(CNSNews.com) - After five weeks of rehabilitation for drug addiction, Rush Limbaugh returned to the airwaves on Monday, to the delight of his fans and the consternation of his critics.
"As I was saying about five weeks ago...," the conservative radio personality began his first program since announcing on Friday, Oct. 10, that he was addicted to prescription painkillers and was checking into a rehabilitation facility for at least 30 days.
"I was a drug addict from about 1996, 1995 or whatever, to just five weeks ago," Limbaugh said Monday. "The truth of the matter is I avoided the subject of drugs on this program for the precise reason that I was keeping a secret."
Limbaugh called his rehabilitation "probably the most educational and intense five weeks on myself that I have ever spent...I have to admit that I am powerless over this addiction that I have," he said. "I used to think I could beat it with force of will. I used to think that I would be different, but I'm not."
The conservative commentator also denied he had been hypocritical about his drug use.
"Just because I may have been doing something that appeared to be contradictory to what I was suggested others do doesn't mean that what I was suggesting others do was wrong," Limbaugh said. "Critics want to harp on all this hypocrisy, there is no hypocrisy in this."
Limbaugh also expressed his profound gratitude to listeners for remaining loyal to him and his syndicated weekday program.
John Hogan, chief executive officer of Clear Channel Radio, told MediaDailyNews there was little fallout from the problems experienced by Limbaugh, whose program airs in more than 600 markets and attracts about 20 million listeners per week.
"During his absence, we have maintained 100 percent of our affiliate base, and we have maintained our advertiser base," Hogan said. "This is an unfortunate turn of events for Rush, but our advertisers and our affiliate base have remained firmly behind him."
Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, said he felt Limbaugh's crisis had "slightly re-invented" him. "He's the same basic Rush that people have come to know very well, with a new element to it as an unknown that increases his value as a radio property."
As might be expected, other reaction to Limbaugh's return mainly fell along political lines..
William Bennett, who served as drug czar during the administration of President George H. W. Bush, told the New York Times that Limbaugh was at the center of "a human drama about a guy who's having huge success, takes a huge step down, and is now trying to get himself in shape."
Bennett added that Limbaugh deserved to be judged less severely than former President Bill Clinton, who was impeached in 1999 over his deceptions regarding an affair with a White House intern.
"He's not president of the United States," Bennett said of Limbaugh. "He's not blaming his accusers. He's not lying. He's not lying under oath."
However, liberal columnist Ellen Goodman told the Washington Post that Limbaugh "is going to have a little trouble talking in quite such a self-righteous voice about the weaknesses of other human beings."
Critics might go easier on Limbaugh if he becomes "a kinder and gentler Rush," Goodman said, "but if he remains the person who is judgmental and eagerly trashing his opponents, you'll find the charge of hypocrisy from the non-Rush fans."
Limbaugh received support from a somewhat unexpected source: Alan Colmes, the liberal co-host of the Hannity & Colmes program on the Fox News Channel.
"I think this will make him a better broadcaster, perhaps a more nuanced broadcaster," Colmes said on Monday. "Maybe it will change his views on a couple of things.
"I think it's hard when you are someone who as a broadcaster takes a righteous stand, a moralistic stand, and that is your message," Colmes added, "and you convey that message to other people, and you have to live up to that, or you're in trouble."
Nevertheless, Colmes stated he doesn't believe Limbaugh's recent troubles will hurt him with his audience. "He is a great broadcaster. What people understand about Rush Limbaugh is that he's an entertainer. He's not a politician. He's not making policy. He entertains people, and this is part of the whole entertainment genre."
While Colmes acknowledged that other liberals will attack Limbaugh as a hypocrite and question his credibility, "a good liberal would wish him godspeed and a speedy recovery," he said. "I only wish him well."
"I just have one more thing to say," Limbaugh remarked at the end of his broadcast on Monday. "A memo to you liberals: The party's over. I'm back."
See Earlier Story:
Rush Limbaugh Gives Glowing Review of Drug Rehab (Nov. 17, 2003)
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