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On the October 3 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, contributor Willie Geist and host Joe Scarborough discussed Clear Channel CEO Mark P. Mays' reply to Senate Democrats' September 28 letter calling on him to publicly repudiate Rush Limbaugh's characterization of service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as "phony soldiers." Geist stated that "[t]he station said we're not going to apologize, Rush Limbaugh has a track record of supporting the troops, this has been taken out of context, and they did not -- they did not yield to Congress." In fact, in his October 2 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Mays did not write that Limbaugh's statements were "taken out of context"; rather, that he "carefully read the transcript from the episode in question," and determined that he could not "speak with authority as to whom exactly Mr. Limbaugh's comments were directed, or what was his intent." Mays added, "Only Mr. Limbaugh can speak to those issues, which he has done."
Similarly, in an October 2 entry on Politico's The Crypt blog, staff writer Carrie Budoff Brown asserted that Mays wrote that he "didn't believe Limbaugh's statements were 'intended to personally indict combat soldiers simply because they didn't share his own beliefs regarding the war in Iraq.' " In fact, Mays wrote, "[I]t would be unfair for me to assume his statements were intended to personally indict combat soldiers simply because they didn't share his own beliefs regarding the war in Iraq," not that he "didn't believe" that was the case. Mays further noted that Limbaugh "denies" that his "intention was to classify any soldier opposed to the war in Iraq as a 'phony soldier.' "
Clear Channel broadcasts Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show.
From Mays' letter:
I want to thank you and your Senate democratic colleagues for sharing your concern over recent comments made by Rush Limbaugh on his daily radio program. First, let me say that the men and women who wear the uniform in defense of our country deserve the utmost respect and gratitude from each and every one of us whom they serve to protect. I assure you that I fully agree with your statement that "not a single one of our sons, daughters, neighbors and friends serving overseas is a phony soldier." As a grateful American citizen, I would reject anyone's contention to the contrary.
Mr. Limbaugh's comments last week have stirred a lot of emotion, and I have carefully read the transcript from the episode in question. I hope you will appreciate that I cannot speak with authority as to whom exactly Mr. Limbaugh's comments were directed, or what was his intent. Only Mr. Limbaugh can speak to those issues, which he has done.
I can say, however, that over the years Mr. Limbaugh has repeatedly praised the dedication and valor of our brave men and women in uniform. Given Mr. Limbaugh's history of support for our soldiers, it would be unfair for me to assume that his statements were intended to personally indict combat soldiers simply because they didn't share his own beliefs regarding the war in Iraq. However, if Mr. Limbaugh's intention was to classify any soldier opposed to the war in Iraq as a "phony soldier," which he denies, then I, along with most Americans, would be deeply offended by such a statement.
While I do not agree with everything Mr. Limbaugh says on every topic, I do believe that he, along with every American, has the right to voice his or her opinion in the manner they choose. The First Amendment gives every American the right to voice his or her opinion, no matter how unpopular. That right is one that I am sure you agree must be cherished and protected.
As the Chief Executive Officer of Clear Channel, I support each of our on-air talent's right to express his or herself freely, as long as they do it within the confines of the laws set forth by Congress. For this reason, I have not and will not impose my own views upon any of our on-air talent. Doing so would, quite frankly, undermine the integrity of the broadcast, undercut the trust with our listeners that they are receiving the true and honest opinions of the radio host, and more importantly fly directly in the face the right to free speech that we hold so dear.
Each and every day, Clear Channel offers a broad diversity of viewpoints from Rush Limbaugh on the right to Air America on the left of the political spectrum. It is inevitable, with so many different perspectives, that an on-air personality will challenge or even offend another segment of the public. I too am sometimes offended by words that are directed at me or a particular belief I hold. However, as a broadcaster and leader of this company, I will always defend the right of our employees and contracted talent to voice their opinions under the protections provided by the First Amendment.
I want to thank you and your colleagues for writing me regarding this matter. Again, I regret that you and others were offended by Mr. Limbaugh's statement, regardless of what its intended meaning may have been. I hope that you understand and support my position that while I certainly do not agree with all views that are voiced on our stations, I will not condemn our talent for exercising their right to voice them.
From the October 3 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
GEIST: That's all the Britney we're going to do for today -- promise.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (co-host): Well, you know what, Willie? Thanks so much for that. My day is complete.
SCARBOROUGH (host): Well, seriously, we can be all upset about us doing Britney Spears and talking about this tape and everything, but you know what if the United States Senate isn't acting any more serious than they are acting right now -- Willie Geist, apparently yesterday, they went on the Senate floor, and they've now decided, instead of talking about the war, they're going to talk about Rush Limbaugh.
GEIST: Yeah, look, 41 senators, I believe it was, drafted a letter, sent it to Rush Limbaugh's employer, Clear Channel Radio, and wanted -- it was just a rebuke -- they wanted an apology. The station said we're not going to apologize, Rush Limbaugh has a track record of supporting the troops, this has been taken out of context, and they did not -- they did not yield to Congress.