Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize

Early this year, two members of the parliament of Norway nominated former U.S. vice president Al Gore for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. One of the legislators in Norway—where the Nobel Committee is based—argued that Gore deserves the prize to be awarded this fall because Gore “has put climate change on the agenda” and “and uses his position to get politicians to understand.”

In response, the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation nominated another American political figure for the prize: syndicated radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. In the letter nominating Limbaugh, Landmark President and fellow radio talk-show host Mark Levin, pressed the case that Limbaugh “gives voice to the values of democratic governance, individual opportunity and the just, equal application of the rule of law.”

In late March, Reuters wire service reported that the head of the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize, Ole Danbolt Mjoes, appeared to be leaning Gore’s way. After Gore gave a speech on global warming in Norway’s capital city of Oslo, Mjoes joined other audience members in a standing ovation. Mjoes then told the wire service that while he was attending the speech as a private citizen, he thought Gore was spreading “a very important message.” The Reuters story also quoted the head of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo as saying, “I have Gore as clear favorite.”

But in terms of public health issues alone, Limbaugh is more worthy of the prize, argues John Berlau, former award-winning journalist and author of the new book Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health. In a letter shared exclusively with Human Events, Berlau makes the case that due in part to Limbaugh’s correcting of the misinformation on the insecticide DDT, millions may be saved from the ravages of the mosquito-borne disease malaria.

Dear Professor Mjoes:

It has come to my attention that two of my fellow countrymen have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize you will award later this year. They are former Vice President Al Gore and radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. Recently, an article from Reuters made it seem like you were leaning toward awarding the prize to Mr. Gore.

If this is the case, I suggest that you reconsider. I work at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an influential American think tank dedicated to fostering individual freedom and prosperity across the world. I can say without reservation that on one of the most important issues facing the world—a threat far more immediate than global warming—Mr. Limbaugh has made the greater contribution to public health. In fact, Mr. Gore’s contributions regarding this issue, by contrast, have been detrimental to public health.

This issue I’m speaking of is the epidemic of malaria in third-world countries. As you know (or should know), malaria kills more than one million people a year and infects hundreds of millions every year. There is a scientific consensus that the best—and in many cases the only—effective way to control the mosquitoes that spread this deadly disease is with the insecticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, otherwise known as DDT. But DDT unfortunately has been vilified by advocacy groups and the popular press based on junk science.

Over the past decade and a half, Mr. Limbaugh has been at times almost a lone media voice correcting misinformation about DDT and also pointing out its life-saving benefits against diseases like malaria. Mr. Gore, by contrast, has continued to spread DDT myths as well as misleading information about the causes of the malaria epidemic.

Before I go further, let me add this caveat. It would be perfectly understandable to me if neither Mr. Gore nor Mr. Limbaugh became the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. There are many worthy of this honor in America and around the world. But if Mr. Gore is under serious consideration as a Nobel candidate, Mr. Limbaugh should also be considered under the same criteria.

To choose Mr. Gore would be a precedent. He has not accomplished any of the worthy tasks of other Nobel winners, such as negotiating a peace treaty or uplifting those in poverty. Former President Jimmy Carter’s peace prize in 2002 may have been awarded partly as a political swipe at the Bush administration, but the former president at least had the accomplishments of negotiating a Mideast peace treaty and building homes for the poor. Mr. Gore has done none of those things, but instead was nominated, in the words of one who sponsored his nomination, for putting an issue “on the agenda” and using “his position to get politicians to understand.”

If political rhetoric alone is enough to qualify a person for a Nobel Peace Prize, it is my opinion that Mr. Limbaugh is more than worthy of the honor. He too has put issues “on the agenda” and gotten politicians “to understand.” He has built America’s number one radio talk show that reaches more than 10 million listeners every week. He has done this by airing facts and points of view overlooked by America’s dominant liberal media.

He has also used his influence to counter what has become conventional wisdom regarding many environmental scares. And it is here, in his crusade to correct myths about DDT, that he has played a pivotal role in potentially saving the lives of millions of people in the poorest parts of the world.

The Nobel Committee has itself recognized DDT’s immeasurable contribution to public health. In 1948, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Paul Hermann Muller, the Swiss chemist who discovered DDT’s effectiveness at combating the insects that spread deadly diseases. As the Nobel web site entry for Dr. Muller states, “Field trials now showed it [DDT] to be effective not only against the common housefly, but also against a wide variety of pests, including the louse, Colorado beetle, and mosquito,” The web site notes further that during World War II, DDT “proved to be of enormous value in combating typhus and malaria—malaria was, in fact, completely eradicated from many island areas.”

And after World War II, DDT eradicated malaria in vast areas of the world, including parts of the southern United States. The Nobel Committee again recognized DDT’s benefits when it awarded its 1970 Peace Prize to American agronomist Norman Borlaug, who was (and, at age 93, still is) a staunch DDT advocate. Borlaug, whose farming techniques have enabled countries such as India to become self-sufficient in food production, has repeatedly said that DDT is essential for public health in the Third World.

Yet unfortunately, DDT’s tremendous benefits became forgotten by opinion makers and the general public. Instead, baseless allegations about DDT were carelessly thrown about. The main person responsible for DDT’s vilification was American author Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring spurred the modern environmental movement. Mr. Gore, for instance, has long cited Ms. Carson as his inspiration. “Rachel Carson was one of the reasons why I became so conscious of the environment,” Mr. Gore wrote in the introduction to Silent Spring’s 30th anniversary edition in 1994.

Yet Mr. Gore and most other admirers of Ms. Carson never pause to consider the damage done to the world as a result of Carson’s distortions and misstatements about DDT. National news outlets took at face value her largely unsupported allegations about DDT harming birds, and her doomsday predictions of untold damage to humans. As my CEI colleagues Jeremy Lott and Erin Wildermuth recently wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “misrepresentation had ridden halfway around the world before sound science could get its trousers on.”

In 1972, U.S. administrative law judge Edmund Sweeney concluded in a government hearing that “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man.” But the Environmental Protection Agency ignored Sweeney’s finding and banned DDT anyway, in a decision that EPA head William Ruckelshaus would later admit was partly “political.”

After the U.S. ban, reports from newspapers and the then-dominant “Big 3” television networks continued an unending barrage of one-sided stories presenting DDT as “double death twice.” The continued attacks led to further devastating effects. Other countries banned DDT, and forced Third World countries to stop using it as a condition of aid and trade with the West. In Sri Lanka, DDT caused the number malaria of cases to fall from more than 2 million to just 17 in 1963. But after DDT use was halted, the number shot back up again to pre-DDT levels of 2.5 million. Today, Sri Lanka still has hundreds of thousands of cases of malaria every year.

But stories such as that of Sri Lanka didn’t get play, because there was no national media outlet interested in relaying them. Until, that is, Rush Limbaugh began his nationally syndicated radio program in 1988. It was a new era in the American media. President Ronald Reagan had just deregulated the airwaves by getting rid of the stifling “Fairness Doctrine” regulation, and Mr. Limbaugh was the first to take advantage of this freedom by presenting a show with an uninhibited conservative viewpoint. And he told his listeners about Sri Lanka and the untold suffering from insect-borne diseases that had occurred because of the DDT ban.

Mr. Limbaugh showed tremendous courage in taking on this issue. He is an entertainer and provocateur, but there were plenty to topics that may have made easier fodder for his show. But Mr. Limbaugh chose to educate his listeners, and he also referred them to books such as Dixy Lee Ray’s Trashing the Planet, where they would get the tools to dissect the DDT myth and other unfounded environmental scares.

Rush’s megaphone helped the real facts about DDT enter public dialogue as they never had before, and there has been a sea change in opinion and policy. Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development just recently reversed long-held policy and now encourage the limited use of DDT to fight malaria. Even some liberal venues now recognize that DDT’s benefits outweigh its tiny risks. The New York Times Magazine published a largely favorable article on DDT and the paper’s editorial page endorses its limited use in the Third World.

In fact, a prominent activist in the fight against malaria says that Mr. Limbaugh and other talk radio hosts deserve a good deal of credit for educating the public on this important issue. Roger Bate, director of the Washington-based health advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria, noted in an interview that it was conservative members of Congress, particularly Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who pushed the foreign aid bodies to change their policies on DDT. And it was hosts such as Mr. Limbaugh who made it politically possible for them to openly advocate a pro-DDT position.

Mr. Bate told me: “Conservative talk radio played a small but important part in the decisions with DDT. I think that it provided support for the conservative Senators Brownback and Coburn, who were instrumental in pushing this in Congress. Without their prodding, it wouldn’t have happened as quickly. Although they are intelligent in their own right, I think their constituents were involved in pushing them to do what was the right thing, and they were educated by talk radio.”

And where was Mr. Gore? Even after the turnabout by the New York Times and other liberal venues, Mr. Gore has never once said that Rachel Carson was wrong. As late as 1996, he called DDT a “notorious compound” that “presented serious human health risks.” The tragedy is that on this issue, Mr. Gore could have used his tremendous political capital to make a difference in reducing malaria deaths. Instead, he either stood silently by or contributed to worsening the epidemic by joining in the vilification of the best tool to fight malaria.

And Mr. Gore is still hindering anti-malaria efforts by spreading misinformation about its main causes. In his movie and book An Inconvenient Truth, Gore blames global warming for recent outbreaks of malaria in the cooler regions of Kenya. But as I have reported in my book Eco-Freaks and elsewhere, the World Health Organization had documented epidemics in those very regions in the 1940s, long before global warming was on the radar screen. The malaria was wiped out there, as elsewhere, by DDT, and unfortunately, as elsewhere, has now returned in the absence of DDT’s use. Also unfortunate is that the establishment media for the most part has not seen fit to correct Mr. Gore on this and many other dangerous misstatements in An Inconvenient Truth.

But Mr. Limbaugh and talk radio are still there spreading the truth about this and other issues. This is why Mr. Limbaugh — as well as fellow talk show hosts who see it as their mission to educate their audiences about environmental myths, such as G. Gordon Liddy, Mark Levin, and Lars Larson—all would make more deserving recipients of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize than the former vice president.

Thank you for taking this letter into consideration.

John Berlau

HUMAN EVENTS readers may also share their opinions on who should be the Nobel Peace Prize recipient by e-mailing the Nobel Committee at [email protected]

Or by writing to:

Professor Ole Danbolt Mjoes
Norwegian Nobel Committee
Henrik Ibsens gate 51
NO-0255 Oslo