Thursday, October 02, 2003

A few random thoughts about the Rush Limbaugh controversy. I don't want to talk about the content of what Limbaugh said, because for one thing, as an Eagles/McNabb fan I have a bit of an emotional investment in the topic to start with (and for the record I strongly took issue with Limbaugh here), and for another, God knows the topic is being dissected to death in the press anyway.

I would instead like to talk about form: The form that these sorts of racialized kerfuffles always tend to take.

1) They are invariably used as a political weapon against people with the wrong point of view. It goes without saying that a Robert Byrd or a Cruz Bustamante can shout the "n" word from the rooftops without any real consequences, because they are reliably socialist. That's just the way things are. In contemporary America, so much of the time, race is not about race but rather about politics.

2) The psychology at work. It is sickening to watch people use the designated victim as a sort of Judas goat so that they can feel better about themselves. "Thank God *I* am not a racist like *that* guy." In the specific case of Limbaugh, we see the lovely spectacle of the lily-white NFL owners' club putting pressure on ESPN to fire Limbaugh for being racially insensitive.

3) I have a big problem with the appearance of the story on Tuesday. Limbaugh's remarks were made on Sunday morning. Why did the story not break until Tuesday? Why were Limbaugh's remarks "offensive" and "outrageous" on Tuesday but not on Monday?

I will answer my own question: Because the press hadn't built up enough outrage on Sunday. In fact, Limbaugh's remarks were made in front of the black men he worked with at ESPN, and though Tom Jackson disagreed with him on the facts, no one expressed any offense.

A controversy like this is often the result of a sort of media push-poll: Eventually the reporters in question shoved the Limbaugh quotes in enough faces so that enough people were suitably outraged, and we were off and running.

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