Media Matters for America, which is milking the Limbaugh/Fluke brouhaha for all its worth (and then some, including a compilation of criticism that quotes me), has assembled a list of El Rushbo's most scandalous on-air comments since 2004, the better to frighten his advertisers. Some of them are indeed appalling. Here he is in May 2004, talking about the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal:
I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?
As Nick Gillespie noted in 2004, Limbaugh also "said that what took place at Abu Ghraib was 'no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation,' as if hooking blindfolded POWs up to electrical wires or sodomizing them with chemical light sticks was the same as a fraternity circle jerk." These comments encapsulate the perils of Limbaugh's approach, which combines glibness and intentional provocation with supposedly serious commentary. Although he is first and foremost an entertainer, he is decidely not just kidding.
Few of the quotes on Media Matters' list rise (descend?) to that level. Media Matters clearly thinks a bunch of the comments are racist, but I'm not so sure. Likening Barack Obama to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe is ridiculously disproportionate, but it is not ipso facto racist, even if you note that Mugabe "took the white people's farms." Similarly, in 2009 Limbaugh said of Obama, "People are finally standing up to this little boy, this little man-child president." Racist denigration of a black man as a "boy," or dismissal of a young, inexperienced politician who Limbaugh thinks is in over his head? You decide. And what about his 2009 statement, in connection with the automaker bailout, that "people in the private sector are getting raped by this administration"? It seems to me that only someone who automatically thinks of black people when he thinks of rapists would read that statement as racist because the president happens to be black. Limbaugh's 2011 complaint about an untranslated speech by Chinese leader Hu Jintao is likewise open to interpretation:
Hu Jintao was just going, "Ching cha. Ching chang cho chow. Cha Chow. Ching Cho. Chi ba ba ba. Kwo kwa kwa kee. Cha ga ga. Ching chee chay. Ching zha bo ba. Chang cha. Chang cho chi che. Cha dee. Ooooh chee bada ba. Jee jee cho ba." Nobody was translating, but that's the closest I can get.
If Limbaugh had done a similar impression of what German or Russian sounds like to him, it definitely would not have been racist, right? Just kinda juvenile and unsophisticated, maybe vaguely xenophobic. What if the language Limbaugh could not understand had been Hebrew? Speaking of which, I think this 2010 comment is supposed to be anti-Semitic:
To some people, bankers — code word for Jewish — and guess who Obama's assaulting? He's assaulting bankers. He's assaulting money people. And a lot of those people on Wall Street are Jewish. So I wonder if there's starting to be some buyer's remorse there.
If anything, Limbaugh's implication is that Obama is anti-Semitic because he's going after bankers, and that his Jewish supporters therefore may be having second thoughts about him. That's silly for several reasons, not least because the Obama administration has hardly been an enemy to bankers, but it's not anti-Semitic.
Limbaugh talks three hours a day, five days a week, and he deliberately says outrageous things that he knows will drive people like Media Matters' monitors crazy. (See, e.g., his 2010 suggestion that schoolkids who receive free lunches could get their meals from dumpsters "until school kicks back up in August.") So it's amazing that the list of dumb things Rush Limbaugh has said in the last eight years stops at 15 and that so many of them are just plain dumb, as opposed to beyond-the-pale hateful. Apparently Limbaugh has called first lady Michelle Obama "Michelle, my butt," which I guess is a sort of Beavis and Butt-Head twist on "Michelle, ma belle." That's No. 12 on "15 of the Worst Comments Limbaugh's Advertisers Have Sponsored Since 2004." Is that supposed to be racist too? Something about black women and their butts? Dunno.
Media Matters has every right, of course, to try shaming Limbaugh's sponsors into deserting his show. I suspect he will survive. Although I do not really understand his appeal, he is a hugely successful entertainer, presumably because he is delivering what listeners want to hear, which includes precisely the sort of deliberately offensive, over-the-top right-wing rhetoric that Media Matters loves to hate. I'm not even sure that Media Matters and other Limbaugh critics truly want to drive Limbaugh off the air. It seems like they need each other.
Sarah Palin, who in 2008 suggested she has a First Amendment right to say things without being criticized, is now appying the same analysis to Limbaugh. "I think the definition of hypocrisy is for Rush Limbaugh to have been called out, forced to apologize and retract what it is that he said in exercising his First Amendment rights," she said on CNN last night. "And never is...the same applied to the leftist radicals who say such horrible things about the handicapped, about women, about the defenseless." The point about double standards is valid, as Nick Gillespie noted yesterday. But what does the First Amendment have to do with it? Limbaugh was not literally "forced" to do anything; he made what appears to have been a business decision that some sort of apology (even a half-assed, patently disingenuous one) would help smooth things over with advertisers. If it doesn't, does Palin think the Constitution requires those companies to continue running ads on his show?
I discussed Limbaugh's pill-related legal troubles in a 2006 column.