Limbaugh: CNN Headline News "set the record straight" by describing Limbaugh's "blacks can't swim" remark as "tongue-in-cheek"

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Rush Limbaugh claimed that CNN Headline News "set the record straight" by characterizing his August 23 comment that "blacks can't swim" as "tongue-in-cheek." But Limbaugh defended his comment that "blacks can't swim" by again citing the March 2 HealthDay article that he had cited on August 23 program, suggesting it supported his assertion that his comments were "not ... racist."

On the August 29 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that CNN Headline News "set the record straight" by characterizing as "tongue-in-cheek" his August 23 comment -- documented by Media Matters for America -- that "blacks can't swim," which he made while discussing the new season of CBS' reality TV program Survivor, in which contestants are reportedly divided into competing "tribes" by ethnicity. Limbaugh compared Headline News' "tongue-in-cheek" characterization with the August 25 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, in which guest host Carol Costello noted that Limbaugh's remarks "have anti-racism organizations concerned." The Paula Zahn Now segment quoted Jen Chau, co-founder of New Demographic, which describes itself as a "an anti-racism training firm," as saying she is "worried" that Survivor will appeal to "other people who think just like Rush."

Limbaugh asserted that CNN had "change[d]" its report "after I had done the riff yesterday on these people in the me[dia] -- in the left," presumably referring to Limbaugh's defense of his comments on the August 28 broadcast of his radio show. But as Media Matters noted, on the August 28 broadcast, Limbaugh defended his comment that "blacks can't swim" by again citing the March 2 HealthDay article that he had cited on his August 23 program, suggesting it supported his assertion that his comments were "not ... racist." Limbaugh stated: "[W]e had a study out there, which cites this. I didn't say it; I report it. It's out there. But when I report it, they have to take it out of context and make it like I know I'm being a racist." Although the HealthDay article reported that "young blacks -- especially males -- are much more likely to drown in pools than whites," the study the article was based on did not address the swimming abilities of African-Americans in general.

HealthDay reported that "[r]esearchers don't know why black kids are at higher risk of drowning," that "[m]ost of the black victims ... drowned in public pools," and that "[t]he study didn't examine whether the victims had taken swimming lessons or whether the pools were supervised by lifeguards." Additionally, the article noted that, according to the study, "people from poorer families were more likely to drown" "regardless of race," and that one author of the study suggested "[f]uture research" would be done to "examine whether swimming instruction reduces the risk of drowning."

Limbaugh originally asserted that saying "blacks can't swim" "is not a racial or racist comment at all" while "handicap[ping]" the new season of Survivor. He also stated that Hispanics have "probably shown the most survival tactics," that they "have shown a remarkable ability to cross borders," and that they can "do it without water for a long time. They don't get apprehended, and they will do things other people won't do."

In the context of reporting on Limbaugh's remarks about African-Americans and swimming, Costello noted recent comments by Tramm Hudson, a Republican candidate for a Florida congressional seat, who stated that "blacks are not the greatest swimmers or may not even know how to swim." Hudson has apologized for his comments, calling them "stupid."

From the August 25 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:

COSTELLO: If producers wanted to get people talking about the show again, well, it worked. Talk radio's Rush Limbaugh got the buzz going early with his nationally syndicated show commenting on Survivor's competitive swimming events.

LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: I know what you're saying. You're saying I'm being racist. You're saying I'm being racist because I'm saying blacks can't swim.

COSTELLO: Discussions like that have anti-racism organizations concerned.

CHAU [video clip]: That's what I'm worried about. I'm sure are there other people who think just like Rush, you know. And who are looking for those things: "Yeah, I want to see that Asians outwit everybody. And I want to see, you know, the blacks who can't swim."

COSTELLO: The debate has clearly brought up old stereotypes that just won't go away. Consider this public statement by Florida congressional candidate Tramm Hudson from earlier this year.

HUDSON [video clip]: I grew up in Alabama. I understand -- I know this from my own experience that blacks are not the greatest swimmers or may not even know how to swim.

COSTELLO: CBS, defending the ethnic twist, says Survivor is a program that is no stranger to controversy and has always answered its critics on the screen.

From the August 29 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Well, we may have to change our handicapping of Survivor here, ladies and gentlemen. You know, I said the Asian-Americans in this show the "brainiacs," but this, you know, issues a bit of a challenge, which takes me to the audio sound bites. We want to go back, CNN changed a very, very little bit of their report on me, but the change was last night on Headline News, after I had done the riff yesterday on these people in the me -- in the left, they just have no sense of humor. They don't understand I was throwing their clichés right back at them. Here is the original report from last Thursday on CNN, the anchorette, Carol Costello reporting on the new Survivor.

[begin audio clip]

COSTELLO: Talk radio's Rush Limbaugh got the buzz going early with his nationally syndicated show, commenting on Survivor's competitive swimming events.

LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: I know what you're saying. You're saying I'm being racist, you're saying I'm being racist because I'm saying blacks can't swim.

COSTELLO: Discussions like that have anti-racism organizations concerned.

CHAU [audio clip]: I'm sure there are other people who think just like Rush, you know, and who are looking for those things, "Yeah, I want to see that Asians outwit everybody, and I want to see, you know, the blacks who can't swim."

[end audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: All right, after the show yesterday, CNN re-voiced and re-aired their Survivor package to label my comments "tongue-in-cheek."

[begin audio clip]

COSTELLO: Talk radio's Rush Limbaugh got buzz going with his nationally syndicated show with what appeared to be a tongue-in-cheek take on Survivor's competitive swimming events.

LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: I know what you're saying. You're saying --

[end audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: All right. That's it. That's it. So apparently somebody there heard the rant yesterday and decided that it was appropriate to set the record straight.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Network/Outlet
Premiere Radio Networks
Person
Rush Limbaugh
Show/Publication
The Rush Limbaugh Show
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