

This is Pants on Fire. Looking only at major hurricanes that hit the United States ignores storm activity around the world. Also, storm frequency does not strictly correlate with rising temperature. Finally, many other data points prove that climate change is real.

"Climate change is nothing but a bunch of computer models that attempt to tell us what's going to happen in 50 years or 30. Notice the predictions are never for next year or the next 10 years. They're always for way, way, way, way out there, when none of us are going to be around or alive to know whether or not they were true."

This is False. Earth is the hottest it has ever been, and the impact is observable. Also, climate change predictions from decades past have largely been borne out. Some models project out into the future because it shows trends. But scientists also have near-term projections available.

President Barack Obama "wants to mandate circumcision."

This is Pants on Fire. Limbaugh in 2009 cited a Fox News story about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studying circumcision as a way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, because studies showed the procedure reduced the transmission of the disease from women to men. The recommendations have been under discussion since 2007, when George W. Bush was president, and Obama had never spoken on the issue. 

People "can't go fishing anymore because of Obama."

This is Pants on Fire. In 2010, an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force was studying regional water policy. Limbaugh took that early discussion about the use of waterways and twisted it to make it sound like a ban on fishing. 

Says House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump "doesn’t feature the opposition party, it doesn’t feature cross-examination."

This is False. Republicans on the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees — 47 in total — participated in hearings organized as part of the impeachment inquiry. Those members asked questions and actively critiqued the House Democrats’ actions. 

"You can't read a speech by George Washington . . . without hearing him reference God, the Almighty."

This is False. There are several public comments from Washington that don’t reference God, most notably Washington's second inaugural address. It had no references to God, direct or indirect. Nor did Washington's Second Annual Message to Congress, the sort of speech that would come to be known as the State of the Union.

Washington admired religion in general, saying in his 1796 farewell address that of all the habits that lead to political prosperity, "Religion and Morality are indispensable supports." But he feared religious sectarianism. He wrote that religious disputes are "the most inveterate and distressing," that they could "endanger the peace of society," and the Constitution established "effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny."

Says Obama shut down NASA space flights and turned the agency "into a Muslim outreach department."

This is False, but it’s an exaggeration of a real incident. New NASA chief Charles Bolden said in 2010 that Obama had made improving relations with the Middle East a priority and that Obama had told Bolden "to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering." The White House later clarified Bolden’s remarks, with spokesman Robert Gibbs saying, "That was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA."

Says the Obama administration "planned the influx of illegal alien children at the border."

This is Pants on Fire. The reasons for the 2014 surge of children from Central America at the U.S.-Mexico border were outside the control of the administration. The actual causes were rampant violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; limited capacity in this country to quickly send these children home; and a belief in Central America that if you get over the border, you can stay in America. No expert we reached gave any credence to the idea that the administration planned it. 

The children coming across the southern U.S. border "were never examined after they got here and quarantined if they had a disease. They were just sent out across the country. Many of them had measles ... We now have an outbreak of it all because of our immigration policy."

This is Pants on Fire. Limbaugh was one of several voices linking illegal immigration to measles in 2015. The idea was that the children had measles and Washington took no precautions before allowing them to stay. But the federal government did examine the children; the protocol, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, was to provide "vaccinations to all children who do not have documentation of previous valid doses of vaccine." Three years later,  a measles outbreak in the United States was largely attributed by the CDC to a lack of vaccination in the Orthodox Jewish community.

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10 fact-checks of Rush Limbaugh, Medal of Freedom winner