ABC aired Limbaugh as “observer” on race issues in Biden controversy

On the January 31 edition of ABC's World News, during a report on Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s (D-DE) controversial description of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), senior national correspondent Jake Tapper cited radio host Rush Limbaugh as an "[o]bserver" who “questioned what Biden meant, especially by the word 'clean.' ” Tapper aired an audio clip of Limbaugh saying, “And see, folks, this is the problem for the libs. Once they get off script, they expose their idiocy. They expose their prejudice.” Tapper paired Limbaugh's comments with remarks by civil rights activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson.

In an interview with The New York Observer, Biden had stated that Obama was “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Biden later apologized and claimed that he had intended to say “fresh” instead of “clean.” Tapper included Limbaugh in the report, despite Limbaugh's history -- unmentioned by Tapper -- of racially charged comments, including comments about Obama himself, as Media Matters for America has repeatedly noted:

  • As Media Matters noted, on the January 24 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Limbaugh referred to Obama and actress Halle Berry as “Halfrican American[s].” Also, on the January 16 broadcast of his radio show, Limbaugh called Obama a "half-minority" and said that “the media ... are in the midst of Obama-gasms” because “Barack Hussein Obama” has formed a presidential exploratory committee. Further, on February 7, 2006, Limbaugh said he “kind of like[d]” a caller's statement that Obama “is the Donovan McNabb of the U.S. Senate.” The statement was an apparent reference to Limbaugh's controversial 2003 comments about McNabb, a quarterback for the National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles, which caused Limbaugh to resign from his position as a commentator on ESPN. During the September 28, 2003, edition of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, Limbaugh said that "[t]he media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well" and, therefore, that McNabb “got a lot of credit for the performance of this team [the Eagles] that he didn't deserve.”
  • As Media Matters noted, on the August 23, 2006, broadcast of his radio program, Limbaugh commented on a season of CBS' reality TV program Survivor in which contestants were originally divided into competing “tribes” by ethnicity. Limbaugh stated that the contest was “not going to be fair if there's a lot of water events” and suggested that “blacks can't swim.” Limbaugh stated that “our early money” is on “the Hispanic tribe” -- which he said could include “a Cuban,” “a Nicaraguan,” or “a Mexican or two” -- provided they don't “start fighting for supremacy amongst themselves.” Limbaugh added that Hispanics have “probably shown the most survival tactics,” that they “have shown a remarkable ability to cross borders,” and that they can “do it without water for a long time, they don't get apprehended, and they will do things other people won't do.” When the Survivor producers decided to dissolve the show's racially segregated “tribes” after only two episodes, Limbaugh declared that "[t]here can only be one reason for this. ... [T]hat is the white tribe had to be winning."
  • On the February 14, 2006, broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh invented a “racial component” to explain Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett's departure from the Ohio Democratic Senate primary race. While reporting on Hackett's decision to withdraw from the race against then-Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) for the seat then held by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Limbaugh asserted: “And don't forget, Sherrod Brown is black. There's a racial component here, too,” adding that “the newspaper that I'm reading all this from is The New York Times, and they, of course, don't mention that." In fact, Brown is Caucasian -- a point which Limbaugh acknowledged later in the program. Brown defeated DeWine in the 2006 midterm election.
  • Limbaugh frequently refers to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as “Club Gitmo.” In unveiling this moniker, as Media Matters noted, Limbaugh described the prison as “Club G'itmo, the Muslim resort,” a “tropical paradise down there where Muslim extremists and terrorist wannabes can get together for rest and relaxation.” Accompanying his new “advertising campaign” for the detention facility, Limbaugh sold on his website “Club G'itmo” T-shirts that read “I Got My Free Koran and Prayer Rug at G'itmo,” “Your Tropical Retreat from the Stress of Jihad,” “My Mullah went to Club G'itmo and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt,” and “What Happens in G'itmo Stays in G'itmo.”
  • Limbaugh repeatedly referred to American Indians as “injuns,” as Media Matters has documented.
  • As Media Matters also noted, Limbaugh has described illegal immigrants as an “invasive species” that U.S. courts willingly permit to enter the country.
  • According to a June 7, 2000, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) article, “As a young broadcaster in the 1970s, Limbaugh once told a black caller: 'Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.' ” In the early 1990s, “after becoming nationally syndicated, he mused on the air: 'Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?' ” According to FAIR, "[w]hen Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) was in the U.S. Senate, the first black woman ever elected to that body, Limbaugh would play the 'Movin' On Up' theme song from TV's 'Jeffersons' when he mentioned her. Limbaugh sometimes still uses mock dialect -- substituting 'ax' for 'ask'-- when discussing black leaders." FAIR also reported that "[i]n 1992, on his now-defunct TV show, Limbaugh expressed his ire when Spike Lee urged that black schoolchildren get off from school to see his film Malcolm X: 'Spike, if you're going to do that, let's complete the education experience. You should tell them that they should loot the theater, and then blow it up on their way out.' "

From the January 31 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

TAPPER: Observers from both parties questioned what Biden meant, especially by the word “clean.”

JACKSON [video clip]: They are loaded words, and that's why he should interpret what he meant by those loaded words.

LIMBAUGH [audio clip]: And see, folks, this is the problem for the libs. Once they get off script, they expose their idiocy. They expose their prejudice.

TAPPER: In a conference call with reporters today, Biden said he was praising Obama.