Now that he has been barred from buying a piece of a professional
football team, might Rush Limbaugh be interested in owning a newspaper,
and a cable news network? He may not have to use his own money to get
Dave Checketts, the owner of the St. Louis Blues hockey team, had asked
the conservative talk show host to be a minority investor in the
syndicate he was putting together to buy the St. Louis Rams. But Mr.
Checketts dropped Mr. Limbaugh after he was called a racist.
The harshest criticism came from Bryan Burwell, a sports columnist for
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Mr. Burwell quoted Mr. Limbaugh as having
"I mean, let's face it. We didn't have slavery in this country for over
100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: 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."
That quote was repeated by several anchors and reporters on CNN, MSNBC
and ESPN, most baldly by CNN's Rick Sanchez.
But Rush Limbaugh never said any such thing. A liberal blogger made it
up, and posted it and another spurious Limbaugh quote to the effect that
James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, deserved the Medal
of Honor, on Wikiquote on July 20, 2005. Anyone can post anything on
Wikiquote. There is no fact checking.
Nor, apparently, is there fact checking at the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch. Mr. Burwell said he took the bogus Limbaugh quote from
the 2006 book, "101 People who are Really Screwing America," by John
Huberman. Mr. Huberman provides no sourcing.
CNN will check "facts" in stories critical of people they like. Wolf
Blitzer fact-checked a Saturday Night Live skit on President Obama,
which -- though this wasn't his intent -- was funnier than the skit
itself. But CNN apparently doesn't fact check the things its reporters
and anchors say about people they don't like.
The journalists who repeated these bogus quotes say it's up to Mr.
Limbaugh to prove he isn't a racist. It's difficult to prove a
negative. But Mr. Limbaugh has been on the air for three hours a day,
five days a week, for more than 20 years. It says something that his
critics have been unable to find in all the things he's actually said
anything that suggests racist sentiments. It also says something that
Mr. Limbaugh's call screener, James Golden (Bo Snerdley), is black.
If Mr. Limbaugh really were a racist, it shouldn't take bogus quotes to
"prove" that he is.
The journalists who have smugly adopted a "guilty until proven innocent"
attitude toward Mr. Limbaugh may come to regret it.
"We are in the process behind the scenes of working to get apologies and
retractions, with the force of legal action, against every journalist
who has published these entirely fabircated quotes about me, slavery,
and James Earle Ray," Mr. Limbaugh said.
Since the Supreme Court's decision in the 1964 case of the New York
Times v. Sullivan, it's been difficult for a "public figure" to win a
libel suit. It isn't enough to prove that the accusation is false, and
caused harm. The public figure must also prove the accusation was made
with actual malice, or with a "reckless disregard" for whether the
accusation was true or not.
If I were an executive at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and especially if
I were an executive at CNN, I wouldn't be smug about the outcome of a
The kvetching in the "mainstream" media about conservative blogs could
be seen as evidence of "reckless disregard."
"The irony is, of course, that the people who are reporting (the bogus
Limbaugh quotes) as fact are the same types who are always denouncing
bloggers as forces of evil intent on destroying proper journalism --
proper journalism being the kind that involves checking facts," said the
British journalist Toby Harnden.
When CNN's Rick Sanchez reported the bogus slavery quote as fact, he ran
with it an old photo of an obese, sinister looking Rush Limbaugh. But
it has been many months since Mr. Limbaugh lost more than 80 lbs. He
cuts quite a trim figure now, as CNN well knows. Running the old photo
with the false report could be seen by a jury as a sign of malice.
Even if he doesn't win, for a fraction of what he would have spent to
acquire a piece of the Rams, Mr. Limbaugh can make life miserable for
the journalists who libeled him.