Rush Limbaugh says he's a victim of the thought police. In his latest Against the Grain commentary, CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer says, in a nutshell, 'spare me.'
Live by the loudmouth, die by the loudmouth.
Poor Rush. Not.
Do I think Rush Limbaugh's cracks about Donovan McNabb are seriously racist? Not really.
Do I think they were offensive? Mildly, not profoundly.
Do I like it when the thought police, the language cops and the political correctness enforcers pounce on an utterance and declare it illegal? No, I hate it.
Am I delighted to see Rush Limbaugh attacked, ridiculed and forced out of his ESPN gig? Absolutely. Justice is being served.
Limbaugh routinely insults those he disagrees with. He gives them nasty nicknames; he mocks them, besmirches them and makes fun of them far more adeptly than his current attackers. This is how he makes his millions. It is ludicrous for him, and for his defenders, to claim he is being treated unfairly. Others are simply doing unto him what he does unto others. That's justice in my book.
Limbaugh's public shtick for years and years has had a constant hum of low-grade racism and race baiting. When he talks about black people on his radio show, he often uses "ax" instead of "ask," apparently to be funny. When the topic is Carol Moseley Braun, his producers play the theme song from "The Jeffersons." This is how he entertains his audience. This is how he makes his millions.
Given Limbaugh's track record, why did the McNabb remark cause such a frenzy when so many other cracks hadn't? I really don't know. Maybe because it was on TV. Maybe because it was about football and his audience, for a change, was actually knowledgeable about what he was talking about – and knew that what he was saying was stupid and wrong. I don't know, but as I said, I am delighted.
It doesn't matter if I think Limbaugh's remark was racist or offensive. Many other people did. And just as Limbaugh has a right to speak his piece, so do they. And they did. And Limbaugh left the ESPN gig. What is unfair about that?
Limbaugh is an entrepreneur who peddles the spoken word in the open market. The market has firmly rejected his latest public offering. Markets do that, and Limbaugh worships the market. So what's unfair here?
Well, Limbaugh and his defenders say he is being deprived of the right of free speech. I quote from his Web site:
"You know, this is such a mountain made out of a molehill. So much needs to be said here. I guess at the top of the list would be that we supposedly have freedom of speech in this country, but if you don't say what people who consider themselves the Arbiters of What Can Be Said agree with, then they want to come after you with everything they've got and try to humiliate you and take a stab at your reputation and otherwise get your mind right."
That, of course, is exactly what Limbaugh does for a living – he humiliates those who he thinks don't have their minds right and he takes stabs at their reputations. He calls opponents of the Iraq war unpatriotic, for one very mild example. This doesn't deprive anyone of his or her free speech rights. Nor is Limbaugh being denied his rights now.
Poor Rush, say his defenders, is being held to a politically correct double standard. It may be that he is being held to a political standard, but it isn't double. The last sports and race flap was instigated by Dusty Baker, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, who is black.
This summer Baker said he thought black and Hispanic players probably tolerated playing in extreme heat better than did white players. The Arbiters of What Can Be said machinery started to crank up, columns were written, talk radio hashed it out. But it turned out that not very many people were offended. Was it because Dusty is black or because what he said really isn't very disturbing? It doesn't much matter; many people were offended by what Limbaugh said and they get to be, and if there are consequences for Rush, so be it.
Personally, I think as a culture we've become over-sensitive to insignificant offenses and insensitive to significant offenses – poverty, lack of public services for the impoverished, for instance. I think jumping on people for using the wrong buzzword or a politically incorrect locution does nothing to breed tolerance and public cheer. But as someone who also peddles words in the public market, I am acutely aware that if I write something that offends, no matter what my intentions, the offended have every right to feel offended and call for my head. They are not tampering with my freedom of keyboard.
My only concern about the Limbaugh Affair is that he'll make money on it.
(An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Limbauch was fired from ESPN. I apologize for the error.)
Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, is based in Washington. For many years, he was a political and investigative producer for The CBS News Evening News With Dan Rather.
E-mail questions, comments, complaints and ideas to
Against the Grain
By Dick Meyer
Copyright 2003 CBS. All rights reserved.