A Rush to Ruin
Table of Contents:
On Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, Limbaugh described how a “major American print publication” asked him for 400 words about his hopes for the Obama presidency. Limbaugh told his listeners he only needed four words: “I hope he fails.” He acknowledged that even his staff thought that statement was controversial. “What is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it? I don’t care what the Drive-By story is. I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: ‘Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails.’ Somebody’s gotta say it.”
Limbaugh’s staff reflected anxiety at the idea of counter-programming the overwhelming wave of celebration at that moment in the media culture. Obama was lauded as a world-class sage and savior, a dramatic contrast to the media’s treatment of Rush Limbaugh. What followed was a typical pattern of intentional misunderstanding. Limbaugh was portrayed as not only unpatriotic, but as beyond the pale of civility – someone the Republicans should be desperate to deny was part of their coalition.
■ “He [Limbaugh] has said, ‘I hope he fails,’ talking about President Obama. And Rush Limbaugh also said this, he said ‘we are being told that we have to hope Obama succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this was the first black President.’ Do you agree with Rush Limbaugh?...On that specific thing, that, ‘we have to bend over because this is the first black President.’ Why don’t you feel like you could denounce something like that? Are you so beholden to someone like Rush Limbaugh that you can’t say that?...Is that the type of rhetoric we need?”
— MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell to Rep. Mike Pence, on MSNBC Live, January 28, 2009.
■ “I’m really surprised about the Steele apology, because there’s nothing he said in there that I found particularly outrageous. Rush Limbaugh’s on the radio, he’s an entertainer. Some of the things he said are ugly and incendiary. Exhibit A is ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ that got air time on Limbaugh’s radio station. And you know, it almost seems like the Republican Party needs a Sister Souljah moment, you know, when Bill Clinton was able to stand up and break with the far left of the Democratic Party by criticizing rap music on Sister Souljah. It seems like the Republicans need somebody who’s willing to stand up and say Rush doesn’t represent all of the views of the Republican Party and then not rush and apologize to him....I’ll bet you whoever does that could end up as the, you know, the nominee of the party.”
— Washington Post reporter Keith Richburg on MSNBC live coverage, March 3, 2009.
■ “Rush Limbaugh, the man who did more than anyone else to create the modern Republican brand in the 1990s, is now destroying it. Everyone knows he has ‘jumped the shark’ culturally — become a black-shirted joke even as he dominates the headlines....The truth...is that Rush’s rhetoric is ‘ugly’ and that he was wrong to say he hoped President Obama would fail. The monster the GOP collectively created — Rush’s ‘dittohead’ army of conservative listeners — makes life miserable for anyone who dares criticize the Great Bloviator.”
— Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter in a Web-exclusive column posted on March 4, 2009.
■ “Ari, first of all, when Rush says that all Republicans want the President to fail, Limbaugh’s wrong, right?...Why are so many Republicans already kowtowing to him?...Why can’t Republicans say, ‘You know what, this is childish, ridiculous, Rush Limbaugh is wrong when he says Republicans want the President to fail. And we need to isolate Rush Limbaugh because we do have important issues to talk about?’”
— MSNBC’s David Shuster to former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, March 4, 2009.
■ “[What Republicans] need to do is to kill some sacred cows here....Taking on Rush Limbaugh would have been an impressive statement of where the party now stands. I mean, you know, for President Clinton, it was Sister Souljah. For President Obama, he had to confront Reverend Wright. This is their Reverend Wright. And unless they deal with extreme voices within their own party, within their own movement, they’re not going to reach those independent voters who put President Obama over the top.”
— Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe on MSNBC’s Countdown, March 5, 2009.
It was a seriously ideological stretch to equate Rush Limbaugh’s political remarks with those of Sister Souljah, a rapper that Bill Clinton dared to criticize at a Jesse Jackson event in 1992. Political reporters credited Clinton with reaching out to the reasonable moderates and independents for denouncing the rapper, although almost everyone did. Here’s what Sister Souljah actually said to The Washington Post of May 13, 1992: “I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I’m saying? In other words, white people, this government, and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you’re a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?”
Rush Limbaugh never called for racial riots or violence. To equate him in any way with a Sister Souljah is simply a smear. The media accused Limbaugh of racism based on parodies of liberal activists. “Barack the Magic Negro” was a parody of Al Sharpton, joking that Sharpton felt that Obama was making too many inroads with white voters, and wasn’t authentically black. It was also a play on a March 19, 2007 Los Angeles Times op-ed by black film critic David Ehrenstein titled “Obama the Magic Negro,” which compared the candidate to magical African-American movie characters who saved characters played by top white actors, like Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance. But liberal media figures pretended this song was a sign of deep-seated racial animus:
■ Matt Lauer: “He [Rush Limbaugh] makes a living poking fun at Democrats, but now some think he has gone a little too far in taking on Senator Barack Obama....”
Reporter Michael Okwu: “Weeks before the Imus controversy, Rush Limbaugh started airing this ditty about Senator Barack Obama:”
Song parody: “Barack the Magic Negro lives in D.C.”
Okwu: “Which lead some to wonder, has Limbaugh been getting a free pass?...”
Paul Waldman, Media Matters: “This is basically the radio equivalent of a black-faced minstrel show. You’re going back to Amos and Andy and all of those, kind of, racist shows in the past.”
Okwu: “For his part, Obama says he doesn’t listen to Limbaugh but says being targeted is part of being a politician....
Song parody: “Don’t vote the Magic Negro.”
Okwu: “Legitimate political satire or something darker?”
— NBC’s Today, May 21, 2007.
Wild charges of racism also burst forth when Limbaugh worked briefly as an ESPN football analyst in 2003. He resigned after a liberal firestorm over his disparaging Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb: “The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well—black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well. There’s a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he didn’t deserve.” Despite plenty of evidence of liberal sports columnists “desirous” of black advancement in the NFL (New York Times columnist Selena Roberts complained the NFL was “white as baking soda”), Limbaugh was glued to amateur geneticists like Jimmy the Greek Snyder and Al Campanis, who lost jobs after suggesting blacks were “bred” for athletics (Snyder) or couldn’t swim (Campanis).
■ “What must it be like to live in Rush Limbaugh’s world? A world where when anyone other than conservative, white men attempts to do anything or enter any profession, be it business, politics, art or sports, the only reason they’re allowed entry or, incredibly, attain excellence is because the standard was lowered....Edgy, controversial, brilliant. What a way to shake up intelligent sports commentary. Hitler would have killed in talk radio. He was edgy, too.”
— CBS commentator Nancy Giles on Sunday Morning, October 5, 2003.
■ “Derrick Jackson, who’s a columnist for The Boston Globe, Tim, back in July when ESPN hired Rush Limbaugh, he wrote a column about some of the comments that Mr. Limbaugh has made in the past. In the 1970s, according to this column, Limbaugh told an African-American caller ‘take that bone out of your nose and call me back.’ He goes on to say Limbaugh has always had crime and black people on the brain. He once said, ‘have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?’...Given the fact that Rush Limbaugh has made these kind of inflammatory comments in the past, was it appropriate for ESPN to hire him in this capacity?”
—NBC’s Katie Couric to Tim Russert on the October 1, 2003 Today. Couric did not note the source was a 1992 book by the far-left group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
■ Dan Rather: “Were or were not Rush Limbaugh’s comments about an NFL player racist, a ratings grab or both?”
CBS reporter Byron Pitts: “...The debate over quarterbacks isn’t new. For decades, from little league to college, black ball players were discouraged from playing the position. The thinking was they weren’t smart enough to succeed. It was a stereotype perpetuated by the likes of one-time CBS sportscaster Jimmy the Greek.”
— CBS Evening News, October 1, 2003.
■ “[W]e’ve been down this road before. Jimmy the Greek Snyder lost his job with CBS Sports and Al Campanis resigned from the Los Angeles Dodgers for remarks deemed to be racially insensitive. Mr. Limbaugh is a rich and famous man, but the NAACP and at least one presidential candidate said today ESPN should can him.”
— ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings, October 1, 2003.