In this case, Limbaugh made his original smear during his 9/26 program. To put the comment in context, Limbaugh was answering calls from listeners. The first caller, "Mike from Chicago" identified himself as a Republican and said that "I do believe that we should pull out of Iraq. I don't think it's winnable." Limbaugh proceeds to ridicule him, then takes a second call, who begins by saying that he as a "a retort to Mike in Chicago," and proceeds to make a lot of pro-war comments, referring to what "these people don't understand." Shortly afterwards, these exchange occurs:
LIMBAUGH: I -- it's not possible, intellectually, to follow these people.
CALLER 2: No, it's not, and what's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media.
LIMBAUGH: The phony soldiers.
So it's not clear who "they" are, but it seems that soldiers who talk to the media against the Iraq war are "phony soldiers."
This comment was immediately attacked by a number of individuals and organizations, because there are many, many real soldiers who have been critical of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and have called for the withdrawal of American troops. (See, for example, the coverage given to this remark by Media Matters for America.)
Okay, so Limbaugh has uttered another casual, baseless, smear. Nothing new there, and hardly newsworthy. Except that Limbaugh tries to deny that he said what he said.
In his September 28 broadcast, Limbaugh claims that the "phony soldiers" (plural) comment was not about "the anti-war movement generally," but only "about one soldier ... Jesse MacBeth." Limbaugh then claimed that Media Matters "selectively choose what they want to make their point" and then aired what he said was "the entire transcript, in context."
There are at least two problems with those statements:
1. The first mention of Jesse MacBeth (or any other person impersonating a veteran) came more than three minutes after the "phony soldiers" remark.
2. In broadcasting the "entire transcript, in context," Limbaugh committed the same sin that he charged to Media Matters, because (as Media Matters has documented) he edited out 1 minute and 35 seconds of talk between the "phone soldiers" comment and the first reference to Jess MacBeth, making them appear to be closer together in time than they really were and so distorting the context.
Now, it's entirely possible that Limbaugh was thinking about veteran-imposters when he made his "phony soldiers" remark. (Although are there "phony soldiers"--plural--who are critical of the war in Iraq? There have been recent news reports of several persons falsely claiming to be veterans, but they have acted mainly for personal gain. The case of Jesse MacBeth might be unique.) But if that were the case, why didn't he simply apologize? Taken in context, which is a discussion with a caller about "these people," Limbaugh's comment about "phony soldiers" is ambiguous at best. If he knows that there are real, dedicated, patriotic, sincere soldiers who oppose the war in Iraq, why not simply say so?
The answer can be seen in his later comments, on his October 2 broadcast. After a real soldier, with real combat service in Iraq, real wounds, and a real Purple Heart, speaks in an advertisement against Limbaugh and asks why Limbaugh won't call him a "phony" to his face, Limbaugh tries to smear him as well, saying that the people who made the ad (VoteVets.org) were "lying to him about what I said, then strapping those lies to his belt, sending him out via the media in a TV ad to walk into as many people as he can walk into." That's right, a decorated veteran is an easily manipulated idiot who has been tricked into becoming a mindless suicide bomber. When Limbaugh finally concedes that the decorated veteran might be able to read and write and form opinions of his own, Limbaugh's tone turns patronizing as he says that "it's just so unfortunate and sad when the truth of what I said is right out there to be learned." (A larger transcript is here, and the soldier's response to Limbaugh can be found here.)
These comments are "the answer" because Limbaugh continues to both evade and deny the real issue: Are there real, dedicated, patriotic, sincere soldiers who oppose the war in Iraq. Limbaugh refuses to answer that question, even while smearing a soldier who claims to be one.
And there you see the essence of the radical right. Smear broadly and, when challenged, smear your challengers. After all, you must be right, so everyone who disagrees with you is either evil or an idiot. Right?