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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Limbaugh Deal Best Evidence of Conservative Pundits Hypocrisy

I made it through my first CNN appearance without looking too bad -- though I don't know why I used the phrase "confidential sources" to refer to people featured in an ABC News broadcast. But another subject came up which got me to thinking: the recent plea deal agreed to by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

As Howie Kurtz laid out the circumstances of Limbaugh's deal -- a single count of doctor shopping, which will hover over him like a buzzing gnat until and unless he stays out of trouble for 18 months -- Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit insisted Limbaugh wouldn't have been treated so harshly if he weren't famous.

This is the reflex of support I've noticed among many Limbaugh supporters as this drama has played out amid allegations the radio host received some 2,000 painkillers from four different doctors to feed an addiction to narcotics such as OxyContin.

He's only trying to relieve chronic pain. He's only abusing prescription drugs. He's a first-time offender who would never receive such attention if he weren't famous or conservative.

But, unlike Glenn, I had heard of Penny Spence. She was a 33-year-old Pembroke Pines woman who had a bottle of 48 percoset pills confiscated by police after a traffic accident. She said they were her mother's medication and she was taking them to treat persistent back pain. Authorities responded by using drug laws to charge her with trafficking -- giving her a choice between facing a 25-year prison sentence through trial, or a deal including two years' house arrest and a felony record.

And there's Richard Paey, a 45-year-old man left in constant pain due to back injuries from a car accident. His case, profiled by 60 Minutes, among others, was simple: in need of increasing pain meds which his doctors were afraid to prescribe (repeated scrips for heavy dosages draw investigators), Paey forged prescriptions.

There is no evidence he sold any pills, but because the amount he obtained weighed more than 28 grams, he was also charged with trafficking. As a first-time offender, he was offered a deal which included years of house arrest and a record.

So why the double standard for Limbaugh? Because he has a high-powered attorney? Because he has high-powered supporters? And if he deserves a settlment which allows him to plead not guilty and a charge which disappears with good behavior, don't these people?

This, of course, is something we see all the time. Conservative pundits love to stress the virtues of standing on your own two feet -- until they are the ones who need help.

My friend Bill Maxwell noted this once in a column which pointed out that black political figures who frowned on Affirmative Action and insisted racism was a thing long past, often changed their tune when they felt the sting of race-based oppression themselves. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, one-time presidential candidate Alan Keyes and anti-Affirmative Action crusader Ward Connerly were three such men, stalwart opponents of playing the race card until their personal goals were threatened.

As I said on CNN, the motivations behind this deal seem obvious. Prosecutors faced a long struggle with one of the nation's best criminal attorneys, and Limbaugh faced seeing details of his addiction added to the public record. A deal allows both sides to declare victory and put the issue in their rear view mirror, though Limbaugh seems to have gained the most here.

Still, I wish an event like Limbaugh's arrest would convince his Dittohead supporters of the arbitrarily harsh nature of Florida's drug laws. Absent the wealth to hire a first-rate attorney, many first-time offenders find their addictions lead to arrest with a relatively small amount of drugs which nevertheless can trigger trafficking charges and extended jail terms. Sometimes, gaining a felony record is less about personal responsiblity and more about personal wealth.

Instead, I fear Limbaugh's fans will simply make excuses for him and pretend his case is somehow special. As if the only people who deserve understanding for crimes committed in the throes of addiction are people who have insisted such compassion be denied to others.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]

    

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