You are a prominent sports columnist. You cover the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Olympics. You mingle with world-class athletes. You are the envy of millions. Even so, once in a while you hanker to forsake fun and games in favor of Something Important. You dream of being...a liberal pundit, holding forth on the serious issues of our time.
If so, the efforts of radio talkmeister and pigskin buff Rush Limbaugh to join the "Monday Night Football" broadcast team have been manna for you. When you deal with this topic, your fantasy is realized, as you bash one of America's leading conservatives from the comfort of your sports bailiwick.
This temptation appears to have been especially strong inside the Beltway, with all three of the Washington Post's regular sports columnists opining on the Limbaugh/ "MNF" story. First was Thomas Boswell, who on May 24 wrote, "This week, our trend toward the celebrity-as-universal-expert may have reached a comic peak. ABC thinks maybe Rush Limbaugh can become the next Howard Cosell." Limbaugh, Boswell sneered verbally, "appeals to the right demographic: divorced, couch-potato, gun-worshiping, angry white guys. Sorry, I mean patriotic American males ages 25 to 34."
All that was just the buildup to Boswell's big cheap-shot finish: "Could [ESPN's baseball coverage] use another voice in the booth? If Al Michaels gets Rush Limbaugh, maybe, someday, Jon Miller could be lucky enough to team up with John Rocker."
Two days later, the Post's other sports columnists, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, took part in a chat on the paper's web site. After someone wondered how Limbaugh might fare on "MNF," Kornheiser - who noted that he "do[esn't] share [Limbaugh's] politics even slightly" - nonetheless defended him: "I think Rush is a terrific broadcaster and I suspect he could be terrific on 'Monday Night Football.' He certainly knows sports."
But Wilbon, who is black, not only refused to separate politics from sports, but also flat-out slimed Rush: "If...Limbaugh is put in that booth, I will NOT listen to the broadcast. His views on people like me are well documented and I would find it insulting and hypocritical to watch him do the broadcast."
I don't know what documentation Wilbon has in mind. Perhaps he should chat with his black Post columnist colleague William Raspberry, who several years ago penned a piece slashing Limbaugh to ribbons, then issued a follow-up apology in which he admitted that at the time he wrote the first column, he'd barely listened to Rush, and that once he did so at greater length, found out what he'd heard about him from friends - that Limbaugh was a bigot - wasn't true.
OK, so you think that the Post is a bastion of East Coast, elitist liberalism, and that surely columnists elsewhere have treated Limbaugh more fairly. Don't be so sure.
In America's heartland, Michael Bauman of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has suggested, "ABC might go for Limbaugh because Joseph Goebbels is not available...Limbaugh's work is...driven by the notion that rich people are better than the rest of us and thus deserve even more than they already have."
It turns out that grossly over-the-top anti-Limbaugh rhetoric isn't limited to the U.S.; Montreal Gazette columnist Jack Todd called Rush a "fascist pig." It isn't even limited to North America; Lawrence Donegan, a U.S.-based sports correspondent for the Edinburgh paper the Scotsman, "informed" his readers that "close followers of loony right-wing politics may know who Limbaugh is...but, for those who do not...Limbaugh loves guns, almost as much as he hates anyone slightly to the left of Genghis Khan."
To her credit, iconoclastic liberal Camille Paglia is on Rush's side, writing in Salon that Limbaugh "knows his stuff and in fact has a sharper command of hard-nosed sports strategy than did the often annoyingly self-intrusive Howard Cosell."
Since we're now back to Cosell, consider how political he was. He was as outspoken a liberal as Limbaugh is a conservative. Cosell publicly contemplated running for the U.S. Senate seat from New York then held by conservative Republican James Buckley and now sought by Hillary Clinton; Rush has no political aspirations.
As for Limbaugh's inexperience in sports broadcasting, consider John Roberts of CBS News. In the '80s, Roberts was a music-video jock for a Toronto station. Now he's widely seen as Dan Rather's likely successor. (If that happens, does that mean Martha Quinn will take over for Peter Jennings?) And they say Limbaugh, a national media figure for over a decade and a man of undeniable intellectual dexterity, is underqualified for "Monday Night Football"?
I can't be certain that Limbaugh is the most qualified broadcaster for the "MNF" gig. I am certain he doesn't deserve the ad hominem attacks he's received from Boswell, Wilbon, and the rest.