This is “a great leader for conservatives”? Media Matters looks back at some of the worst of Limbaugh

In light of Limbaugh's continued prominence as a major figure among conservatives, Media Matters for America looks back at Limbaugh's history of inflammatory, controversial, and “ugly” remarks.

Former President Ronald Reagan once reportedly dubbed Rush Limbaugh, “the Number One voice for conservatism in our Country.” According to The New York Times Magazine, “In 1994, he was so influential in the Republican Congressional landslide that the grateful winners made him an honorary member of the G.O.P. freshman class.” Limbaugh is once again in the headlines with his attacks on President Obama. In a March 2 appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) stated, “I think Rush is a great leader for conservatives. I think he articulates what a lot of people are concerned about.”

On the March 1 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel stated of Limbaugh, "[W]henever a Republican criticizes him, they have to run back and apologize to him and say they were misunderstood." Indeed, as blogger Greg Sargent noted, after Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) stated that “it's easy if you're Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks,” Gingrey issued a statement in which he sought to “clarify” his comments by stating, in part, that Republicans “need to articulate a clear conservative message that distinguishes our values and our approach from those of liberal Democrats.” In his statement, Gingrey described Limbaugh as one of the “conservative giants [who] are the voices of the conservative movement's conscience.” Also, as Think Progress noted, Gingrey called into Limbaugh's radio show to express “very sincere regret for those comments.” Gingrey reportedly said: “I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments. ... I regret those stupid comments.”

In addition, according to the Politico, after referring to Limbaugh as an “entertainer” whose rhetoric can be “incendiary” and “ugly,” Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele “reached out to Rush Limbaugh to tell him he meant no offense.” According to the Politico, Steele stated: “My intent was not to go after Rush -- I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. ... I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. ... There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

In light of Limbaugh's continued prominence as a major figure among conservatives, Media Matters for America looks back at Limbaugh's history of inflammatory, controversial, and “ugly” remarks:

  • In a January 22 interview on Fox News' Hannity, Limbaugh said of media coverage of Obama: “We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president.” Limbaugh had previously declared in June 2008 that Obama's “only chance of winning” the presidency “is that he's black.” During the 2008 presidential campaign, Limbaugh also called Obama “an affirmative action candidate” and asserted during the May 14, 2008, broadcast of his show, “If Barack Obama were Caucasian, they would have taken this guy out on the basis of pure ignorance long ago.”
  • Limbaugh has repeatedly invoked right-wing conspiracy theories that the Clintons were involved in the death of then-deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, whose body was found in Northern Virginia's Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993, despite multiple official investigations that determined Foster committed suicide. On July 8, 2008, while discussing reports that a plane carrying then-Sen. Obama had been forced to make an emergency landing in St. Louis, Limbaugh referred to Obama's flight “aboard Fort Marcy Airlines.” Limbaugh later commented on a “conspiracy theory” that “Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton, through Mr. [Terry] McAuliffe, is gonna massage things out in Denver so that [Obama] doesn't get the nomination.” He added: “You couple this with Obama's plane, Fort Marcy Airlines, having to take a detour to St. Louis for a mechanical problem.”
  • In September 2007, Limbaugh characterized service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq “phony soldiers.” He later argued he had been taken out of context by Media Matters and claimed he was not talking about “the anti-war movement generally,” but rather about “one soldier ... Jesse MacBeth.” To support this, Limbaugh purported to air the “entire” segment in question from the September 26, 2007, broadcast of his show, but, in fact, the clip he aired had been selectively edited. Limbaugh later included Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), a Vietnam veteran, in the group of “phony soldiers.”
  • On the August 21, 2007, broadcast of his show, a caller said to Limbaugh: “I know I'm no expert in foreign affairs, but what really confuses me about the liberals is the hypocrisy when they talk about how we have no reason to be in Iraq and helping those people, but yet everybody wants us to go to Darfur.” Limbaugh responded by claiming Democrats “want to get us out of Iraq, but they can't wait to get us into Darfur.” He continued: “There are two reasons. What color is the skin of the people in Darfur? It's black. And who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them? If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they're in trouble.” The caller responded, “The black population,” to which Limbaugh said, “Right.”
  • Responding to a Reuters report on a University of Chicago study that found that “a majority of young blacks feel alienated form today's government,” Limbaugh asserted on February 5, 2007: “Why would that be? The government's been taking care of them their whole lives.”
  • Discussing Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) speech following her election as the country's first female speaker of the House, Limbaugh stated on January 5, 2007: "[L]ook at Ms. Pelosi. Why, she can multitask. She can breastfeed, she can clip her toenails, she can direct the House, all while the kids are sitting on her lap at the same time."
  • Limbaugh has made numerous controversial remarks about women, including frequently referring to feminists as "feminazis." For example, on the November 30, 2006, edition of his radio show, Limbaugh proclaimed: My “cat's taught me more about women, than anything my whole life” because his pet cat “comes to me when she wants to be fed,” and "[s]he's smart enough to know she can't feed herself. She's actually [a] very smart cat. She gets loved. She gets adoration. She gets petted. She gets fed. And she doesn't have to do anything for it."

On January 24, 2008, Limbaugh claimed that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton is “in the Northeast. She is surrounded by her good old, white female -- white female new castrati male base, while her husband [former President] Bill [Clinton] pays penance -- left to deal in South Carolina, while she's up with her people, the whites and the less-than-blacks.” Later in the broadcast, referring to Clinton, Limbaugh asked: “How did that woman go from inevitable, to down-and-dirty, to the testicle lockbox, to her red-faced husband showing that even he, too, gets PMS?”

On January 10, 2006, Limbaugh suggested that some women “would love to be hired as eye candy.”

On March 1, 2005, Limbaugh claimed that "[w]omen still live longer than men because their lives are easier."

  • In October 2006, Rush Limbaugh accused actor Michael J. Fox, who has Parkinson's disease, of “exaggerating the effects of the disease” in a campaign advertisement for Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who was then a Senate candidate. In the ad, Fox endorsed McCaskill for supporting embryonic stem cell research, which her opponent at the time, then-incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent, opposed. Noting that Fox is “moving all around and shaking” in the ad, Limbaugh declared: “And it's purely an act. This is the only time I have ever seen Michael J. Fox portray any of the symptoms of the disease he has.” Limbaugh added that “this is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting, one of the two.”

Later in the broadcast, Limbaugh stated, “I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act, especially since people are telling me they have seen him this way on other interviews and in other television appearances.” However, Limbaugh then returned to criticizing Fox, stating that “Michael J. Fox is using his illness as a way to mislead voters into thinking that their vote for a single United States senator has a direct impact on stem cell research in Missouri. It doesn't, and it won't.”

  • On August 23, 2006, discussing the 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 ... that is the white tribe had to be winning."

  • On February 14, 2006, 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), 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 white -- a point on which Limbaugh was corrected later in the program.
  • Following the disclosure of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, Limbaugh claimed in 2004 that the U.S. military personnel involved were just “having a good time,” and that their actions served as an “emotional release.” Limbaugh called the abuse “hazing,” referred to it as “an out-of-control fraternity prank,” and agreed with a caller that the abuse “was like a college fraternity prank.”
  • In 2003, Limbaugh made controversial comments about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, which led to Limbaugh's resignation 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.”
  • According to a June 7, 2000, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) article, "[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.' "
  • The late columnist Molly Ivins reported:

On his TV show, early in the Clinton administration, Limbaugh put up a picture of Socks, the White House cat, and asked, “Did you know there's a White House dog?” Then he put up a picture of Chelsea Clinton, who was 13 years old at the time and as far as I know had never done any harm to anyone.

When viewers objected, he claimed, in typical Limbaugh fashion, that the gag was an accident and that without his permission some technician had put up the picture of Chelsea -- which I found as disgusting as his original attempt at humor.