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Limbaugh Down But Not Out

He lost his job on ESPN because of a racial remark and is under investigation reportedly for illegally buying prescription drugs, but Rush Limbaugh - renowned for his strident views - seems much the same under fire as he did when riding high in the first wave of conservative talk radio.

Instead of dropping out of sight to plan his next move, Limbaugh will be back on the air Friday, on his syndicated radio show. Thursday, he was also very much in public: speaking at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Philadelphia and defending the remark he made Sunday about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"This is the kind of media attention I've lived with for 15 years. If this kind of stuff doesn't happen I wonder if I'm losing it," a defiant Limbaugh told fellow broadcasters in Philadelphia.

The conservative commentator resigned as an ESPN sports analyst late Wednesday, three days after saying on the sports network's "Sunday NFL Countdown" that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed.

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said Sunday. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

Limbaugh Friday continues to stand his ground on the McNabb report, and in extensive remarks on his web site, points out that he's been sympathetic to the problems of black assistant coaches and in talking about McNabb, was criticizing the media, not the Eagles quarterback.

"For those of you, by the way, who are saying, 'Rush, what were you thinking?' I thought about this the night before," says Limbaugh. "I weighed it, I balanced it, but you know what I decided? Look, they brought me in to be who I am. This is what I think. It's a sports issue. It's a sports opinion."

"This is not by any stretch of the imagination the end of the world. None of this stuff is," says Limbaugh. "To start balancing and weighing what I say versus the political correctness requirements that are out there? Why, I don't do that here so why should I do it anywhere else? Let the chips fall."

As for the prescription drug allegations, Limbaugh has emblazoned the home page of his web site with a statement saying: "I am unaware of any investigation by any authority involving me. No government representative has contacted me directly or indirectly. If my assistance is required, I will, of course, cooperate fully."

That same statement was issued Thursday by Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates the politically focused "Rush Limbaugh Show" in more than 650 markets.

Law enforcement sources speaking on condition of anonymity Thursday confirmed to The Associated Press that Limbaugh is being investigated by the Palm Beach County state attorney's office.

The drug allegations were first reported by the National Enquirer. CNN reported Thursday that sources close to the investigation said Limbaugh had turned up as a buyer of powerful painkillers but that he was not the target of the investigation.

Limbaugh announced his departure from ESPN late Wednesday. He said Thursday that he was leaving so network employees would be spared the uproar over his comments.

"The great people at ESPN did not want to deal with this kind of reaction," Limbaugh told the National Association of Broadcasters at its convention in Philadelphia. "The path of least resistance became for me to resign."

George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, accepted Limbaugh's resignation, saying: "We believe that he took the appropriate action to resolve this matter expeditiously."

McNabb said he didn't mind criticism of his performance but was upset that Limbaugh made his race an issue. Democratic presidential candidates and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People criticized Limbaugh's remark, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said Limbaugh's comments showed a "lack of knowledge, a lack of sensitivity, and in my opinion, were despicable."

At a news conference on Thursday, Lurie also took aim at ESPN, saying its hiring of Limbaugh and negative portrayals of NFL players on the fictional series "Playmakers" are symptoms of "institutional racism."

"We obviously disagree with his comments," said Josh Krulewitz, a spokesman for ESPN. "We are not going to respond to any assertion that is not based in reality."

At least two Eagles players, however, agree with their boss.

Eagles linebacker Mark Simoneau says the show "doesn't give a good picture of the NFL."

"I'm not respecting ESPN right now as far as 'Playmakers' and the way they stereotype the NFL," said wide receiver Freddie Mitchell. "Eighty percent of the NFL players are African-Americans. It's not what we want for kids growing up to see. You have 12-year-olds watching ('Playmakers') and they see players doing drugs at halftime. It's not true."

Lurie said black children need to look at McNabb and Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair as role models, not the players depicted on the show.

"They don't deserve to be portrayed like this for quick ratings," Lurie said.

McNabb Thursday appeared to be walking the line when it comes to ESPN, saying he has no ill will toward the network and wouldn't mind appearing on "Playmakers."

Limbaugh has denied that his comments about McNabb were racially motivated.

"It's something I have believed for quite a while," Limbaugh said. "I don't mean it to hurt anybody... It's just an opinion."

Limbaugh told the broadcasters that he is used to scrutiny and expects to get attention, saying that to draw in listeners, "we want controversy."

Limbaugh did not address the drug investigation reports in his speech.

The Enquirer had interviewed Wilma Cline, who said she became Limbaugh's drug connection after working as his maid. She said Limbaugh had abused OxyContin and other painkillers.

Ed Shohat, a Miami lawyer for Cline and her husband, said Thursday, "The Clines stand by the story." Shohat said neither he nor his clients would comment further.

National Enquirer Editor in Chief David Perel declined to say whether the Clines were paid for their interview, but said the tabloid does "pay for interviews, photographs and exclusives - as long as they can be proven to be true." Referring to media reports saying the Clines were paid six figures for their story, Perel said, "People are just making things up."

CBS' Byron Pitts reports media analysts say this latest controversy could do real harm to Limbaugh's image and his career.

The conservative pundit - whose fans call themselves Dittoheads - once said the government should "send the people who want to do drugs to London and Zurich and let's be rid of them."

"When you've built a career on preaching what a good life is and law and order and toeing the straight line. When... that line that you've been on is not so straight anymore, it's clearly a touch of irony here," says media analyst Donny Deutsch, in a CBS News interview.

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