Reporting and Commentary Should Remain Separate

There's more than enough opinion journalism.

In his essay “Limbaugh obituaries show the mainstream media still fawning over the people who poisoned politics,” Dan Froomkin continues his quest to have his opinion treated as the Objective Truth by reporters.

The leaders of our elite newsrooms had a whole year to figure out how they were going to frame Rush Limbaugh’s life.

He announced he was dying of lung cancer last February, right before Donald Trump gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. It was a striking moment, symbolic of how thoroughly Limbaugh’s moral rot had infected the body politic, all the way to the presidency and its most hallowed traditions.

[…]

Our newsroom leaders still cannot bring themselves to declare that the hysteria and conspiracy theories that once inhabited only the lunatic fringes of our political discourse – until Rush Limbaugh, and then Donald Trump, came along – don’t merit respect, but banishment, rejection, and denial.

And that is why, even with a year to prewrite and edit, major media outlets on Wednesday published obituaries celebrating Limbaugh’s extraordinary success as a “conservative provocateur.” They whitewashed his once-unimaginably vile and divisive demagoguery as “comic bombast.” They hailed him as “the voice of American conservatism,” when what really matters about Rush Limbaugh is that he spread hatred more effectively and lucratively than any American before him. He didn’t hide his bigotry, and, thanks to him, neither, eventually, did the Republican Party.

Froomkin and I largely agree on Trump, Limbaugh, and the state of the Republican Party. My Limbaugh obit, written hastily immediately upon learning of his death, conveyed that. But, like Froomkin, I’m a commentator on the news, not a reporter.

Here’s what Froomkin suggests should have been the lede in the major press obits:

He pushed the national political discourse far to the right, giving voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories that became central to the rise of Trump and the radicalization of the Republican Party.

I think that’s a fair characterization of Limbaugh’s legacy. But that’s opinion, not news. And goodness knows, there’s plenty of space—including at places like the New York Times and Washington Post—for commentators to express their opinions of Limbaugh. Indeed:

The job of newspaper obituary writers is to provide broad content, not give opinions about a person’s character

Ah, you say, but Limbaugh was unassailably evil!

Aside from the fact that tens of millions of Americans hold a different opinion, casting that sort of judgment just isn’t and shouldn’t be the norm for obituaries.

Take, for example, the New York Times‘ May 2, 2011 obituary for Osama Bin Laden. The header is a simple “OBITUARY | OSAMA BIN LADEN, 1957-2011” and the headline “The Most Wanted Face of Terrorism.”

Here’s the lede:

Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan on Monday, was a son of the Saudi elite whose radical, violent campaign to recreate a seventh-century Muslim empire redefined the threat of terrorism for the 21st century.

With the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Bin Laden was elevated to the realm of evil in the American imagination once reserved for dictators like Hitler and Stalin. He was a new national enemy, his face on wanted posters. He gloated on videotapes, taunting the United States and Western civilization.

Now, while some readers might disagree, I happen to believe bin Laden a more reprehensible figure than Limbaugh. Certainly, few Times readers would have objected to calling him awful names. But the obit simply put his life into broad context, leaving it to the editorial and op-ed pages to debate his character.

Long before, he had become a hero in much of the Islamic world, as much a myth as a man — what a longtime C.I.A. officer called “the North Star” of global terrorism. He had united disparate militant groups, from Egypt to the Philippines, under the banner of Al Qaeda and his ideal of a borderless brotherhood of radical Islam.

Terrorism before Bin Laden was often state-sponsored, but he was a terrorist who had sponsored a state. From 1996 to 2001 he bought the protection of the Taliban, then the rulers of Afghanistan, and used the time and freedom to make Al Qaeda — which means “the base” in Arabic — into a multinational enterprise for the export of terrorism.

To this day, the precise reach of his power remains unknown: how many members Al Qaeda could truly count on, how many countries its cells had penetrated — and whether, as Bin Laden had boasted, he was seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

He waged holy war with modern methods. He sent fatwas — religious decrees — by fax and declared war on Americans in an e-mail beamed by satellite around the world. Qaeda members kept bomb-making manuals on CDs and communicated through encrypted memos on laptops, leading one American official to declare that Bin Laden possessed better communications technology than the United States. He railed against globalization, even as his agents in Europe and North America took advantage of a globalized world to carry out their attacks, insinuating themselves into the very Western culture he despised.

He styled himself a Muslim ascetic, a billionaire’s son who gave up a life of privilege for the cause. But he was media savvy and acutely image-conscious. Before a CNN crew that interviewed him in 1997 was allowed to leave, his media advisers insisted on editing out unflattering shots. He summoned reporters to a cave in Afghanistan when he needed to get his message out, but like the most controlling of C.E.O.’s he insisted on receiving written questions in advance.

His reedy voice seemed to belie the warrior image he cultivated, a man whose constant companion was a Kalashnikov rifle that he boasted he had taken from a Russian soldier he had killed. The world’s most threatening terrorist, he was also known to submit to dressings down by his mother. While he built his reputation on his combat experience against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s, even some of his supporters questioned whether he had actually fought.

There’s a whole lot more but you get the idea. This was a man responsible for nearly 3000 innocent deaths in a single day three-and-a-half miles from where the newspaper is published. Yet their description is nuanced and fair. Indeed, I might argue that it’s actually kinder than the Limbaugh obit.

I share Froomkin’s distate for what Jeff Jarvis has long termed “the view from nowhere.” Journalists should certainly be more than stenographers who parrot back what one side says and what the the other says as though they are always equally true.

A Limbaugh obit of feature length should certainly include—as all the ones I read yesterday afternoon did—enough information for an uninformed reader to come away with a solid understanding of why he was a controversial figure. It’s fair game to report on some of the inflammatory things he said on air, his problems with drug addiction, and all the rest. But they should absolutely have led with his stature as the most influential and popular political talk radio host of the television era.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    Ummm,. James, you are about to get (appropriately) piled on.

    What you describe as “news” is also laced with opinion. It isn’t opinion that Rush Limbaugh espoused racist, bigoted, misogynistic views. That is purely factual. That is exactly what he pushed. It is as “news” as calling him “bombastic” or “controversial”. Choosing to include – or not include – every description is an editorial decision.

    Millions of people may share his opinions and may disagree that he is evil or wrong for holding them. But the opinions are what they are.

    And, newsflash, Limbaugh himself agreed that the binding feature of “conservatism” and the GOP
    was not political philosophy but animus. (See his discussion regarding Trump and his success despite his non-conservative aspects in 2016).

    Calling something what it is is far more true than hiding behind Great Broderisms and refusing to accurately identify what is true out of a need not to offend or upset.

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  2. SKI says:

    But they should absolutely have led with his stature as the most influential and popular political talk radio host of the television era.

    Even granting that is true, why is that more important, from a news perspective, than his lasting influence on the direction of the GOP and his impact on life today?

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  3. Barry says:

    James, you are really misrepresenting his article, and his point was that many if not all of the obituaries bent over waaaay to one side to make him look better.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @SKI:

    It isn’t opinion that Rush Limbaugh espoused racist, bigoted, misogynistic views. That is purely factual.

    No, that’s an opinion. It’s one I share but it’s an opinion.

    @SKI:

    [W]hy is that more important, from a news perspective, than his lasting influence on the direction of the GOP and his impact on life today?

    It’s not. But the NYT and, especially, the WaPo obits that I linked in my piece yesterday very much address that. They just don’t offer a judgment as to whether it was good or bad.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Barry:

    James, you are really misrepresenting his article

    Howso? I literally quote the first several relevant paragraphs.

    and his point was that many if not all of the obituaries bent over waaaay to one side to make him look better.

    Even as a critic of Limbaugh, I found the NYT, WaPo, and AP obits eminently fair. They rightly point to him as a towering media figure, cultural lightning rod, and major influencer in Republican politics. His suggested lede, by contrast, is absurdly opinionated.

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  6. Kathy says:

    @SKI:

    Ummm,. James, you are about to get (appropriately) piled on.

    I’m afraid so.

    I’ll just say, if you have to reach bin laden as counterpoint to Limbaugh, that tells how terrible a person the latter was.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    @SKI:

    Ummm,. James, you are about to get (appropriately) piled on.

    Indeed.

    I think that’s a fair characterization of Limbaugh’s legacy. But that’s opinion, not news.

    You think Froomkin’s suggested lede is fair characterization but you think it’s not factual? Is it that it’s factual but it’s not “news”? I confess, James, some of your finer points of distinction escape me.

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  8. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    Sorry, but I am having trouble seeing the line between describing bin Laden as a man who ran a “radical, violent campaign to recreate a seventh-century Muslim empire” and saying Limbaugh “pushed the national political discourse far to the right, giving voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories”. Both seem like statements of fact to me.

    Can you describe the differences you see further?

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  9. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “No, that’s an opinion. It’s one I share but it’s an opinion.”

    The problem we have is not too much opinion in the news, but too little news in the news.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    I’ll just say, if you have to reach bin laden as counterpoint to Limbaugh, that tells how terrible a person the latter was.

    I was literally looking for the most evil character I could to see how the NYT obituary was written. (I tried Adolf Hitler but, even with a subscription that allows me to read the archives, I only found some news stories about his passing, not actual obit.)

  11. Thomm says:

    “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”

    . “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”

    To an African American female caller]: “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”
    “Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.”

    “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society.

    “Women should not be allowed on juries where the accused is a stud.”

    ” ‘Ching cha. Ching chang cho chow. Cha Chow. Ching Cho. Chi ba ba ba. Kwo kwa kwa kee. Cha ga ga. Ching chee chay. Ching zha bo ba. Chang cha. Chang cho chi che. Cha dee. Ooooh chee bada ba. Jee jee cho ba.’ Nobody was translating, but that’s the closest I can get,” he said on his radio show while “translating” Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2011.

    “When a gay person turns his back on you, it is anything but an insult; it’s an invitation.”
    And let’s not forget “barack the magic negro”, a top ten hit song on his show

    Yup…just an opinion. I dunno, I could be wrong…maybe this was said all in good fun amirite?

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Sorry, but I am having trouble seeing the line between describing bin Laden as a man who ran a “radical, violent campaign to recreate a seventh-century Muslim empire” and saying Limbaugh “pushed the national political discourse far to the right, giving voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories”. Both seem like statements of fact to me.

    Can you describe the differences you see further?

    OBL:

    “radical, violent campaign to recreate a seventh-century Muslim empire”

    Two of those are indisputable and one is such a mild judgment as to be essentially factual. That he was trying to recreate the Ummah is literally taken from his own manifestos. That he was using a violent campaign to get there was simply a fact. That the campaign was “radical” is a judgment but it’s rather inescapable given the plain meaning of the word and the combination of both the goal (a complete transformation of society) and the means (mass violence directed at noncombatants).

    RL:

    “pushed the national political discourse far to the right, giving voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories”

    Those are all judgments. The only one that’s largely indisputable is giving voice to conspiracy theories.

    2
  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bin Laden died when we were still a seemingly rational country. Limbaugh died post-Trump. The country, and the media, are not going to suddenly snap back to a bygone era before a Liar-in-Chief sent lunatics to murder his vice president.

    We are in this mess not because we don’t have enough straight news but because vast portions of the population have abandoned straight news and are flatly incapable of parsing the quality of the news they get.

    We are neck deep in problems which we cannot address effectively because 74 million Americans are idiots, racists and loons. The problem is not a lack of Walter Cronkites. The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves, in the twisted, fevered, unhinged minds that make up the Republican voter base.

    And it certainly is fitting that this vile man Limbaugh, this pathological liar, this hate-monger, this thug who could not even be be bothered to treat a president’s child with the most minimal decency, ends up hoist on his own petard. Now, you might say this very paragraph is an example of mere opinion. So. . . which part is not objectively true? Was Limbaugh not objectively a liar? Was he not objectively a hate-monger? And if he’s a liar and hate-monger, is he not vile?

    Objectivity is a myth, truth is not. The job of reporters is not to adhere to a formula meant to signal a non-existent objectivity, the job of a reporter is: Truth.

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  14. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Moosebreath: This exactly the angle I was going to take. Saying that Bin Laden waged a “Radical, Violent Campaign…” is an opinion. One NOT shared in the social and professional circles Bin Laden moved in. They would say that Bin Laden was a defenders for Muslim against Western violence and humiliation of them. And to be really honest–Bin Laden was the Biden of the Jihadi community…a moderate relatively speaking. The people to the right of him eventually filled the power vacuum when his faction was dismantled. You know these people as ISIS.

    If we are only taking about facts–about the only thing that can be written is Rush Limbaugh (Radio Jock):1951-2021.

    The whole ‘simply the facts’ meme is not really reality. Humans require facts to be contextualized into a story or they simply don’t resonate. That context is subject to the bias of the writer. End of story.

    This is a fact–when I used to watch Limbaugh show (I think it came on after Arsenio Hall)–he missed no opportunity to highlight the Black criminal record rate, Black child illegitimacy, Black poverty, etc. IOWs (Dangerous, Irresponsible, Lazy NI$$3Rs). Its also a fact that if the person with the microphone paints people like this—they aren’t going to miss him and don’t give a rats ass about his talent or revolutionizing of talk radio

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  15. wr says:

    Maybe we should take all the opinion out of the obits. We could just have this:

    “Rush Limbaugh, a drug addict who spent many years calling for long prison terms for Black men caught up in the illegal drug trade and yet who was able to negotiate rehab-only punishment for himself when he was caught doctor shopping in his quest to acquire illegal amounts of Oxycontin, died…”

    I suspect you would find that inappropriate, as well, even though it’s entirely factual and not opinion-based. The trouble is that there is no such thing as entirely fact, completely objective prose. Any writer of non-fiction, even of obituaries, is forced to choose which elements to include and which to exclude, which to emphasize and which to downplay, all of which will inevitably lead to cries of bias and opinion from one side or the other.

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  16. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    It isn’t opinion that Rush Limbaugh espoused racist, bigoted, misogynistic views. That is purely factual.

    No, that’s an opinion. It’s one I share but it’s an opinion.

    How is it not a factual statement?

    Did he not espouse such views? Are we incapable of declaring that a particular view is racist or bigoted or homophobic or misogynistic as a matter of reality?

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Saying that Bin Laden waged a “Radical, Violent Campaign…” is an opinion. One NOT shared in the social and professional circles Bin Laden moved in. They would say that Bin Laden was a defenders for Muslim against Western violence and humiliation of them. And to be really honest–Bin Laden was the Biden of the Jihadi community…a moderate relatively speaking.

    The first dictionary definition of radical is “(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” Neither OBL nor his supporters would dispute that’s what he was seeking.

    That he used violence in the campaign is simply indisputable. He attacks killed thousands.

    Whether he was justified in using violence, whether his cause was just, or whether he was temperate compared to ISIS are all points up for debate and, ultimately, in the realm of opinion.

    2
  18. Mu Yixiao says:

    James: As someone who write news, I understand what you’re saying–and agree.

    To the rest, there are ways of stating what you’re staying without it being opinion.

    Instead of saying “he was a racist”, you say “he was frequently criticized for statements seen as racist by many.” The first statement is subjective–it’s making a judgement. The second is stating a fact without expressing a judgement.

    I find it… odd… that so many of you who complain about biased reporting are piling on James because he’s calling for less bias in reporting.

    3
  19. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “The only one that’s largely indisputable is giving voice to conspiracy theories.”

    I disagree. The list of Limbaugh’s racist and misogynistic statements is very long and only partially chronicled by @Thomm: above. And I think any observer would agree that he pushed discourse far to the right (in fact, I suspect Limbaugh would be pleased that is in the first paragraph of his obituary).

    3
  20. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    Aside from the fact that tens of millions of Americans hold a different opinion, casting that sort of judgment just isn’t and shouldn’t be the norm for obituaries.

    We may not know how many Muslims worldwide don’t see Mr. Bin Laden as a terrorist, as the quote from the obit indicates. But it’s probably safe to say that the standard you create in the above quote about Mr. Limbaugh would necessitate striking “terrorist” from the obit.

    Hitler seemed to have quite a percentage of Germans behind him as well.

    Now that I think about it, “Barack the Magic Negro” isn’t racist; it’s playful ribbing. It’s only opinion that it’s racist.

    It wasn’t misogynist when he called Ms. Fluke a slut, because he liked sluts. It’s only an opinion that it’s misogynist.

    Osama didn’t hate infidels, he merely wanted the West out of Arab lands. It’s only an opinion that he was a terrorist

    Hitler didn’t hate Jews, he just thought they wrecked his country. He may have even assumed some of them were good people. So, not an anti-semite.

    Yeah, I think I see what you’re saying.

    Come on, dude.

    9
  21. Thomm says:

    @Mu Yixiao: name one quote from the list posted above that is not explicitly racist, mysoginist, or homophobic. Your example is nothing but passive voice weasel words to avoid offending a section of your readership with the truth.

    7
  22. Moosebreath says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    “Instead of saying “he was a racist”, you say “he was frequently criticized for statements seen as racist by many.” The first statement is subjective–it’s making a judgement. The second is stating a fact without expressing a judgement.”

    A perfect example of the “opinions differ on the shape of the Earth” school of journalism.

    “I find it… odd… that so many of you who complain about biased reporting are piling on James because he’s calling for less bias in reporting.”

    I suspect most of us responding to James’s comments don’t complain about the amount of bias in reporting.

    6
  23. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Thomm:

    @Mu Yixiao: name one quote from the list posted above that is not explicitly racist, mysoginist, or homophobic. Your example is nothing but passive voice weasel words to avoid offending a section of your readership with the truth.

    What I wrote is objective. I can write a full, reasonably objective obituary about Limbaugh that reflects how he was seen by people along the political spectrum–and then turn right around and write a scathing editorial about how he was a vile asshole.

    The point is to keep the two separate.

    4
  24. Kurtz says:

    @wr:

    Any writer of non-fiction, even of obituaries, is forced to choose which elements to include and which to exclude, which to emphasize and which to downplay, all of which will inevitably lead to cries of bias and opinion from one side or the other.

    Yeah.

    I find it interesting that the word “bias” is rarely used by those on the left in the same way it is used by those on the right.

    When a liberal or progressive commenter (non-professional/redditer/tweeter/Facebooker) says something, it’s almost certain to draw a response along the lines of, “you’re just biased!!!!!!1111.” I rarely see it used by the left against random person on the right.

    To many, “bias” appears to mean “opinion,” rather than an error due to proximity or proclivity.

    This seems par for the course though.

    Gun control? “Chicago!”

    Healthcare? “Socialism!”

    Safety net? “Handouts!”

    Racism? “Slavery ended 150 years ago!”

    Trans-? “Penis and Vagina!”

    If all else fails, just say “Antifa!” And remind everyone that Stalin killed millions of his own people and countless dentists.

    I should get my own AM radio show, get married several times, and start taking painkillers. Seems pretty easy. I’ve long dreamed of wiping my ass with 100s.

    3
  25. SKI says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Instead of saying “he was a racist”, you say “he was frequently criticized for statements seen as racist by many.” The first statement is subjective–it’s making a judgement. The second is stating a fact without expressing a judgement.

    Bullshit. The first informs. The second obfuscates.

    The reader of the first knows what the reporter thinks is true. The second doesn’t.

    The first has the reporter doing an actual news-related job. The second is a stenographer that results in their readers not knowing what is true.

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  26. SKI says:

    @Mu Yixiao: It wasn’t “objective”. It was empty.

    It didn’t let the reader know what was true.

    4
  27. James Joyner says:

    @Kurtz: I haven’t been a regular listener to Limbaugh’s show in almost two decades, so don’t have much to offer on the individual charges. (Although several of them predate his nationally-syndicated show and go back to when he was a local shock jock under a different persona.) But, for example, I did a pretty long analysis of the Barack the Magic Negro schtick way back in 2007. Whether it’s “racist” is subjective but it’s more than the title suggests.

    2
  28. SKI says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Instead of saying “he was a racist”, you say “he was frequently criticized for statements seen as racist by many.” The first statement is subjective–it’s making a judgement. The second is stating a fact without expressing a judgement.

    Just noted how you switched the suggested language from descriptive of actions to description of person/intent.

    Neither Froomkin nor I declared Rush a racist as you objected to.

    Froomkin said: “He pushed the national political discourse far to the right, giving voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories that became central to the rise of Trump and the radicalization of the Republican Party.”

    I said: “Rush Limbaugh espoused racist, bigoted, misogynistic views.”

    Both are factual statements. He really did do those things. This isn’t a “matter of opinion”.

    He regularly and routinely, through his entire career, insulted minorities and women. Do you really disagree that that actually happened?

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  29. SKI says:

    @James Joyner: Great, you ahve one example,

    How about:

    “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”

    “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.”

    “They’re 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?”

    Comparing Obama to a monkey?

    I can keep going…

    Do you dispute his misogyny? His homophobia?

    3
  30. Thomm says:

    @Mu Yixiao: so starting an objective fact is now only for an editorial because a segment of your readership may disagree? If you want to soften the blow it could also be written as, “…was known for espousing racist, homophobic, and mysoginistic tropes, though he has defenders that say otherwise”. Puts the burden on the defenders rather than the supporters of the truth. As I said…passive voice weasel words to keep from putting out an objective truth to avoid offending readership as little as possible. Your statement might pass muster in a journalism class, but in a rhetoric class, would be torn to shreds.

    6
  31. Gustopher says:

    The man peddled in bigotry, conspiracy theories, resentment, division and anger. Any reasonable obituary is going to say that.

    It’s likely that had he died before 1/6, fewer of his obituaries would have said that, but we’re at a point where his legacy is harder to ignore.

  32. gVOR08 says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I find it… odd… that so many of you who complain about biased reporting are piling on James because he’s calling for less bias in reporting.

    Being unwilling to state simple facts for fear of offending conservative snowflakes IS the bias many of us complain about.

    7
  33. Mu Yixiao says:

    Like any other piece of BBC journalism, an obituary should be true, balanced and fair in the context of that person’s life. It should neither be a eulogy or a character assassination.

    Nick Serpell – BBC Obituary Editor

    Leaving the thread.

    2
  34. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: I don’t think there’s any doubt that Limbaugh played to racial stereotypes. But some of the cited quotes are fake or from well before the national show. And most of the more recent examples are more complicated. Take the NFL/Crips/Bloods thing. It was a response to a caller back in 2007. Here’s the whole response:

    To set the table for people who do not know, after the Chargers and Patriots game, the Chargers sitting around moping, all depressed, because they had the game won, it was just all kinds of stupid mistakes, and let me tell you what happened. Some of the Patriots went to midfield where the Chargers logo is and started doing an imitation of a victory dance done by Chargers player Shawne Merriman after he sacks a quarterback. Now, here are the Chargers who have lost a game they should have won, who lost a game precisely because of the same kind of behavior they’re ripping the Patriots for, and LaDainian Tomlinson says that was classless, (paraphrasing) “We went in there, we beat them twice on their field and we didn’t disrespect them. This obviously comes from the head coach,” meaning Belichick. LaDainian Tomlinson was accusing Belichick of ordering his players and creating a culture that would make it okay for players to go on the field and taunt and so forth and so on.

    Now, LaDainian Tomlinson to me is the classiest player in the National Football League. He doesn’t do a dance, he doesn’t spike the ball when he scores. He and Marvin Harrison are the two most classy individuals playing in the National Football League today, in skill positions. They just hand the ball back to the referee. They act like they’ve been there and done that, like scoring a touchdown is no big deal, they don’t taunt, they don’t act like they’ve been dissed or any of this. Let me tell you, the Chargers would not have lost that game were it not for a bunch of — I gotta be very careful here. It’s not just irresponsible, but there is a cultural problem in the NFL that has resulted in a total lack of class on the part of professional players.

    There was a play where Brady was third and long, he was sacked, fumbled the ball, the Patriots recovered it, it will be fourth and long, forcing an interesting decision late in the game by the Patriots. After the play is over, a Chargers player gets in the face of a Patriots player, head butts him and starts jawing. This is the reason these guys are getting shot in bars, folks, late at night. Fifteen-yard penalty, automatic first down. So for the Chargers to complain about the lack of class by the Patriots, I found laughable. I think something ought to be done about it, because I love the game of football, and I don’t like the kind of culture that’s taking over, that “you can’t diss me, you can’t disrespect me.” After every sack, players are acting like they’ve won the Super Bowl, and they’re prancing around with these idiotic dances. The latest thing is to act like they’re making a jump shot in basketball. It’s all done to taunt; it’s all done to taunt the other team’s fans.

    I don’t want boring football. I don’t want the no-fun league, but you can certainly have great football games without a lack of class. I don’t know how it’s been allowed to happen this way. I guess the coaches don’t feel confident to continue — this was very rare for the Patriots to act the way they did, and who knows what led to it. I don’t think of Belichick as that kind of coach, but Tomlinson’s words reverberated around the league. A lot of people said, “I’m glad he said something, because Belichick is getting away here with an image that he doesn’t deserve.” I’ve played golf with Belichick; he’s a mild-mannered, soft-spoken man. I even saw him at a cocktail party here in Palm Beach before dinner one night. That whole organization to me exudes class, as does Tom Brady, and you don’t see them doing this kind of stuff.

    One of the reasons the Pittsburgh Steelers had trouble this year was a total lack of discipline, in addition to all their turnovers, total lack of discipline, 15-yard penalties, unnecessary roughness, taunting after plays are over, after successful defensive stands, they blow it. There’s something culturally wrong here that is leading to all this. It’s gotta be dealt with at the top, because it simply is classless. I can I understand LaDainian Tomlinson being upset because he doesn’t do this stuff. But in the current NFL climate the best way for the Chargers to prevent that from happening is win the game and keep this insidious, ridiculous, boorish, classless behavior to a minimum so that you don’t lose it on account of that. It’s just disappointing, and it’s a mystery to me why it’s being allowed to continue. Well, actually, I understand partially why it continues, and that’s because of ESPN.

    ESPN lives off this. ESPN created Terrell Owens. Terrell Owens is who he is, but if Terrell Owens weren’t constantly on television with his antics after touchdowns — I remember, I called this. You remember the Monday night game on ABC and Seattle when after scoring a touchdown, T.O. playing for the Fort’iners, pulls a Sharpie out of his sock, autographs the ball and gives it to somebody. I said, ?Folks, this is going to lead to nothing but trouble.? Everybody said, ?Come on, Rush, lighten up, that was funny.? It was classless. Go back and look at the greats who played this game. They would not do anything of the sort, maybe hand the ball off, but not pull a Sharpie out. Everybody started to talk about how much fun that was, ooh, how cool, how creative. Then we get Joe Horn of the United States Saints after he scored a touchdown pulling a cell phone out of his socks and faked making a phone call. Well, guess what shows up on ESPN? So these guys get validated, everybody wants to stand out, they want to get endorsement deals and so forth. So television, making stars out of people who engage in classless behavior helps lead to it and contribute to it. No question in my mind about it. I’ll bet the guy that called from El Paso did not expect this as an answer.
    BREAK TRANSCRIPT
    RUSH: Look it, let me put it to you this way. The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.

    So, he begins by calling out two superstar players, both now in the Hall of Fame, as being the classiest guys in the League. Both of them are Black. But, yes, pretty much everyone else he calls out as classless are also Black. The “diss” thing is clearly aimed at a particular Black subculture.
    It gets even more complicated when you look at the next part of the transcript. There, he pushes back against a caller making this all racial.

    CALLER: I wanted to go back to your NFL thing, and where all this celebration and disrespect that they’re talking about came from. And I think it started clear back in the eighties with the New York Jets and a particular lineman by the name of Mark Gastineau.
    RUSH: Oh, yeah, 99, Mark Gastineau, part of the New York Sack Exchange with Joe Klecko.
    CALLER: See, I couldn’t remember the other guy’s name, Joe Klecko.
    RUSH: Yeah, Klecko was pretty cool, but you’re right, Gastineau did the first sack dance.
    CALLER: Yeah, right over the top of whoever, the quarterback or — dumped the lineman in the backfield —
    RUSH: That’s right, that’s right.
    CALLER: — and they started that, that’s what they do today. Now the owners are just adding the gang signs and the black colors and everything, and it’s moving up into the stands.
    RUSH: What do you mean gang signs? What do you mean?
    CALLER: Well, you watch, some of the stuff you think is a Heisman statue or something, you know, they’re not in college anymore. What are they doing a Heisman pose? Okay, so if you check with the prisons and stuff, some of these are gang signs they’re flashing that they’re doing after these incredible sacks —
    RUSH: Wait a minute, wait a second, wait a second.
    CALLER: Why do you think the NFL players are all going to black? Look how much more black there is now?
    RUSH: I understand that. I know that the uniforms, all-black uniforms or alternate jerseys that have black on them, and I know that that has roots supposedly — I’ve been told it has roots in gang culture.
    CALLER: Exactly.
    RUSH: But wait. The behavior, you’re saying that on-field behavior is rooted in gang?
    CALLER: Absolutely.
    RUSH: How so? These guys are not members of gangs.
    CALLER: They’re not? They’re not? You got it in the NBA as well that they’re doing. One particular player just got traded. He’s come right out and talked about it.
    RUSH: Well, I know the NBA guys have as their idols hip-hoppers and rappers.
    CALLER: Exactly.

    RUSH: Well, there a lot of reasons, but basically it boils down to, in my opinion, a lack of class and a lack of discipline on the part of — and these are young guys, too, for the most part. These are out of college, if they ever went, twenties, a lot of money. You know, Darrent Williams, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Denver on New Year’s Eve after the Broncos lost a heartbreaker in the playoffs. He had been an NBA players party with Kenyon Martin and they are trying to find out if a scuffle happened in there, was he involved in it or not. He had cleaned his life up. He’d come from poor beginnings and so forth, but a lot of people have theories on this. I’ve heard this uniform black business has roots in gang culture, but I think this is also rooted in you don’t diss me, you don’t disrespect me, and disrespect can occur with just the wrong glance. There’s a hypersensitivity to it, but it’s not just black players who are engaging in this kind of behavior.
    I think it’s a just general decline in class, and you can’t leave out the television aspect of this. It gets you on TV, gets you on the highlight reel. There are many, many factors in it. There’s no question and it’s only going to keep getting worse. When this stuff starts costing team games in the playoffs or even the regular season, I would think somebody somewhere, at the league level or ownership, enough is enough here. Look, we’re paying you guys a lot, you are professionals here. This is the best you can be in football in this country. But there’s so much money flowing into it now that they may not perceive it as a problem. I don’t know how many fans are like me and get disgusted by it. I get disgusted by it because it always ends up affecting the outcome of the game. In addition to just the lack of class overall, all this stuff ends up affecting the outcome of the game. Teams are losing games because of this kind of behavior that they otherwise would win.

    Again, all of that’s subject to analysis. And, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to come to the conclusion that, at very least, Limbaugh is playing to racial stereotypes. But it’s also rather standard, Midwestern middle-aged white guy reacting to The Game These Days. But hashing all that out is what the opinion pages are for.

    1
  35. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Interesting how everyone seems to be talking around what is the key point of this thread, but not really addressing it.

    The death of a human? No.

    Philosophy. What is “real”, what is perception, and how can we prove what exists, is fact and not an assumption.

    We have seen many here say: “This is fact”, and the response being: “no, that is commentary”. Commentary being an unscientifically proven assumption.

    Politics is philosophy.

    One could say that Texas philosophy was that self reliance is important above all. Observation is that self reliance failed often for them often resulting in many many deaths, but not enough to change their observable behavior.

    One can continue to argue that Limbaugh was not a misogynistic racist; after all who can tell the motives and the “soul” of an individual. It could be that he was a troll that was doing it strictly for the luls and the money, and the reality may be that he was as wildly liberal as Mother Teresa.

    But I don’t think so.

    Philosophy. Great stuff. Brigs us to the point where we can question if reality really exists, and if anything that we believe and observe is actually a thing. All of you COULD be completely in my imagination and all of this is naught.

    But I will go with Hobbes: Life is nasty, brutish and short.

    As for Limbaugh, he was nasty, brutish and fat.

    And now he’s dead. And that’s a fact.

    2
  36. gVOR08 says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    He pushed the national political discourse far to the right, giving voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories that became central to the rise of Trump and the radicalization of the Republican Party.

    What part of that statement is not true? If it’s true, how is it character assassination? Would it be character assassination to say Willie Sutton robbed banks? That Donald Trump lied a lot?

    The man set out to drive discourse to the right, give voice to racism and misogyny, tout conspiracy theories, and push Trump and the radicalization of the GOP. For profit. Not acknowledging his success would be character assassination.

    2
  37. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: That Willie Sutton robbed banks is a fact not in dispute. He was not only convicted of multiple bank robberies but boasted of them.

    By contrast, saying that Limbaugh gave “voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories” is a matter of opinion, although one with significant evidence. That he was a cause of Trump’s rise or the radicalization of the Republican Party (or, indeed, that the Republican Party is radical) are analytical conclusions, not facts.

  38. Modulo Myself says:

    My sense is that everyone defending Limbaugh like this is doing it because they once found (and maybe still find) his racism and misogyny funny. It has very little to do with objectivity or standards. The dictionary definition of ‘take a bone out of your nose’ is that Rush and everyone who kept on listening is a racist. Not very hard. Instead of manning up and saying, hell yeah, I absolutely loved it when Rush said every mugshot looks like Jesse Jackson, you get this hand-wringing garbage about how it’s for the op-ed pages to talk about normal white schlubs turn out to be dim racists.

    6
  39. James Joyner says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    The dictionary definition of ‘take a bone out of your nose’ is that Rush and everyone who kept on listening is a racist.

    That quip happened half a century ago when he was first trying out his act, not on the show that made him famous, and he’s apologized for it numerous times since.

    1
  40. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    From your ’07 piece.

    Still, Limbaugh has proven right in this hypothesis: “If I refer to Obama the rest of the day as the ‘Magic Negro,’ there will be a number of people in the drive-by media and on left-wing blogs who will credit me for coming up with it and ignore the L.A. Times did it, simply because they can’t be critical of the L.A. Times, but they can, obviously, be critical of talk radio.”

    Here’s the archived media matters link from your column.

    I don’t know if you meant that as a transcript of everything Limbaugh said or if you were using it as an example of “drive-by” media.

    I’ll refrain from taking that line further until that’s sussed out. But that’s relatively minor.

    But as it stands, the transcript shows Limbaugh actually engaging in “drive-by media tactics” while accusing the BBC of malpractice. (by the way, that term ain’t exactly race neutral among the “shared assumptions between” Rush and his audience, is it?)

    Let’s not pretend that his listeners ran out and actually read the piece. Let’s not pretend that the listeners who take him seriously had heard the term “Magic Negro,” much less understood its origins.

    It also features Rush arguing Ehrenstein is racist toward Black people … Even though the columnist is bi-racial and would never be mistaken as Irish or Polish. I have the sneaking suspicion that Rush assumed he was white and Jewish, “Yeah, get this headline. Who wrote this? David Ehrenstein is his name. L.A. based, writes about Hollywood in politics.”

    There are more examples I can point to, and will gladly continue if you want. But I urge you to re-read all of it, because you’re way off base.

    Everything in that transcript points to Rush not giving a damn about the sociological concept of The Magic Negro, nor showing that he actually understood it.

    The thing is, by refusing to acknowledge the complexities of racism, couching it in “controversy,” is the same game that gets played with AGW, smoking-cancer linkage, and other issues. Why feed it? It doesn’t make you racist, but why bristle when people call the fat bastard what he was: a racist.

    6
  41. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/rush-limbaugh-racist-quotes/

    “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.”

    This putative statement dates at least as far back as 1992, so the only documentation we’ve been able to locate for it is indirect. All the sources we’ve found that reference it cite the January 1993 issue of Flush Rush Quarterly as their source.

    https://fair.org/article/limbaugh-a-color-man-who-has-a-problem-with-color/

    In 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.”

    When 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.

    1990s and early 2000s were way past his “trying out his act phase.”

    9
  42. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    No, that’s an opinion. It’s one I share but it’s an opinion.

    How is this any more of an opinion than “the Sun is a star”? It’s an objective fact, verifiable by publicly-available evidence. “Rush Limbaugh was bad for America” is an opinion; “Rush Limbaugh used misogynist language and espoused misogynist ideas” is a report of fact.

    This is a serious question. For you what makes something merely an opinion?

    7
  43. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.

    1
  44. DrDaveT says:

    @wr:

    Maybe we should take all the opinion out of the obits.

    Tangent: In Gregory MacDonald’s novel Fletch Won, a prequel to his awesome series of Fletch novels, we see our protagonist getting into big trouble at the paper where he works by writing obituaries like “Mrs. Louisa Feinstein of Alameda died on Tuesday after having accomplished absolutely nothing in 67 years.”

  45. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao: Instead of saying “he was a racist”, you say “he was frequently criticized for statements seen as racist by many.”
    No. That’s a totally different claim, with different import. It’s a fact about public discourse, not a fact about Rush Limbaugh. It can be true whether Limbaugh was a racist or not.

    What you can say instead of “he was a racist” is “he frequently made statements singling out African-Americans and hispanics for criticism, characterizing them as less intelligent and more criminally-inclined than whites.” Now you’re reporting facts, not hearsay or opinion, that establish the point more succinctly expressed by “he was a racist”.

    5
  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    I find it… odd… that so many of you who complain about biased reporting are piling on James because he’s calling for less bias in reporting.

    But he’s not calling for less bias — he’s calling for less honesty and fewer facts, or only facts from this approved list over here. How is that “less bias”?

    4
  47. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    By contrast, saying that Limbaugh gave “voice to racism, misogyny and conspiracy theories” is a matter of opinion, although one with significant evidence.

    So, kinda like the theory of evolution by natural selection?

    5
  48. Roger says:

    I once tried a case where opposing counsel asked the court to remove a juror we liked (but our opponent, obviously, didn’t) for sleeping through testimony. Our judge hadn’t noticed the juror and asked me if I saw him sleeping. As a lawyer, that puts you in an awkward position. I wanted to keep the juror, but as an officer of the court you can’t lie to a judge. So I told the truth: I’m not inside his head, so I don’t know if he fell asleep and neither does opposing counsel, though I will concede that his eyes were closed; he was breathing slowly, rhythmically, and loudly; and he jerked when the juror next to him nudged him.

    In everyday life, we generally think that whether or not someone is asleep is a fact, though most of the time it’s really more what Dr. Joyner is calling an analytical conclusion. We use these analytical conclusions as shorthand for facts all of the time. The failure to do so marks you as someone who’s on the spectrum, trying to obfuscate, or doesn’t want to face what the facts are showing you.

    While “giving voice to racism” may technically be an analytical conclusion, it takes damn little analysis to get from the many racially insensitive things Rush said to that conclusion, just as calling bin Laden a terrorist is a conclusion supported by lots of facts. I don’t think that Dr. Joyner is trying to hide anything, but I do think that having once run with Rush’s crowd makes it hard for him to see that the quoted obituaries of Limbaugh and bin Laden are equally factual or opinionated, and that it would be virtually impossible to write an honest obituary of either that held to the standard Dr. Joyner seems to be requiring for Limbaugh’s obit.

    5
  49. Modulo Myself says:

    @James Joyner:

    He made the Jesse Jackson ‘quip’ in 1990 and that’s also racist as hell. More importantly, the idea that you think obituaries are written to include only ‘facts’ is ridiculous, especially when somebody was an entertainer or an artist. By this logic, when a musician dies all we should get are the lengths of the songs and the numbers of records sold. Or when an author dies how many pages their works add up to.

    Limbaugh’s problem is that his fans loved him because he was a racist and misogynist, and yet they can’t admit that because they’re full of shit.

    4
  50. Andy says:

    I’m reminded of the al Baghdadi WaPo obituary which was controversially headlined: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

    Nuance!

    Anyway, I haven’t listened to or been influenced by Limbaugh for a very long time. In the early 1990’s I was basically forced to listen to his program because my workplace and boss played it at work. I really only remember that he was occasionally funny but I really didn’t have any interest in his shtick.

    I haven’t listened to or really heard anything from Limbaugh in decades. I’ve not sought out his opinion and pretty much the only thing I’ve heard about Limbaugh has come from outraged liberals who hate him, which always made me wonder how many of them actually listened to his show.

    And, reading the comments here, many of which are quite self-assured in their pronouncements, I’m wondering that same thing again.

  51. Kurtz says:

    @Andy:

    I’ve read enough transcripts to get an idea how he was. Context matters to me. I listened to an NPR deep dive about his show.

    There are several regulars here who voted Republican during his rise. They have changed their minds over time. It’s one thing to hear from me, a long time lefty. It’s another to hear from people who at one time considered themselves conservative, but started thinking differently in large part because of Limbaugh and Newt.

    2
  52. Andy says:

    @Kurtz:

    There are several regulars here who voted Republican during his rise. They have changed their minds over time. It’s one thing to hear from me, a long time lefty. It’s another to hear from people who at one time considered themselves conservative, but started thinking differently in large part because of Limbaugh and Newt.

    Yeah, I think I have a very general idea of what he was like and his influence by considering a variety of opinions including those with strong biases in favor or against him. I’m just generally reluctant to make definitive statements without doing my own research first – especially in this day and age. And frankly, I have no interest in spending the effort when it comes to Limbaugh. I don’t have any stake in how anyone views his legacy.

    1
  53. Mikey says:

    @Andy:

    I’ve not sought out his opinion and pretty much the only thing I’ve heard about Limbaugh has come from outraged liberals who hate him, which always made me wonder how many of them actually listened to his show.

    And, reading the comments here, many of which are quite self-assured in their pronouncements, I’m wondering that same thing again.

    I used to listen to his show all the time, and I’ll tell you he was pretty much exactly what those outraged liberals say he was.

    And frankly, I have no interest in spending the effort when it comes to Limbaugh.

    A wise choice. There are far better ways to spend your time.

    2
  54. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Thomm: As I used to tell my students while I was still teaching comp, “don’t tell the reader racist, misogynist, bigot, show the reader the qualities and then tell them why the showing matters.”

    (For the record, I didn’t read any of the Limbaugh obits and am not commenting on whether they constitute news or opinion. I really don’t care. He’s dead now and the world, in my opinion, is better for it because the collective intellect of the radio audience now has a chance to rise one standard deviation. I suspect it won’t, but I can’t control outcomes.)

    2
  55. Kurtz says:

    @Andy:

    And frankly, I have no interest in spending the effort when it comes to Limbaugh.

    There are some things I envy about you– your willingness to engage, thoughtfulness, calmness.

    Your willingness to spend efoort on Rush may top of the list.

    2
  56. Andy says:

    @Kurtz:

    Thank you! That is very kind and generous of you to say!