Media Matters: Limbaugh's NFL dream slips through his "formerly nicotine-stained fingers"

››› ››› KARL FRISCH

Six years after Rush Limbaugh was forced to resign in disgrace from his gig on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, the nation's top right-wing radio host saw his dream of owning a pro football team slip through his "formerly nicotine-stained fingers" this week due to mounting criticism over his history of racially charged commentary.

Six years after Rush Limbaugh was forced to resign in disgrace from his gig on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown for, as CNN reported at the time, "his statement that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed," the nation's top conservative radio host was dropped from a group seeking to purchase the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

A statement released by Dave Checketts -- a member of the group seeking to buy the Rams and the chairman of the NHL's St. Louis Blues -- said Limbaugh was dropped because his "involvement ... has become a complication ... endangering our bid."

"Complication" sure is a nice way of putting what transpired this week.

In the week since El Rushbo confirmed his intention to help buy the Rams: the executive director of the NFL players union came out against Limbaugh's bid, saying football "overcomes division and rejects discrimination"; Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said he "couldn't even think of" supporting Limbaugh's Rams bid due to his divisive rhetoric; NFL players reportedly said they "wouldn't play for" a Limbaugh-owned team due to his "flat-out racist" comments; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Limbaugh's "divisive comments are not what the N.F.L. is all about"; and a host of sports media figures blasted the very notion of the right-wing talker being an NFL owner based on his controversial statements.

As you might imagine, Limbaugh didn't take the controversy surrounding the bid or his ultimate exclusion from the group seeking to buy the Rams lying down.

Attempting to defend himself from mounting criticism, Limbaugh said -- with a straight face, no less -- "I'm colorblind. ... I treat everybody equally." Of course, such a statement ignores his "colorblind" history of racially charged comments. Who could forget these gems?

  • "We are being told that we have to hope [President Obama] succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles ... because his father was black." [1/21/09]
  • "I do believe" Obama is an "angry black guy." [7/27/09]
  • "Obama's entire economic program is reparations." [7/22/09]
  • Obama is "Halfrican-American." [7/24/07]

Or my personal favorite: the time Limbaugh invented a "racial component" to Iraq war vet Paul Hackett's decision to withdraw from a Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Senate in Ohio. Yep, after Hackett's departure from the race against then-Rep. Sherrod Brown, Rush said, "And don't forget, Sherrod Brown is black. There's a racial component here, too." In fact, Brown is white.

One needn't dig too far back -- Rush was happy to offer more racially charged statements this week. For starters, he whined that the NFL was an "outpost of racism and liberalism," apparently missing last month's report by the Center for Responsive Politics that showed that since 1989, NFL teams, owners, players and personnel gave overwhelmingly to the GOP.

In what can only be described as an odd attempt to beat back criticism for his past remarks, Limbaugh turned to basketball, complaining that rappers "own parts of NBA teams" and "[t]hey're celebrated -- 'Cool, daddy, cool!' " He even said that acclaimed sportscaster "Bob Costas is a ... very unhappy little diva." Is it any wonder that the world of professional athletics resoundingly rejected El Rushbo, dashing his dream of team ownership?

Limbaugh's defensive line was quick to come to his aid. Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter said NFL players would pick Rush over "Nazi collaborator" George Soros because "a lot of them" are "real Christians" -- as opposed to fake ones? MSNBC's resident cranky uncle and in-house bigot Pat Buchanan played defense, as well, which unsurprisingly resulted in more bigotry.

The Wall Street Journal came to Rush's defense with an op-ed making a ... I'll just say it -- stupid false comparison between Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann's work on NBC's Football Night in America. The Journal claimed not to have "heard anyone on the right say Mr. Olbermann's nightly ad-hominem rants should disqualify him from hanging around the NFL." Perhaps the Journal could use a hearing test, because various right-wing media figures and bloggers have done just that.

So, no, El Rushbo won't be purchasing a pro football team any time soon. He could always try his "formerly nicotine-stained" hand (or "fingers," as he would say) at owning a fantasy football team.

Then again, he's got the 2010 Miss America pageant to look forward to, where he'll be serving as a judge.

Other major stories this week

Fox News vs. The White House

Be sure to check out the latest from Media Matters' Eric Boehlert, who offers up a compelling "memo to the media," which reads, in part:

Fox News has changed the rules. Now the press needs to change the way it covers Fox News.

Rupert Murdoch's cable cabal is now, first and foremost, a political entity. Fox News has transformed itself into the Opposition Party of the Obama White House, which, of course, is unprecedented for a media company in modern-day America. That partisan embrace means the news media have to expand beyond typing up Fox News-ratings-are-up and the White-House-is-angry stories, and it needs to start treating the cable channel for what it is: a partisan animal.

The press needs to drop its longstanding gentleman's agreement not to write about other news outlets as news players -- not to get bogged down in criticizing the competition -- because those newsroom rules no longer apply. Fox News has exited the journalism community this year. It's a purely political player, and journalists ought to start covering it that way.

I understand Fox News still wants to enjoy the benefits of being seen as a news operation. It still wants the trappings and the professional protections that go with it. But it no longer functions as a news outlet, so why does the rest of the press naively treat it that way?

Fox News is now at the forefront of a political movement.

[...]

Completely detached from traditional newsroom standards, Fox News has become a political institution, and the press needs to start treating it that way. The press needs to treat Fox News the same way it treats the Republican National Committee, even though, frankly, the RNC probably can't match the in-your-face partisanship that Fox News flaunts 24/7. Think about it: Murdoch's "news" channel now out-flanks the Republican Party when it comes to ceaseless partisan attacks on the White House.

Truth is, in recent years the RNC used to use Fox news to help amplify the partisan raids that national Republicans launched against Democrats. It was within the RNC that the partisan strategy was mapped out and initiated. (i.e. it was the RNC that first pushed the Al-Gore-invented-the-Internet smear). But it was on talk radio and Fox News where the partisan bombs got dropped. Today, that relationship has, for the most part, been inversed. Now it's within Fox News that the partisan witch hunts are plotted and launched, and it's the RNC that plays catch-up to Glenn Beck and company.

And I'm sorry, but the Fox News defense that it's a just a few on-air pundits who (relentlessly) attack the White House and that the news team still plays it straight is, at this point, a joke. What kind of "news" team, in the span of five days, airs 22 clips of health reform forums featuring only people who oppose reform? What kind of "news" team tries to pass off a GOP press release as its own research -- typo and all? What kind of "news" team promotes a partisan political rally? (Or did I miss the 100-plus free ads that CNN aired in 2003 promoting an anti-war rally?)

[...]

It's clear that in 2009, Fox News is no longer in the business of journalism. Fox News isn't trying to inform people, it's trying to misinform them. That's not journalism. It's propaganda. But as long as the press continues to hold up the façade of journalism, Fox News will try to hide behind it.

Boehlert's takedown of Fox News can be read in its entirety here.

We're through Dobbs' foggy looking glass (or camera lens)

CNN's Lou Dobbs is none too pleased with his critics. At issue is a new television commercial from Media Matters and America's Voice that was to air during CNN's broadcast of its upcoming Latino in America special. In what appeared to be talking points prepared in the style of Mad Libs, Dobbs denounced the ad, claiming it was created by "George Soros attack groups" as "propaganda."

CNN, for its part, refused to run the ad -- skipping out on yet another opportunity to provide some accountability and distance itself from its ongoing Dobbs problem. In August, Media Matters bought a week of ad time on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News in Washington, D.C., New York, and Atlanta to air an ad calling on CNN to address Dobbs' repeated promotion of birther conspiracy theories. As The Huffington Post reported at the time, "[F]ive of the six cable providers contracted for the project have informed the group that they are declining to put the spot on CNN."

Dobbs was in rare form this week in going after his critics. He decried the "mad propaganda emanating ... from the extreme left, the Media Matters folks, all of them funded by George Soros" and complained to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) that "left-wing ethnocentric interest groups" are "calling for my firing from CNN." You know what happens when you point a finger, right, Lou? That's right: Three are pointing back at you.

Firing or reining in Dobbs may be a moot point anyway. According to recent reports, Dobbs met with Fox News president Roger Ailes over dinner last month. Could Dobbs be taking his immigrant-smearing hysteria and loony quest for Obama's already-available birth certificate to Fox Business Network?

We do agree with this one, perhaps Freudian, comment Dobbs made this week: "It's getting so you can't trust cable networks anymore."

EXCLUSIVE: CNN's Castellanos on the take from insurance industry

This week, Media Matters exclusively obtained evidence that CNN contributor Alex Castellanos' political consulting firm, National Media, is the ad buyer for the new ad blitz by the insurance industry group America's Health Insurance Plan (AHIP) that attacks Democratic health care reform plans.

According to the detailed ad buy information obtained by Media Matters, Castellanos is responsible for placing, beginning October 11, more than $1 million of AHIP advertising in five states. A review of National Media's client list indicates that Castellanos' work for AHIP isn't his only conflict with regard to health care reform. National Media has done work for the Federation of American Hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA, and the HCA Sunrise Hospital. Castellanos last appeared on CNN September 30; during a debate with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on The Situation Room, Castellanos defended Republican health care proposals.

After noting CNN's responsibility to properly identify Castellanos' industry ties and ensure that his obvious conflict of interest does not tarnish the network's future coverage of the health care debate, Washington Post Co.'s Greg Sargent reported that CNN admitted that Castellanos worked for the health insurance industry and promised full disclosure in the future.

This week's media columns

This week's media columns from the Media Matters senior fellows: in a message to the media, Eric Boehlert says Fox News is now the opposition party, Jamison Foser discusses the media's Glenn Beck problem, and Karl Frisch wonders if Dr. Fox-enstein -- errr ... Roger Ailes is building another monster.

Simon Maloy notes Rush Limbaugh's fantasy football conspiracy in The Friday Rush, a review of Limbaugh's radio shows over the past week.

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This weekly wrap-up was compiled and edited by Karl Frisch, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web, as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube or sign up to receive his columns by email.

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