EIB High Note: Rush’s Trip to Afghanistan

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TODD: In 2005, Rush decided to visit Afghanistan to get a firsthand look at what was going on. Remember, he’d lost his hearing and relied upon a cochlear ear implant to hear and understand interpreters. Even there, he encountered bureaucrats trying to block his access to the truth. Peggy O’Ban was the trip organizer. She described the process and our Maha’s impact.

O’BAN: I was trying to set up an appointment with President Karzai working with his staff, and Karzai was on board, and it was gonna be at the palace. And then comes… Rush was preparing for it. And then comes down word from this deputy chief of mission, the foreign service officer, that Rush was just a media guy and that we don’t set up appointments for media to talk to the presidents and it would be demeaning to him.

So, all this back-and-forth with me and the chief of mission deputy that he’s not really just a media guy; he’s a major opinion shaper, and he has more of a following on any given day than any of the network commentators that we’ve tried so hard to get to come to mission to actually see the soft power work that America is accomplishing.

Okay. So, this went on and on. And then, you know, he has the final word. He says no. Seems to me that Khalilzad, the ambassador, was out, and I couldn’t reach him directly. So I was stuck, and so I was calling back to Washington and making clear that we’re having difficulty on this one. Karzai is supposed to… is expecting Rush that evening.

Of course, Rush doesn’t know anything about this. You know, all of these backstory things, I felt like it was my job to protect him from it at the time. So, lo and behold, word came down directly from the White House, our White House, that our president wanted Rush to be able to talk to President Karzai (chuckles), and the doors flew open. I was so relieved (laughs) because the clock was ticking.

So instead of a 15-minute sort of, you know, quick kind of preliminary and out the door, they had this rich and wonderful and thoughtful conversation in the palace for I’m sure it was at least 45 minutes with Rush free to ask whatever questions he wanted to. And, of course, Rush had always done his homework. And it was a wonderful thing to see. The respect, the mutual respect with Karzai knowing that our president wanted him to be able to talk to Rush.

TODD: It’s 8,000 miles between our nation and Afghanistan, half a world away, but not if you’re a fellow radio broadcaster. Even in the most remote village of this far away country Rush found an admirer of his great panel talents. Listen to Peggy O’Ban describe it.

O’BAN: We took Rush up to Herat, which is in the northern area close to Iran. It has this exotic sort of Persian influence and this rich heritage with language and poetry, and we introduced him to these young students who were these broadcasters in training, and this was… This was… (interruption) Yeah. The look on your face, you know what’s coming.

But, you know, my feeling about it was that we were like, you know, in the medieval period, just the look of the place, and that they would have no idea, you know, who Rush was. We could never say who we were bringing, because that would be a security issue. We just had to say, “We’ll be visiting,” you know, “We’ll be showing up at a particular time.”

So, you know, we get on the C-130 plane, and Rush was fascinated and all the details of the planes and would always talk to pilots. And we get up there, and it was a typical “get into the armored vehicles,” and it’s this bumpy ride way out on a dirt road, and here’s this broadcaster-in-training program, which, as I told you before, means radio in Afghanistan.

Nothing else but radio is the media, because of the illiteracy rate and the lack of, you know, television, et cetera. So Rush spoke a little bit, and they asked questions, and the questions that they asked were questions like, “How do you balance liberty, justice, and objectivity?” You know, the questions — and then he just would be like, “You gotta be kidding me.

“You’re asking me the question that I wish every journalist at home would care about?” You know. So he was getting more and more encouraged about this next generation of broadcasters-in-training, and then we went into this back room where the engineer and people were that work the machinery.

And there was one guy who’s a little older. He was maybe 21 or 22, and I introduced him as Rush Limbaugh, and his whole face looked like I had just said, “Now, this is God. (laughs) I want you to meet God.” He knew exactly who Rush was. He was so thrilled, he could hardly talk. I was afraid he was gonna get down on his knees!

TODD: Yeah. Don’t do that. That will end poorly in Afghanistan.

O’BAN: Oh, so true.

TODD: Yeah. Yeah.

O’BAN: And it was just so sweet, ’cause Rush was so touched, you know, that they would have heard of him way in the hinterlands, and after a day of hearing all the right questions, to now meet someone who thought of him as the sort of ultimate, was pretty darling. Really sweet.

TODD: Wonderful Good to know. We didn’t have time to get all of Peggy O’Ban’s comments on the air. This EIB High Note is that Rush refused to leave the camps… Anywhere he went where there were troops, when the troops wanted to see him, Rush refused to leave the area until everybody who wanted to see the Maha did it. He turned to Peggy and said, “Are you sure?”

That’s how much he loved you.

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