Limbaugh responded to ESPN discussion of his McNabb remarks

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

On January 27, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh again defended his January 24 remark in which he maintained that the media lauded Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in 2003 because of a "social hope" for African American athletes to succeed. To further defend his assertion, Limbaugh declared that the media are "still doing stories on how 'isn't it wonderful black quarterbacks are getting in the Super Bowl.'" Regarding what he argues is the media's enthusiasm for black quarterbacks, Limbaugh opined: "They're still relatively new to the position. Everybody wants to prove they're not just running quarterbacks. They're smart enough and all this sort of stuff. I didn't even condemn that! I just said that's what I think was going on, in trying to explain why I didn't think that there was that much to be surprised about with the Eagles' performance [in 2003]."

As Media Matters for America has noted, Limbaugh resigned from a brief 2003 stint as a commentator on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown after he made similar remarks about McNabb that ESPN called "insensitive and inappropriate." Following Limbaugh's January 24 assertion, ESPN's January 26 edition of Pardon the Interruption (PTI) featured a segment on the topic, in which hosts and Washington Post sports columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon asked McNabb about Limbaugh's latest comments.

Here is Limbaugh's response to Kornheiser and Wilbon, from the January 27 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: [L]et's go to ESPN's Pardon the Interruption yesterday. This is a show that's on at 5:30, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, both columnists for The Washington Post, and Wilbon says, "Donovan McNabb has been so consistently fabulous this season that even Rush Limbaugh has had to give him some credit. Asked yesterday by a caller to his radio show whether his opinion of McNabb has changed, Limbaugh said, 'You know it has. There's been a demonstrable change in McNabb's performance.' But the Rush man maintains his stance from early last year that the media overrated McNabb to cozy up to a black quarterback."

That's not what I said, Michael! I didn't say you're "cozying up." I said you "had a social agenda." I said you guys can't let go.

By the way, you're still doing stories on black quarterbacks. We've had Doug Williams. We've had Steve McNair. Now we're going to have McNabb. You're still doing stories on how 'isn't it wonderful black quarterbacks are getting in the Super Bowl?' I mean, you're still doing the stories, and there's no question you feel good about it. So what? That's fine and dandy. All I'm saying is, that that led you to overlook what I thought were some performance deficiencies in McNabb at that time. Of course he's better! The statistics indicate that. It doesn't even need to be substantiated that he's better. So, anyway, that's what Wilbon said, getting it wrong again that I was accusing him of cozying up to a black quarterback. That was the least thought in my mind. Anyway, Tony Kornheiser replied:

[from the January 26 edition of Pardon the Interruption]

KORNHEISER: In hindsight now, just looking at what Limbaugh says, I think it's reasonable to believe that some members of the media, in wanting black quarterbacks to succeed, like Donovan McNabb personally, thought he was a worthy guy and hoped he would do very well, in the same way that they liked Brett Favre so much that they tend to overlook some of the bad things he's done.

LIMBAUGH: Well, now, here we are, a year and a half later, and one of the guys on Pardon the Interruption is pretty much saying: "You know, just looking at what Limbaugh says ..." What else would you have ever looked at? "I think it's reasonable to believe that some members of the media in wanting black quarterbacks to succeed like Donovan McNabb, a lot thought he was a worthy guy, hoped that he would do very well in the same way that they looked past Brett Favre's deficiencies that have popped up recently."

[...]

But anyway, I mean, you hear Kornheiser here essentially in this bite -- now, wait for the next one; don't get your hopes up (laughing). In this bite he pretty much says he can understand it, what I had said. "Just looking at what Limbaugh says, I think it's reasonable to believe that some members of the media might" blah blah blah blah blah blah. So Wilbon says, "But where's the social implication there of the media cozying up to Brett Favre? I don't think he questioned ..." I never said "cozying up to" anybody. Anyway, here's Kornheiser's response.

[from the January 26 edition of Pardon the Interruption]

KORNHEISER: What Limbaugh did was race baiting in its purest form. He went out there to be controversial. He knew he could be controversial about race, and he picked on this guy [McNabb]. Now, has he gotten better? Oh, he's gotten much better, because why? Because people get better as they get older and they get more comfortable and he had Terrell Owens to throw to this year. So instead of having 16 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions he had 31-8 this year. He's a much better quarterback. It's not because of Rush Limbaugh.

LIMBAUGH: [laughing] Have I ever said McNabb got better because of me? Others have said this. I don't think I have. There were all kinds of things that motivated McNabb, and we've been through that. So in one bite Tony Kornheiser says, "Just looking at what Limbaugh says, I think it's reasonable to believe that some members of the media in wanting black quarterbacks to succeed, a lot thought he was a worthy guy," and then the next bite, "What Limbaugh did was race baiting in its purest form." I can't keep up with these guys anymore. On the first bite, I'm pretty much agreed with; then the next bite, I'm accused of "race baiting in its purest form."

He [Kornheiser] says I "went out there to be controversial." I knew I "could be controversial about race and I picked on this guy." How many times? Let me tell this story one more time: The production meeting for this show takes place at noon or one o'clock on Saturday, and in the Sunday show, where all of these fireworks happened, the producers at ESPN had put up two segments on the Eagles. One was McNabb and what's wrong, and the other one was "What's wrong with the Eagles generally?" So there were two segments, and, of course, my job in here is ... I can't say anything in these meetings, so my job at the time was to throw a flag and disagree with what I had heard.

So I can't give away what I'm going to say, but I listen to the other guys on the show as they go through the meeting, rehearsing or planning or thinking out loud what they're going to say, and I'm listening to some things and I'm combining with what I hear these guys saying in the production meeting with what I've seen on television with Eagles games, and when the show happens, there was no desire to pick. I'm trying to analyze. I don't understand, and I could be wrong; it's possible, but I'm thinking, "Why is everybody so surprised that the Eagles are not doing well and that McNabb is not there? I have never thought," at that point in time, "that McNabb was as good as all the press and the PR, pure and simple." Nothing to do with race. It had to do with statistics and performance and won-lost, nothing at all to do with that. What I said was, "I think that there is a little social concern in the NFL that black quarterbacks do well." They're still relatively new to the position. Everybody wants to prove they're not just running quarterbacks. They're smart enough and all this sort of stuff. I didn't even condemn that! I just said that's what I think was going on, in trying to explain why I didn't think that there was that much to be surprised about with the Eagles' performance.

Okay, so I might have been wrong, might have been right. Who knows? But the resulting cacophony that focused solely and purely on race -- these guys are saying that I purposely sat there and tried to come up with something to get myself noticed and to be controversial and so forth, total lack of understanding of how I do what I do and why I do what I do. I do not say, and never have said things just to be outrageous or just to cause an outrage. I have never, ever done it.

[...]

Wilbon said, "Well, it's not because of Rush Limbaugh that McNabb's doing well. Donovan McNabb is evolving as a quarterback, and he will continue. He's 27 years old. He's cut down on his interceptions. He's much more accurate, 64 percent now, I think last year something like 57, 58 percent. That's a big leap."

[from the January 26 edition of Pardon the Interruption]

KORNHEISER: You would agree, would you not, that is ... You know, people in the media might root for a certain guy for a variety of reasons, and one might have been it's nice to see a black quarterback do well.

WILBON: We. Often. Root. For. Guys.

KORNHEISER: Yeah.

WILBON: I know black and white guys root for him. I root for Donovan McNabb and if Rush Limbaugh doesn't like it I mean that's tough. I root for him.

KORNHEISER: Here's the critical question: Do you think that Donovan McNabb should give his playoff share to Rush Limbaugh for making him essentially the star of the NFL?

WILBON: I think Donovan McNabb (bell rings) should do what he's always done, which is ignore Rush Limbaugh.

LIMBAUGH: He's not ignored me, Michael! He has suggested on your network that he hired me as his marketing agent. He has not ignored me, but I'm not rooting against him! I'm not disappointed when he does well. I'm not happy when he doesn't! None of this is accurate. It's all assumptions based on prejudice that you guys on this show have, and many of you also in the sportswriter community have. You have your own prejudices; you have your own biases, and when somebody fits the mold that you've created, that it doesn't exist in reality, you can't wait to pounce on it. Prejudice, pure and simple is what you guys are exhibiting here. (interruption) I've watched the show. (interruption) I did. Yeah, sometimes I like the show. It's an entertaining show. I'm not going to sit here and say otherwise. I don't have any animus toward anybody, Mr. Snerdley. This is the whole point, not these guys. This is football. This is sports. This is escapism. (interruption) Well, they're not idiots, Mr. Snerdley. They just don't know how they come off. You know, they don't see themselves as other people do.

Nevertheless, they talked to McNabb. We've got a couple sound bites. They're pretty short. Kornheiser, Wilbon, and they're interviewing McNabb. Wilbon said, "Now, this goes back now about a year and a half. Rush Limbaugh said in his radio show his opinion of you has changed. There's been a demonstrable improvement in your play and I wonder what your thoughts are of what Rush is saying." Now, the quality here -- we got this from the Internet so the quality here is going to be a little lacking but you'll still be able to make it out.

MCNABB: Everyone has their own opinions. We've all been playing better but again, you know, I'm not here to impress anyone on the outside. I'm just out here trying to do whatever it takes in order to help my team win.

LIMBAUGH: Kornheiser says, "But whether or not Rush Limbaugh said it or not, you had a great year." [laughing] You know, my friend Ralph Wiley, who passed away -- a great, great writer, Sports Illustrated -- his last column or one of his last columns at ESPN's Page 2, their website last year was lamenting how I hijacked the football season last year, and I laughed about it. But listening to these guys, you would think I hijacked the season. Whatever McNabb did is because or not because of me. So, anyway, Kornheiser said, "Well, whether or not Rush Limbaugh said it or not you had a great year. I mean, you're better now than you ever were. Do you think you weren't better this year?"

MCNABB: Well, I feel better. I've been eating right and doing some extra running. My clothes feel a little bit better. I'm still the same Donovan. You know, sometimes you have better years than obviously the previous, and, you know, you try to get better each year, and I think getting better and just improving as we speak.

LIMBAUGH: All I ever said was: I agree with that. I guess I should add, "I'm happy about it. I'm looking forward to this game."

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
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