Tampa Bay plays Indianapolis tonight on Monday night football, so of course when Weldon and I were having our morning health-food meal at the diner—two over easy, biscuits, hash browns, and sausage gravy—the topic was Rush Limbaugh.
“What do you think about Limbaugh’s comments about Donovan McNabb?” I asked.
He didn’t even pause to wipe the grease from his lips. “He panders to all the rotten little prejudices that infect American politics. Bashes the poor. Jeers at blacks and dark-skinned immigrants. Slanders Muslims. Ridicules women. Implies that they’re all inferior, and that, if they achieve anything, they get it because of special treatment. His remarks about McNabb were par for the course.”
“Is he really that bad, Weldon?” I asked.
“Have you ever actually listened to his show?” he said by way of reply.
I had to admit I hadn’t.
“You ought to try it sometime,” he said. “It would do you good. Like that dose of castor oil your mama gave you every once in a while. Not because you needed it, but just as a preventative. It’ll make you cringe. He badmouths anything that might indicate this country actually has a social conscience. Environmentalists, civil libertarians, people who work with immigrants or workers—he doesn’t go after them with a peashooter. He goes nuclear.”
“Why would anybody listen to something like that?”
“Because he’s so good at implying that people like him are really superior to all those others, and that there’s a leftist conspiracy to promote those inferior people and their inferior causes. His putdown of Donovan McNabb wasn’t some sudden aberration, some exception to his usual patter. And ESPN knew what it was getting when it signed him up. The problem for him this time is that he had an audience that knew he was full of baloney.”
“I read that he said on his radio show afterward that all the flack came because he was the guy who said it. That if it had been somebody else, nobody would have even noticed.”
“What a crock. He defames a decent human being and extraordinary athlete. Then, when he gets called on it, he’s the victim! Is that self-centered or what? He spews out half-truths, erroneous ‘facts,’ and free-floating opinions constantly, and his audience reacts as if he were preaching the Gospel. People defer to him so much he expects it as his due. Somebody finally stuck a pin in his balloon, and it’s about time.”
“Why in the world did ESPN hire him in the first place?” I asked.
“Let me paraphrase his putdown of one of the most respected quarterbacks in the NFL,” said Weldon. “I don’t think Limbaugh has been that good from the get-go. I think what we’ve had here is a little political concern on ESPN. I think the network has been very desirous that a right-wing commentator do well. They’re interested in right-wing politicians and right-wing commentators doing well. I think there’s a little hope invested in Limbaugh and he got a lot of credit for the performance of the conservative team that he really didn’t deserve. The attack on September 11 carried that team.”
“Do you really believe that, Weldon?”
“No, I think in some ways it’s as prejudiced as Limbaugh’s comments. First, because I doubt politics was a conscious factor at all in ESPN’s decision. TV is a greed machine. I think they crunched the numbers on the audience he might bring with him, and that was the bottom line. And second, Limbaugh is smart, he’s verbally adroit, and a master of stinging sarcasm. I can’t stomach his politics, but I will at least give the guy credit for being skillful at what he does. Too bad he couldn’t give McNabb the same respect.”
© Tony Russell, 2003