by Scoobie Davis
ESPN and The Mainstreaming of the Politics of Hate
Rush Limbaugh is a poor excuse for a human being. He is a racist. He is a liar and a rabble-rouser. He defended racists, such as Trent Lott. He smears people by distorting their words. Limbaugh exploited national tragedies to smear political opponents (click here and see addendum).
What makes Limbaugh dangerous is not Limbaugh himself but the attempts to airbrush his hatemongering by people in the mainstream media. Limbaugh, despite his bluster (he once wrote an article titled, “Why Liberals Fear Me”), is a pussy--which is the case for most bullies. Limbaugh is quick to hit the mute button when he gets a caller who wants to challenge his lies (I got on his show and was muted twice by El Rushbo (click here and here); click here for another caller who was muted). Bully-boys like Limbaugh exist because journalists like Edward R. Murrow are not around anymore. America is ill served by the lazy journalists who have taken Murrow’s place. It hurts America when a lazy excuse for a media watchdog like Howard Kurtz shills for Limbaugh. Ditto for when Tom Brokaw gave Limbaugh credence. But the contrast between Murrow and today’s brand of journalist was made clear by Ted Koppel’s disgraceful performance. Koppel could have given Limbaugh a knockout punch when the topic of Limbaugh’s rumor-mongering regarding Vince Foster's death was brought up. Instead of exposing Limbaugh as a liar, Koppel covered for Limbaugh.
The latest attempt to mainstream Limbaugh and the politics of hate is by ESPN, which hired the hate radio jock hired as a pre-game commentator. I agree with Michael Tomasky that this is just another manifestation of the right “to politicize aspects of life that had not historically been overtly political.” Also, I have concerns not only about the mainstreaming of Limbaugh but similar concerns that Jeff Cohen and Steve Rendell had when ABC was considering hiring Limbaugh for Monday Night Football a few years ago: is it proper to have a racist like Limbaugh covering the NFL—which is 70 percent African-American? Cohen and Rendell gave examples of Limbaugh’s various racist statements.
What is to be done? I think one easy way to address this problem is for African-American NFL players to tell ESPN to stuff it. Why should they cooperate with a network whose idea of a commentator is someone who told an African-American caller to “take that bone out of your nose”? That would be one quick way to put Limbaugh back on the margins--where he belongs.
From the speech Clinton gave in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing:
In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see -- I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.
Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.
If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.
If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.
Though Clinton certainly never identified Limbaugh as one of those "angry voices," almost immediately Limbaugh responded with cries of censorship and claims that Clinton was attempting to silence him. The protests have continued so steadily that the claim that Clinton blamed Limbaugh has become a stock theme about the supposed perfidy of liberals. Indeed, Ann Coulter herself continued this meme in her book, Slander: Liberal Lies About The American Right, pp. 92-93: "When impeached former president Bill Clinton identified Rush Limbaugh as the cause of the Oklahoma City bombing, he unleashed all the typical liberal curse words for conservatives. He blamed 'loud and angry voices' heard 'over the airwaves in America' that were making people 'paranoid' and spreading hate."
Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
Of course, Clinton did not name anyone, even though the voices he probably had more in mind were those belong to the likes G. Gordon "Head Shots" Liddy and some of the more vicious Patriot types like Chuck Harder, who constantly hawked Patriot conspiracy theories outright, alongside a full dose of rhetoric about the violent resistance of federal agents. But in fact Clinton used very general terms probably because he recognized the reality as well, which was that characters like Limbaugh and his fellow movement arch-conservatives have been irresponsible as well -- perhaps not to the same degree, except for the fact that the reach of transmitters like Limbaugh is so massive.
Note from Scoobie: click here for a more humorous response to Limbaugh’s accusations.