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   Don't Support Those Who Support Racism

Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh’s Advertisers, Starting with Pfizer:

Don’t Support Those Who Support Racism

by Mark Crispin Miller

Dear Mr. President:

Recently Trent Lott was repudiated by the White House, and forced down from his position as Majority Leader in the US Senate, for having publicly endorsed the policy of racial segregation. At Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party on Dec. 5, Lott, praising the old guest of honor, made these now-notorious remarks: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't of had all these problems over all these years, either."

A lifelong opponent of the civil rights movement, Sen. Lott had said such things before. This time was different, however, because Lott made that ill-considered statement at a function covered by C-SPAN. The resulting furor cost him heavily, despite all his excuses and apologies. "Segregation forever!" had been Thurmond's platform back in 1948. So egregious was Lott's praise for it that the Republicans themselves-led, eventually, by Pres. Bush-were forced to turn against him. He had few defenders; Jesse Helms was one of them.

I have no doubt that Pfizer's management was in complete agreement with the president when, on Dec. 12, he pointedly rebuked the senator: "Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong," Bush said, to great applause. "Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country." Assuming that you share the president's enlightened view, I find it odd, and more than troubling, that Pfizer is a sponsor of Rush Limbaugh's program-a frequent source of commentary even uglier than the senator's.

Indeed, Limbaugh has made statements very similar to Lott's. When Thurmond once referred to a gay soldier as "not normal," Limbaugh thus defended him: "He's not encumbered by being politically correct.... If you want to know what America used to be-and a lot of people wish it still were-then you listen to Strom Thurmond." By "used to be," Limbaugh clearly meant the days before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the days when schools were segregated, polling places were frequently off-limits to black people, and lynch mobs had their way throughout the South.

That was by no means Limbaugh's only racist outburst. Such comments have in fact been commonplace throughout his long and loud career. "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back," he once snapped at a black caller. Later, he once mused on the air: "Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?" He has routinely slandered not just Jackson but the NAACP and black Americans in general. To a caller who once insisted that black people have a right to be heard, he replied: "They are 12 percent of the population! Who the hell cares?"

I could come up with many similar examples—and, as well, with many equally offensive statements about other groups and individuals: women, gays, Democrats, immigrants, the poor. Limbaugh is, moreover, a veritable fount of dangerous claptrap on subjects of all kinds, from the US Constitution to the world economy, from HIV to global warming. And he has sometimes strayed from mere falsehood to outright provocation, not-so-subtly urging his listeners to take violent action on behalf of their political beliefs.

Rush Limbaugh is, in short, a public menace—a figure just as poisonous, in his own way, as any outright neo-Nazi, Klan apologist or, for that matter, Islamist or Afrocentrist agitator. The difference is, of course, that Limbaugh's voice is heard from coast to coast day after day, and has the blessing of some powerful politicians. And he enjoys such influence in part because of Pfizer's sponsorship. I'm sure that, if your board members and shareholders knew more about the content of his broadcasts, they would object to your support for him, and urge you to suspend it.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Dr. Miller is a media professor at New York University.

Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on February 10, 2003.
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