Limbaugh's eyes and ears on the Hill


WASHINGTON -- To hear about "scandal lurking" in the White House, the "environmentalist wackos" in Congress and the "self-important media elite" who report on both, millions of Americans turn to Rush Limbaugh.

And for his own political material, the wizard of conservative call-in radio turns to a 27-year-old who looks young enough to pass for a congressional page.

His name is Joel C. Rosenberg, and his title is director of research for The Limbaugh Letter, a monthly publication that is a part of Mr. Limbaugh's empire. But he does more than clip newspaper articles. He is the eyes and ears -- and, on occasion, the muscle -- of Mr. Limbaugh in the capital.

"Everyone who can't get to Rush on the phone calls up Joel and pleads with him to get Rush to mention their pet cause," said William Kristol, a leading Republican theorist. "That's his role in our nation's capital."

From the Heritage Foundation's Capitol Hill headquarters, where Mr. Rosenberg retains office space even though he no longer works for the foundation, he faxes material to his boss in New York, home base for Mr. Limbaugh's syndicated radio and television programs, and telephones tidbits to him or his staff.

Mr. Rosenberg trolls the corridors of Congress, makes the rounds of conservative strategy sessions and, to pick up intelligence and "keep the Clinton administration guessing," even shows up unannounced at Democratic functions.

Compounding the influence of Mr. Limbaugh -- whom associates say he worships -- he sends congressional leaders excerpts from the broadcasting superstar's on-the-air ruminations.

Some conservatives ridicule Mr. Rosenberg, although not for publication, as little more than a glorified gofer trading on the Mr. Limbaugh name. Certainly Mr. Rosenberg does not hesitate to exercise the power that his affiliation with Mr. Limbaugh grants him.

On more than one occasion he has dared to take on the House majority whip, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, at closed-door meetings of prominent conservatives.

Mr. Limbaugh and his staff are reported to be concerned that Mr. Rosenberg has been too confrontational in his dealings with lawmakers, but no one from the Limbaugh organization would agree to be interviewed about him.

Kit Carson, Mr. Limbaugh's chief of staff, would only confirm Mr. Rosenberg's title and say that neither he nor Mr. Limbaugh had any comment to make.

Nor would Mr. Rosenberg himself say very much. "I'm a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, and I like it that way," he said in explaining why, after discussing it with Mr. Limbaugh, he too was unwilling to submit to a full interview.

Interviews or no, Mr. Rosenberg is becoming more visible on Capitol Hill. During the congressional debate on the balanced-budget amendment, he was a familiar presence in offices of conservatives like Sen. Larry E. Craig, a Republican from Idaho.

"Rush Limbaugh has a pretty loud horn, and we wanted him to play it as loud as he could on the balanced budget," said David Fish, Mr. Craig's press secretary. "We reminded him of that through Joel."

Mr. Rosenberg graduated from Syracuse University with a film degree in 1989 and lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Lynn, and their baby. He was hired by the Limbaugh organization a year ago at the recommendation of former Education Secretary William Bennett, whom Mr. Rosenberg worked for at another conservative organization, Empower America, after leaving the Heritage Foundation.

"Rush doesn't need eyes and ears in terms of newspapers and stories," said Peter Wehner, the policy director at Empower America. "But Joel can act like a filter," he said, telling Mr. Limbaugh, " 'You might want to keep your eye on the flat tax.' "

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