Rush Limbaugh's NFL Bid Fumbles Host Michel Martin checks in with Jimi Izrael, writer for theRoot.com; Editor Arsalan Iftikhar, founder of themuslimguy.com; syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin. The group offers their take on the week's latest headlines, including Senate approval of a sweeping health care overhaul plan, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh's failed bid to purchase the NFL's St. Louis Rams sports franchise and how New Jersey incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine has come under fire in the state's gubernatorial race for saying his opponent is, literally, unfit for office.
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Rush Limbaugh's NFL Bid Fumbles

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Rush Limbaugh's NFL Bid Fumbles

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey fellas, how we doin'? Welcome to the shop.

KEN RUDIN: Jimi, how you doing?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Doing good, man.

IZRAEL: (Unintelligible), check this out. The Senate Finance Committee approved a health-care overhaul bill by a vote of 14 to nine. Clutch the pearls, I can't believe it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: These are heady times we're living in, but it could only muster the support of one lone Republican. Again, color me shocked.

MARTIN: True, but you know, it was exciting here. This is what we think is exciting in Washington, right?

Now, the president is on the road. He went to New Orleans yesterday and gave a very spirited defense of the process. Here it is.

BARACK OBAMA: We get this stuff done. We keep on going until we get it done.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I don't quit.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: You know, let me tell you, those folks who are trying to stand in the way of progress, they're all - let me tell you, I'm just getting started.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I don't quit. I'm not tired. I'm just getting started.

IZRAEL: Wow, Barack Obama down there in the home of the no-limit soldier, na-na-na-na.

NAVARRETTE: He's doing the Hillary Clinton impression. I'm not tired. I'm not tired.

IZRAEL: Ruben, what do you think of all this?

NAVARRETTE: Well, listen, about the health care bill, yes, it's true that you had one lone Republican, Olympia Snowe, support this, from Maine. But beyond that, don't forget, Max Baucus is a conservative Democrat. The main problem that Obama has always had on health care reform is with his own party - conservative Democrats.

Republicans are in the minority in the House and Senate. They shouldn't even factor into this. If you have 100 percent allegiance in your own party, you don't need Republicans for anything. I think the good thing about the Baucus bill is that it's passable. It'll get through, I think, and the president can sign it and call it a day and call it reform.

The bad thing is it doesn't do things that it should do, like control costs. It doesn't go after that hot button. It doesn't have - I think this is a good thing I'm about to say. He doesn't have a public option. That's one of the reasons the liberals don't like it. I'm concerned that a public option would do a lot of damage to our private insurance companies.

But the bottom line is, it's about what you can get by. And the idea of a public option, while important to the president, I think is not going to be so important that he will veto this bill. I think he will sign this bill, public option or not, and it's going to drive folks on the far left batty.

MARTIN: Ruben's concerned about damage to the private insurance companies. That's really very charming of him.

IZRAEL: I know. I'd be all misty...

NAVARRETTE: Like many Americans, I like my private insurance company the way it is.

MARTIN: Well, a lot of them don't. But can I just Ken this because we had Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey on the program just a few minutes ago. He's on the Senate Finance Committee. He insisted that he thinks there will be a public option in the end. Can I just get your reception to this?

RUDIN: Well, what I'm fascinated by - and I think Ruben touched on this - is that we think that the Democrats are in control of Congress, but it seemed like Olympia Snowe was in control of the Senate, at least the majority leader this week, because there's been wooing of her, and you know, kissing her ring for months now, just to get her on board.

NAVARRETTE: And not just her ring, either.

RUDIN: Exactly, well careful. Look, if...

IZRAEL: Watch it now.

RUDIN: If we didn't have her vote, it would have been 13-10 instead of 14-9. It would have passed either way, but Barack Obama wants to say the word bipartisanship. He wants it to be a bipartisan bill. The point is, as Ruben pointed out also, is that it's not - the Democrats are not united behind this. You know, you can stand up at Martin Luther King Charter School in New Orleans, as President Obama did on Thursday, and say, you know, those people who are stopping progress, we're going to get them, but a lot of those people who may be blocking this bill may be his fellow Democrats.

MARTIN: But this is the part I don't understand. This is something that Ruben has written about several times. Why is it more important to get that one Republican vote on the Senate Finance Committee or three on the Senate floor than it is to address huge members of the Democratic Caucus, both in the Senate and the House, who really do believe in a public option. That's what I don't understand.

RUDIN: That's what drives Democrats nuts, because he's been the conciliator. He's been the community organizer, always wanting every voice. Look at him on Afghanistan. Should we pull our troops? No. Should we add troops? No. I'm looking for a middle ground. He wanted the same thing with a Republican vote. The problem here and the irony here is that Olympia Snowe has promised her vote just for the Senate Finance Committee bill. There's no guarantee she'll vote for it on the Senate floor.

IFTIKHAR: Right. Right exactly.

NAVARRETTE: And she said, you mess with this bill and you add to the deficit and you drive up costs or you put in a public option, and I'm out.

MARTIN: Arsalan, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: I think, you know, piggybacking off things that both Ken and Ruben mentioned, you know, it mathematically meant nothing. And Olympia Snowe is a symbolic vote. I think that, you know, they are able to say that this will be a bipartisan bill and, you know, slightly disagree with Ruben. I think that at the end of the day, Democrats will fall in line in terms of actual whip counts on the House and Senate floors, in terms of vote count.

MARTIN: Before we move on from this topic, Jimi, you are a freelancer, and like a lot of freelancers, you buy your insurance on the open market. How do you feel about this?

IZRAEL: You know, I'd like to see a public option, but we'll just have to see what can go through. You know, I mean, it's the good senior senator said, you know, when she jumped in, her support is not guaranteed down the road, right. But she jumped in because she said - she called it a risk worth taking at this point. And you know what? I can dig it.

NAVARRETTE: You want a public option because you think government does everything well, I have the images of people on their rooftops...

IZRAEL: I don't know. No, I don't know, actually.

NAVARRETTE: I have images of people on their rooftops in New Orleans after Katrina saying, help us, help us, and Dick Cheney never showed up.

IFTIKHAR: Listen, the United States Postal Service is our public postal service. I don't hear FedEx or the UPS store, you know, complaining about the fact that there is a public option for sending mail out there.

IZRAEL: All right, moving on to New Jersey politics: Incumbent Governor Jon Corzine has been criticized for highlighting the fact that his Republican opponent, Chris Christie - well, dude's a little big- boned.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: As we say in the community, big-boned.

RUDIN: Well, you know, I mean...

MARTIN: I want to just play the ad. I just want to warn you that hearing it doesn't really convey the full picture. So, there are some unflattering shots of Chris Christie getting out of a truck. But listen for the line here where he says he's throwing his weight around. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

MARTIN: If you drove the wrong way down a one-way street, causing an accident and putting the victim in a trauma center, would you get away without a ticket? Chris Christie did. If you were caught speeding in an unregistered car, would you get away without points? Chris Christie did. In both cases, Christie threw his weight around as U.S. attorney and got off easy.

IZRAEL: Hey, hey, hey.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: You know, you're really right about that, Michel. If you don't see the video, it just sounds like he's making another point...

MARTIN: Yeah, because the expression itself is a perfectly legitimate one, if you're talking about somebody who thinks they are above the rules, which is...

IZRAEL: Wait a second... (unintelligible)

NAVARRETTE: ...talking about a fat guy - excuse me, a healthy, big- boned guy.

IZRAEL: This can very easily backfire on Corzine because, you know what? According to New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, 56 percent of New Jersey residents are overweight and 20 percent are obese. So, Christie might get the fat vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Look, first of all, we know that last week, President Obama won the Nobel Prize, and we know that Corzine gets the no-belly prize because obviously, Christie has a belly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But just to watch that commercial, to watch Christie, the body jiggle as he gets out of the car, there's no question that's exactly what he's doing. And this is what a governor does when he has an abysmal record to run on. He was a Goldman Sachs executive who took millions of millions of dollars from Wall Street.

Unidentified Man #1: D'oh.

MARTIN: He says, which should have been mine.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: And I mean, it was just awful. And, basically, the way to run in New Jersey - and New Jersey politics is historically known for this - is you just run a negative campaign.

Man #1: It's weightism.

Unidentified Man #2: It is weightism.

MARTIN: But, you know, it's interesting, because when he was confronted about this by a reporter who said, were you calling him fat? He said, well, am I bald?

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, well, and that's not nic.

IFTIKHAR: I've actually sat next to Jon Corzine on an airplane, and he is as bald as a cue ball, and I'm going to give him the come-on-man award of the week because, seriously, come on.

MARTIN: Not the redonkulous? Not the redonkulous? Not quite?

IFTIKHAR: It's more of a come on, man. It's like, seriously? It's like...

RUDIN: No. But Chris Christie is on a - has a new NPR show, WEIGHT WEIGHT...DON'T TELL ME is the show...

Unidentified Man #3: Oh.

Unidentified Man #4: He's here all week. He's here all week.

NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. That's right. But seriously...

MARTIN: Do you think it crosses the line?

IFTIKHAR: It does cross the line. Again, it gets into, you know, personal, ad homonym attacks and, you know, it's like, today you're going attack somebody on their weight. Well, tomorrow why can't you attack somebody on their color?

MARTIN: I wonder, I wonder in this case, though. That's why it's an interesting thing to look at and see what the effect will be at the end of the day. But if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barber Shop with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Ken Rudin. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Speaking of people getting roughed up, let's talk about some football. The group that was bidding for ownership of the NFL's St. Louis Rams franchise has dumped conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, saying he comes with too much baggage. Who'd have thunk that?

MARTIN: I know, I - I'm shocked by this. This comes, of course, after several NFL players, African-American NFL players spoke out about the possibility of Limbaugh taking on ownership of the Rams or an ownership interest in the Rams, saying that they would never play for the franchise if the talk show host was one of the owners. And Jim Irsay, who owns the Colts, said he would not vote to approve a group with Limbaugh in it. And I think a lot of people may forget that the other owners have to vote to let you in.

IFTIKHAR: Right, that's...

MARTIN: Which is really interesting. It's kind of like a co-op, you know. You have to be voted into the group.

IFTIKHAR: You're absolutely right...

IZRAEL: Oh, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: You're absolutely right, Michel. And as someone who has lived for seven out of my 32 years in St. Louis, and I've actually been to the games and seen the greatest show on turf, I have two words for Rush Limbaugh: boo-hoo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Seriously, the NFL owners club...

MARTIN: I see the tears dripping down your cheeks.

IZRAEL: Well, the NFL owners club is a country club.

RUDIN: Right.

IFTIKHAR: And if country clubs can keep out people of color, they can certainly keep out Rush Limbaugh. I mean, this is - it's like if Don Imus tried to buy the Rutgers Women's Basketball team, they'd be like, hell, no...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: ...you know. It's just - it's one of those things. It's just like, you know, you have your bully pulpit, that's fine. You make your millions. You have your millions of followers, but you're just not welcome in this country club.

IZRAEL: Wait, A-Train, A-Train. Hold on, hold on, bro...

MARTIN: Yeah, what about if it was women? I mean, I think if people no longer think it's acceptable for country clubs to keep out people of color, but they do still keep women out.

IFTIKHAR: Right. It's...

MARTIN: Well, I mean, based on his views and his (unintelligible). That, to me, is a tricky question. Go ahead, (unintelligible).

IZRAEL: Yeah. It is a tricky question. Do you - count anybody out because of how they feel about anything political or social? I mean, can anybody name a great, you know, uniter who owns a team? I mean, give me a break. To your point, A-Train, I mean, it's like, you know, you're thinking that Rush Limbaugh might affect how people of color are hired in the back offices of these teams, and all that kind of stuff...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: ...maybe but it's not as, you know, it's not as if he's Marge Schott, you know...

IFTIKHAR: Donovan McNabb, dog. Donovan McNabb.

MARTIN: Well, explain to people what you're talking about.

NAVARRETTE: No, they didn't go back to Donovan McNabb. He doesn't - it's not about that.

IZRAEL: Well, no it's - Marge Schott...

MARTIN: Just let him explain what he's talking about.

IFTIKHAR: It is partially about that, Ruben. I mean, you know, when Rush Limbaugh said that Donovan McNabb is a good quarterback because he's black. When, you know, he had...

NAVARRETTE: That's not what he said.

IFTIKHAR: What did he say?

MARTIN: No, what he said is that he's over-praised because he's black. This is ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, by the way, is where those remarks were made. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ESPN'S SUNDAY NFL COUNTDOWN")

RUSH LIMBAUGH: I'm sorry to say this: I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.

Man #3: Mm-hmm.

LIMBAUGH: They're interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well. I think there is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he really didn't deserve.

IFTIKHAR: Wow.

MARTIN: So, where did that come from? I mean, exactly where did that come from? Doesn't every team has hope invested in their quarterback? Excuse me, what?

IFTIKHAR: A little hateration in this (unintelligible).

NAVARRETTE: This is outrageous for three things, three reasons. One of them is something that that was alluded to earlier, and that Arsalan alluded to, as well. This notion about, like, the country club, the fact that you have these - this mostly white male club of people that are taking it upon themselves to obscure the fact that there are not enough minority owner stakes in professional football. There's not enough black coaches and Hispanic coaches in professional football.

The other thing is, as someone who offends people on an hourly basis, okay, and is constantly being berated by right, left and center, and people call my boss any given day to say, fire that guy, fire that guy - I have to object to censorship and this - the idea somehow that people, as Michel mentioned, are being punished for their views. And...

MARTIN: But - I'm sorry, censorship, sorry...

IFTIKHAR: I mean...

MARTIN: Well, hold on. Censorship is the government intervening in political...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: ...speech and allowing...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: ...people to decide what political messages are being made.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: There is no evidence that Rush Limbaugh has been censored in any way.

NAVARRETTE: This is intimidation. This is more like...

MARTIN: These players have a right - don't these players have a right to say who they want to play for and who they don't?

IZRAEL: Oh, absolutely.

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

RUDIN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: I mean, sorry, don't you as an employee...

IZRAEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...have a right to say, I don't want to work for that organization, if this is the perons who owns it?

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

MARTIN: So, what about their rights?

NAVARRETTE: Well, people who disagree with something I write in the morning paper have a right to disagree with it and be offended by it. They probably don't have a right to call up and try to pressure my boss to fire me.

IFTIKHAR: Ruben, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: And so, I'm going to have that view.

IZRAEL: Sure, they do.

IFTIKHAR: Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: I'm going to be much more sympathetic to personally get control...

MARTIN: But they have a right not to buy your paper, don't they?

IFTIKHAR: Wait, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, exactly.

IFTIKHAR: Ruben, like I mentioned, if Don Imus wanted to buy a WNBA team, do you think that he should be allowed to? I mean...

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, I mean, that would be up to the - as you said, the same thing here.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: The owners of that...

IFTIKHAR: Exactly.

NAVARRETTE: ...group to decide if they want to let him in.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: But I would - but if that happened, I would call them on it. I'd say, exactly how many of you are African-Americans? How many of you have diversified your offices?

RUDIN: I'm...

MARTIN: Go ahead. Ken Rudin wants a way in.

RUDIN: Ruben, isn't there a difference between...

NAVARRETTE: I just want them to walk it like they talk it.

RUDIN: But is there a difference between having to be the white owner and saying incendiary remarks? I mean, we talk about, you know, George Preston Marshall, who kept blacks out of the Washington Redskins for years. George Weiss was the general manager of the New York Yankees - no blacks, no Jews. I mean, he was an anti-Semitic racist for years. Now, to say that - do we want somebody like that to show that we believe in the non-censorship? I mean, that makes no sense to me.

NAVARRETTE: I don't think that he's like that. I don't think that Limbaugh is anti-Semitic. I don't think he's racist.

RUDIN: He has said incendiary comments. He has said many incendiary comments that, in this day and age, are not acceptable.

NAVARRETTE: Look, so have I. I mean...

RUDIN: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You don't think there's a difference between your work and Limbaugh's? Or you don't think...

IZRAEL: Uh-oh. (unintelligible). Careful, bro.

MARTIN: ...maybe, I mean, do you? You don't see any difference...

NAVARRETTE: He makes $400 million, and I don't. I mean, he's got a Gulfstream, and I don't. It's like - obviously, there's some difference in the way that he's approaching his job and the way that I am approaching mine. But...

MARTIN: I guess I'm still interested in why it is that you feel these players don't have a right to be heard on their - on the people who would own their team.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Are they not stakeholders? The league is 60 percent African- American.

NAVARRETTE: Then those African-American players are, in fact, they're being bankrolled and supported by a mostly white audience. My main point here is that someone who makes a living offending people, and sometimes when people are offended, they try to pressure you in a power play to get you fired or get you suspended or get you whatever, and it's happened to me more times than not, I cannot look at this any other way but than to have great alarm at this sense that somehow you're being punished not for anything you've done on a football field, but for the views that you express in a whole different medium.

MARTIN: (unintelligible)

NAVARRETTE: And by the way, if you don't have a black president, if Hillary Clinton were president, we wouldn't be having this conversation. So much of what Limbaugh is doing comes off as, quote, "racist" because he's criticizing a black president.

IFTIKHAR: It's a country club. And, you know, the NFL owners didn't just give a team to anybody with $500 million. You have to apply and you have to get in. And he didn't get in.

RUDIN: And another issue, when is Washington going to get a professional football team?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: No.

NAVARRETTE: True.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: Oh, ouch. Ouch.

MARTIN: Well, I guess we have all those years with no black players is finally catching up.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, for point of record, the Washington team was the last team in the league to desegregate. They were eight years...

IFTIKHAR: Really?

MARTIN: ...after the previous last team had desegregated. And they only desegregated through the pressure of the Kennedy administration because they wanted to build their stadium on land owned by the Department of the Interior.

RUDIN: 1962.

MARTIN: So, there you go.

IFTIKHAR: Interesting, though.

IZRAEL: All right, fellas. Looks like that's going to be a wrap. I want to thank you so much for coming out to do the Shop. I have to pass the ball, per usual, to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael's a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com. He's also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. And he joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and cnn.com, and he joined us from San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney. And he, along with Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, our Political Junkie, were both here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Gentlemen, thank you.

IZRAEL: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Thanks.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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