Rush Limbaugh, ESPN & The Craven Con

Aquarian Weekly 10/9/03 REALITY CHECK


As usual, the frenzied response to a hot-button story misses the key point. This time its the fabricated outrage surrounding politico dog-and-pony act, Rush Limbaugh’s alleged controversial statements made on ESPN’s pro football pre-game scream-o-rama last Sunday, which, by way of mention, took four days to surface. To arrive at less reactionary conclusions, we must pose three core questions: What Limbaugh was doing on a pre-game show beyond acting as gaffer or towel boy, his reasons for the gutless quitting of the gig afterwards, and who stood the most to suffer its backlash had he been man enough to face the music?

For the record, this incident should not be viewed as a race issue, or a form of political correctness abuse or certainly any first amendment pogrom. And it is not, nor has it ever been about whether or not anything the man uttered displayed the slightest glimmer of validity. It was merely a con to get you to pay attention to something and someone not worthy of your attention.

Let’s review.

ESPN needs sponsors and athletes to exploit for profit. Limbaugh needs to be a puppet of political ideology. Both lose if they vehemently defend his alleged philosophical bravery, so both predictably tanked it, collecting their checks and singing their tired songs of spin.

For those not mired in all things jock or schlock, ESPN and Limbaugh were a match made in a marketing heaven imagined by goofball pandering ratings-hungry execs, who view the landscape of envelope-pushing pop culture as a lazy blueprint to force-feed the great unwashed.

Limbaugh is a melon-headed lap dog for the Republican Party who fronts a shill-laden attack fest middays for WABC Radio in New York. A national minority of dunderheads who wish the atavistic, two-dimensional social order of the 1950s’ still existed laud his daily harangue. Aside from puppeteer at theme parks, rodeo clown and the guys who hand out pamphlets for strip clubs in Times Square, radio talk show host is the lowest ebb of the entertainment medium. I too have weakly trolled its murky waters, and save for its king, the always highbrow, Howard Stern, Rush is its cream.

ESPN is a 24-hour cable station/youth culture advertising magnet turned media empire with radio affiliates, magazines, movie production companies, and restaurants which mainly cater to fourteen year-old boys, or those who continue to embrace similar prepubescent activities as religion. It is the home office of furious sound bites and dick jokes used to sell beer between video of hockey fights.

WABC is owned by the Disney Corporation, which also happens to own ESPN.

Limbaugh was brought in to add to the already over-the-top guffaw locker room ambiance of a two-hour mess called Sunday Countdown, a show that once provided some semblance of useful sports information but now fits the rest of the station’s sub-moronic line-up of bargain-basement comedic geniuses dressed up in the guise of the “American Sports Fan”.

Okay, so last Sunday, Limbaugh loudly substantiated his laughably woeful lack of pro football acumen by jabbering a litany of unsubstantiated comments about one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, the Philadelphia Eagles, Donavan McNabb. Limbaugh opined that McNabb, the best player on his team and a perennial star since entering the NFL, was nothing more than a propagandized figment of the Philadelphia media and its desire to see black quarterbacks succeed.

Limbaugh is wrong on all accounts. McNabb is good, very good. The Philadelphia sporting press, well known for vitriolic meandering, has done anything but champion its pro athletes. Consequently, for those actually covering the game, instead of self-promoting, McNabb has taken more shit than he deserves for bad coaching and a vacillating front office.

So Limbaugh clearly demonstrated he knew nothing about the subject he is paid to comment on, lazily substituting real reporting and fair commentary for self-aggrandizing rhetoric, a talent he routinely displays in the realm of socio-political issues daily on his radio show. Only here, he was out of his element, and away from braying sycophants who have raised him to the level of shaman. Knowing Limbaugh’s tired shtick about attacking the mainstream “liberal” media and his disdain for “reverse racism”, he probably meant to say that the league has gone about over-promoting black coaches and quarterbacks to deflect liberal media criticism. Thus his blather, while curiously racial in theme, was hardly racist.

Predictably, the backlash has been harsh and vocal from black leaders and players, and of course, McNabb and the “liberal media”. This prompted this asinine defense of Limbaugh’s right to free speech.

Wrong again.

Firstly, freedom of speech applies to the liberty to espouse whatever theorem enters one’s head without government or legal retribution. Limbaugh was not arrested, and no one stopped him from saying what he said, or even edited his comments from the show. He wasn’t even fired, which was warranted, as in the case of former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, who went off the rails a few years ago with blatantly racist gibberish. A business does not have to compromise its earning power by harboring an unpopular employee. The Braves could not have a KKK poster boy on the payroll, and ESPN, or specifically Sunday Countdown could not survive a boycott of black NFL players of its telecasts.

Here’s your truth.

Limbaugh’s commentary signals mission accomplished for Disney. Buzz is created with free press and booming ratings. However, Limbaugh, often heard ranting about the Dixie Chicks and Hollywood types throwing their anti-American opinions around when not warranted, hides behind the “it was merely one man’s opinion” and then bails. Let’s face it; Limbaugh is racist like the Dixie Chicks are anti-American, but not unlike every celebrity caught in a bind that might dim the limelight, Limbaugh quit.

The fact is six minutes into the Limbaugh experiment everyone knew it was a mistake, including Limbaugh. It reeked of the kind of desperation that lead Disney into putting comedian, Dennis Miller out of his element to trump up sagging Monday Night Football ratings and start the parade of super models giving agonizingly banal sideline reports. So, with pressure from the top to justify the Limbaugh hiring, the people on the talent side of ESPN riled Limbaugh, a consummate showman who knows well how to put on the peacock feathers when he needs it, to stir the pot. He did. Backlash ensued. ESPN panics. He quits.

Despite window dressing to the contrary, ESPN is not a frat house of rebels and despots. It is a multi-million dollar corporation in the business to sell beer with tits and violence. Limbaugh took its money to whore his free speech card and stammered a badly articulated theory framed clumsily with political propaganda. He used skin color as an unfortunate analogy. Neither he nor ESPN, so hot for attention, could handle standing up to the inevitable public retort. It’s okay for Limbaugh and ESPN to hurl this crap at you, but once you bristle at it, its time to run and hide.

ESPN needs sponsors and athletes to exploit for profit. Limbaugh needs to be a puppet of political ideology. Both lose if they vehemently defend his alleged philosophical bravery, so both predictably tanked it, collecting their checks and singing their tired songs of spin.

The sick underbelly of this story is simply that too many people in the public arena, paid to act and talk tough, run scared too often. Christian crackpot, Jerry Falwell, smarmy coward, Bill Mahr, stuffy windbag, Trent Lott, Bostionian sad sack, Bob Ryan and a host of others too many to mention, have all apologized or backtracked or resigned under the normal resistance that comes from offering “brave” ideas into an idiom that prefers beer and tits.

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