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The MRC's Deceptive Defense of Limbaugh

The Media Research Center blurs the line between apparently false racially charged statements attributed to Rush Limbaugh and undeniably true ones to falsely suggest that Limbaugh has never made any such statements.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/4/2009

In the eyes of the Media Research Center, controversial conservative pundits aren't controversial at all. Of course, the hypocrisy needed to maintain that facade is staggering.

Rush Limbaugh repeatedly referencing anal sex? No problem (even though the MRC regularly condemns other entertainers who do the same thing). Ann Coulter insulting John Edwards? Totally down with that (even though it attacked low-level staffers for Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign for hurling insults on their personal blogs before joining the campaign).

Following in that tradition, the MRC's defense of Limbaugh regarding his failed bid to be part of an investor group that wants to buy the NFL's St. Louis Rams necessitates similar blind spots -- this time, a selective reading of history and blurring the line between apparently false racially charged statements attributed to Limbaugh and undeniably true things Limbaugh actually did say.

In its fine tradition of not-so-special "special reports," the new Media Research Center report by Tim Graham, "Rush to Ruin: the Left's Character Assassination Campaign Against Rush Limbaugh," is more significant for what it omits than for what it contains.

The errors of omission start at the beginning, with a quote from P.J. O'Rourke that "It’s the twilight of the radio loudmouth, you know? I knew it from the moment the fat guy ... refused to share his drugs." Nowhere is it mentioned that O'Rourke is a libertarian conservative and not on "the left" -- ostensibly Limbaugh's target audience.

Graham went on to highlight how Limbaugh's statement that "We are being told that we have to hope Obama succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this was the first black President" caused the "media establishment" to "denounce Limbaugh and demanded that Republicans distance themselves from his claims." Following MRC tradition, Graham was silent about the sexual crudity of Limbaugh's remark.

Graham complained how Limbaugh has been subject to "vicious personal attacks" by various people in the media. But the MRC has a long history of personal attacks on President Clinton in the form of sex jokes.

Graham also engaged in irrelevant evidence on another claim, calling it unfair that Limbaugh was criticized as racist for his 2003 statement regarding Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb that "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well" and insisting that there was "plenty of evidence of liberal sports columnists 'desirous' of black advancement in the NFL (New York Times columnist Selena Roberts complained the NFL was 'white as baking soda')." But a single example making a general claim about blacks in the NFL doesn't prove Limbaugh's specific assertion regarding McNabb correct. The MRC couldn't back up Limbaugh in 2003, either, as ConWebWatch detailed at the time.

(Further, the statement as excerpted does not demonstrate support for the claim; in fact, the full context of Roberts' statement shows that she was more specifically referring to the NFL's head coaching and team management ranks.)

Graham stuck to the Limbaugh party line in defending him over his 2007 statement in which he appeared to call soldiers who called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq "phony soldiers" in a conversation with a caller. Graham wrote:

Less than two minutes after that exchange, Limbaugh elaborated on what he had meant, explaining exactly who he was thinking about when he offered the term: Jesse Macbeth, a left-wing hero on YouTube for describing the horrors he’d seen American troops commit – but was then charged and convicted of falsifying a military record and falsely applying for veterans’ benefits. He’d never served overseas, and was dismissed from boot camp. ABC’s Brian Ross had done a story several nights earlier, and called Macbeth a “phony soldier.”

The left and Democrats in Congress then mangled Limbaugh’s comments to claim he had said that any servicemen or women who might oppose the war in Iraq in public had been defamed by the talk show host as “phony soldiers.” They typically made no reference to the actual “phony soldiers” Limbaugh was talking about.

In fact, it was not at all clear that Limbaugh was referring to MacBeth at the time he said the remark. As Media Matters documented, Limbaugh had not mentioned MacBeth at all on that day's show before he made the "phony soldiers" remark, and then did not specifically reference MacBeth until approximately two minutes later. Even then, Limbaugh did not call MacBeth a "phony soldier"; rather, he berated the media for not checking out his story.

Given that Graham's report came out in the midst of Limbaugh's failed attempt to buy the Rams, Graham made sure to note that some media outlets attributed racially insensitive statements to Limbaugh that have since proven to be unverified or fabricated. Unsurprisingly, Graham didn't mention that there are numerous other examples -- fully documented -- of racially charged statements by Limbaugh.

The MRC cranked up the obfuscation factor with another report that blurred the distinction between the apparently false statements and true statements by Limbaugh that are not in dispute.

After leading with an excerpt from its previous Limbaugh report, the new report singled out sports columnists and bloggers who repeated a pair of statements apparently falsely attributed to Limbaugh: that "Slavery built the South. I'm not saying we should bring it back. I'm just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark," and that Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray should receive the Medal of Honor. But in denouncing them, the MRC mixed in racially charged statements by Limbaugh that are undeniably true.

For instance, the MRC featured this statement from March by Daily Beast writer Max Blumenthal:

But given Limbaugh’s well-documented history of racial controversy, and Steele’s position as the Republican Party’s first African-American chairman, his apology is more significant than Gingrey’s. Limbaugh has, for example, mocked Obama as a “Halfrican-American” who should “become white“; he has called for a “posthumous Medal of Honor” for the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., James Earl Ray, and told an African-American caller, “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”

But the "Halfrican-American" remark exists in audio form, and the "Take that bone out of your nose" has not been challenged -- according to the myth-busters at Snopes, Limbaugh even acknowledges saying it (though he apparently did so in the 1970s prior to his current talk-radio career). Further, the MRC did not acknowledge that Blumenthal's post has since been corrected to remove the James Earl Ray remark, even though it noted corrections by other writers.

Similarly, the MRC highlighted a post by San Francisco Chronicle blogger Zennie Abraham, narrowly focusing on one false quote (and noting that it's disputed) but carefully avoiding mention of the eight other Limbaugh quotes Abraham cited.

The MRC also noted USA Today blogger Sean Leahy's citing of the purported slavery quote -- and also statements that "The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons" and Limbaugh's statements about Donovan McNabb. The MRC doesn't note that the latter quotes are both true, nor does it mention that the post has been corrected with regard to the apparently false one.

And there's the problem. By mixing in the true statements with the false ones, the MRC falsely suggests that all the statements are bogus -- which it knows is not true.

That bit of deception is undoubtedly a deliberate part of running defense for Limbaugh. But it's also dishonest coming from a group that claims to do "research." A more honest approach would be to specifically state which statements attributed to Limbaugh it's not challenging, or to not excerpt them at all.

MRC chief Brent Bozell also got in on the act, using his Oct. 20 column to complain that "no one bothered fact-checking" the apparently false statements: "A couple of minutes on the computer would have proven that these quotes were pure fantasy, put forward by radical leftists, with no substantiation whatsoever, purely to assassinate this man’s character, as is their wont."

But Bozell would do well to apply those standards to his own organization before lashing out at others. As ConWebWatch has documented, the MRC spent nine years peddling stitched-together quotes to falsely portray former New York Times editor Howell Raines was saying mean things about Ronald Reagan, and it has yet to apologize for repeatedly taking a Boston Globe profile of Ted Kennedy out of context to falsely portray a critical statement about Kennedy as praise.

Yes, it takes a lot of hypocrisy on the MRC's part to keep up these attacks.

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