Offensive Is Nothing New: Rush Limbaugh's 5 Worst Remarks
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Has Rush Limbaugh finally gone too far?
Despite a notably insincere apology for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for the crime of using birth control pills, Limbaugh is shedding advertisers like mad. As of Monday evening, nine companies—including AOL, the parent company of the Huffington Post-- have stopped buying time on Limbaugh's radio show, and at least a couple say they have severed ties with the program permanently.
Even Republican presidential candidates have issued tepid condemnations of Limbaugh's rant. Mitt Romney, whose private equity firm Bain Capital is one of the owners of Clear Channel – which owns and broadcasts Premiere Radio Networks, the company that syndicates Limbaugh's show -- told reporters, “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used,” before quickly changing the subject back to Tuesday's primaries. Democrats quickly pounced on Romney's wimpy repudiation, but none of them bothered to point out the presidential candidate's profit motive in Rush's program.
But it's not like Rush doesn't have a history of saying incendiary, awful things and making personal attacks. Young women are clearly a favorite target of the right-wing shock jock, who's gone after three presidents' daughters and splashed enough racism, sexism, homophobia and just plain nastiness around the airwaves to offend just about anyone.
Now, it seems, Americans may finally have had enough. A Harris poll conducted last week found that Limbaugh is the least liked pundit in America. Meanwhile, progressive sites like Daily Kos and Media Matters are continuing to pressure Limbaugh's advertisers to defund his show, in a strategy that mirrors the one that took down Glenn Beck.
Limbaugh has long been the Right's on-air id, a person who will say all the horrible things other right-wingers might think in passing. Here, we look at five other moments when Rush crossed the line, but managed to salvage his reputation and his reported $40 million a year salary.
1. “Take the bone out of your nose and call me back!”
As Earl Ofari Hutchinson pointed out, Rush has been tossing out non-apology apologies for quite a while. Three decades ago, “as a relatively obscure local yokel right-wing nut gabber and DJ on a Pittsburgh radio station, he shouted at a black caller to take the bone out of your nose,” Hutchinson wrote. “He used the same Fluke non-apology playbook and never admitted that he said it. But he didn’t deny it either.”
Back when that happened, Limbaugh was going by the name “Jeff Christie” (no relation to New Jersey's blowhard governor) and was hosting a top 40 music show—so before he even made his rep as a talker from whom shocking statements were expected, he was running his mouth. Limbaugh explained to Newsday in 1990 (quoted by Snopes.com):
“I am the least racist host you'll ever find.” Recalling a stint as an “insult-radio” DJ in Pittsburgh, he admits feeling guilty about, for example, telling a black listener he could not understand to “take the bone out of your nose and call me back.”
Perhaps he felt guilty, but he certainly didn't change his ways.
2. Picking on presidential daughters.
BuzzFeed compiled a list of Limbaugh's most famous “apologies”--and two of them were to daughters of Democratic presidents. First there was Amy Carter, who Limbaugh accused of “protesting everything American” while attending Brown University. According to BuzzFeed, Limbaugh claims to have apologized:
I made a remark on my show that I've now since apologized for and I've taken it back; I didn't mean it. I said, "You know, she may be the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country."
Well, there was outrage. No, there was. I mean, there was just plenty--my--my mom called me at home that night. She said, 'Son, you know, you--if you're going to be serious about this, you can't make fun of the way people look. You're not supposed to--you're not--you can talk about how you disagree with Amy Carter. You can talk about how you disagree with her politics and you think she's doing some bad things, but she can't help the way she looks, and you can't--you shouldn't make fun of that. And, besides, you forgot Margaret Truman.'
Limbaugh didn't, apparently, learn much from his mom's quasi-lecture—just a couple of years later he found himself in the middle of a controversy for having shown a picture of Chelsea Clinton as “the White House dog.” His faux apology that time was even better. “I don't, look, that takes no talent whatsoever and I have a lot of talent. I don't need to get laughs by commenting on people's looks, especially a young child who's done nothing wrong. I mean, she can't control the way she looks. And we really, we do not do that on this kind of show.”
He may have stopped calling the presidents' daughters ugly, but he hasn't stopped saying horrible things about them. In November 2010, in the middle of a rant about the Transportation Security Administration's patdowns of airline travelers, Limbaugh suggested that Obama take his daughter to the airport “and have a TSA grope her,” to show everyone else “it's OK.”
3. Donovan McNabb and the NFL.
The last time Limbaugh actually got in trouble for something he said—and by “got in trouble” we mean “lost a lucrative side gig”--was in 2003, when he said that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because of his race:
I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what he have here is a little social concern in the NFL. i think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well... I think there was a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he really didn't deserve.
Limbaugh resigned from his gig at ESPN as a football commentator when, shockingly, people didn't think his comments were funny. But the NFL players didn't forget him. When he tried, in 2009, to become part owner of the St. Louis Rams football team, players and owners protested. Maybe it had a little something to do with his having also said, in 2007, that "NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons."
4. Michael J. Fox.
Limbaugh never really did apologize for saying that actor Michael J. Fox was “faking” the symptoms of his Parkinson's disease in a political ad for Democrat Claire McCaskill in 2006. Fox supported McCaskill because of her support for stem cell research, and Limbaugh went so far as to mimic the movements that are symptoms of the disease from which Fox suffers.
The media, Eric Boehlert at Media Matters noted, reported that Rush had apologized, but in fact, he stuck by his statements, declaring, "I stand by what I said [about Fox]. I take back none of what I said. I wouldn't rephrase it any differently. It is what I believe. It is what I think. It is what I have found to be true."
In fact, Boehlert pointed out that in covering for Rush, NBC's Matt Lauer gave the same tired excuse that gets trotted out whenever a shock-radio or TV host goes too far: “Didn't Rush Limbaugh just say what a lot of people are privately thinking?”
5. Barack and Michelle Obama.
Far be it from us to suggest that the president is above reproach from political commentators, even far-right ones like Limbaugh. Even saying that he wanted Obama to fail, while pretty awful, doesn't seem beyond the pale the way some of Limbaugh's other dramatics have.
If the overt racism isn't enough for you, there's also some pretty gross objectification of the First Lady. Take Rush's comments about Michelle Obama's nutrition program: “It doesn’t look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice…I’m trying to say that our First Lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit Issue, or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you.”
He also suggested that “if you're going to tell people to eat like an Ethiopian” that Michelle Obama “had better look like an Ethiopian.”
So what is it about Sandra Fluke that seems to have finally pushed advertisers over the edge into abandoning Rush Limbaugh? We've seen that he has no problem making blatantly sexist, racist remarks, sexualizing children and critiquing them for their looks, or even mocking a man's illness. We can't be sure if the current of protest that swept the Web after Susan G. Komen pulled its funding from Planned Parenthood, followed by Republicans (and Catholic bishops) throwing a very public all-male temper tantrum over contraceptives and prohibiting Fluke's first attempted testimony is what's all landing on Rush, or if he's finally just said one too many vile things on air.
Either way, we're happy to see the outrage finally hitting Rush where it hurts: in his wallet.