Limbaugh: A Color Man Who Has
A Problem With Color?
by Jeff Cohen and Steve Rendall
Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh may be returning to television. He recently
auditioned for a job
as color commentator on ABC's "Monday Night Football." The tryout followed weeks of
self-promotion by the self-styled "truth detector" to the millions who listen daily to his
syndicated radio show on some 600 stations.
Limbaugh's audition is stirring controversy. Sports columnist Thomas
Boswell quipped that if
Limbaugh joins "Monday Night Football" then baseball's game of the week broadcasters might
"team up with John Rocker."
Veteran sports writer Michael Wilbon, who is black, indicated a boycott
might result: "If Rush
Limbaugh is put in that booth, I will NOT listen to the broadcast," he wrote in a Washington
Post chat session. "His views on people like me are well documented and I would find it
insulting and hypocritical to watch him…There are tens of thousands, probably hundreds of
thousands who feel the same way I do."
If ABC hires Limbaugh, it's not clear a boycott will materialize. What
is clear is that his
expressed views on racial matters -- from the spiteful to the sophomoric -- would make him an
odd color commentator. Indeed, CBS Sports dismissed Jimmy the Greek Snyder for ignorant
racial remarks, less derisive than some of Limbaugh's.
As a young broadcaster in the 1970s, Limbaugh once told a black caller:
"Take that bone out of
your nose and call me back." A decade ago, after becoming nationally syndicated, he mused on
the air: "Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse
In 1992, on his now-defunct TV show, Limbaugh expressed his ire when
Spike Lee urged that
black schoolchildren get off from school to see his film Malcolm X: "Spike, if you're going to do
that, let's complete the education experience. You should tell them that they should loot the
theater, and then blow it up on their way out."
In a similar vein, here is Limbaugh's mocking take on the NAACP, a group
with a ninety-year
commitment to nonviolence: "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor
store and practice robberies."
When Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) was in the U.S. Senate, the first black
elected to that body, Limbaugh would play the "Movin' On Up" theme song from TV's
"Jeffersons" when he mentioned her. Limbaugh sometimes still uses mock dialect --
substituting "ax" for "ask"-- when discussing black leaders.
Such quotes and antics -- many compiled by Fairness & Accuracy In
Reporting (FAIR) for
our 1995 book -- offer a whiff of Limbaugh's racial sensibility. So does his claim that racism in
America "is fueled primarily by the rantings and ravings" of people like Jesse Jackson. Or his
ugly reference two years ago to the father of Madonna's first child, a Latino, as "a
gang-member type guy" -- an individual with no gang background.
In 1994, Limbaugh mocked St. Louis for building a rail line to East
St. Louis "where nobody
goes." East St. Louis is home to roughly 40,000 residents -- 98 percent of whom are
African-Americans. One of its 40,000 "nobodies" is star NFL linebacker Bryan Cox.
Once, in response to a caller arguing that black people need to be heard,
"They are 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?" That's not an unusual response
for a talk radio host playing to an audience of "angry white males." It may not play so well
among National Football League players, 70 percent of whom are African American.
Compared to some talk radio hosts, racism is not central to Rush Limbaugh's
shtick. But there
has been a pattern of commentary indicating his willingness to exploit prejudice against blacks
to further his on-air arguments.
ABC has the right to hire Limbaugh, even at the risk of alienating members
of its audience.
("Monday Night Football" is the second-most watched TV show in black households). Thrust
into the world of pro football where Limbaugh himself would be something of a racial minority,
is it possible that he'd rise above his history of racial bigotry and insensitivity? Not likely.
When all is said and done, the athletes are the key players on "Monday
Night Football." It
would be great to know how they'd feel about a color man who seems to have trouble with
people of color.
Cohen and Rendall are staffers at the media watch group
FAIR, and co-authors of "The Way
Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error" (The New Press, 1995). A version of this
column appeared in the Los Angeles Times, 6/7/20000.