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Talking Rush with Mark Steyn and The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait

Friday, October 16, 2009  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Yesterday I discussed the New McCarthyism with Mark Steyn, and specifically a new charge, leveled by Jonathan Chait on my show, that Rush had indulged in race baiting in his discussion of a school bus fight. (The transcript of my conversation with Steyn is here, and the transcript of the conversation with Chait will be here later. I am unfamiliar with the commentary Chait referred to, but since Jonathan amended his charge as soon as I challenged it, I suspect that like all other Rush-related charges it is at best wildly inflated.)

In our conversation, Mark correctly points out that CNN, MSNBC, Rick Sanchez, Professor Hunter and everyone else who slandered Rush may have done so without thinking about the English law governing defamation and its applicability given the world-wide distribution of much of this broadcast content. I have never thought it wise for public figures in America to file libel and slander claims given the test of NY Times v. Sullivan, but Mark is exactly right about the unwitting exposure half-wits on networks bring to their shareholders when they publish or allow to go unchallenged the sort of patently false and deeply injurious charges as were leveled against Rush as with the James Earl Ray lie made on MSNBC and the slavery lie push by Sanchez.

If Rush send the right sort of letter to NBC and CNN from an English barrister, the retractions will be very interesting to watch. The key exchanges with Steyn:

HH: Before we began, I taped an interview with the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, which will play at the end of the program today. And Jonathan says he didn’t know anything about the quotes that, the James Earl Ray quote and the slavery quote, but that he had heard Rush Limbaugh say that the attack on the bus, whatever that was, was a racist event, and that it meant that all of the white children in America couldn’t be safe. Now I don’t have a transcript, I have no idea what Rush said. He does three hours a day. But does that, it’s just another example, Mark Steyn, of the endless campaign against Rush.

MS: Yes, and the fact of the matter is that whatever your guest may or may not have heard, CNN broadcast these quotes as stated fact. And now, it’s interesting to me, CNN is carried on cable networks in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, many places around the world. As you know, British Commonwealth libel law is far more favorable to the plaintiff than it is in the United States. Rush could be like these Saudi sheiks. He could sue in a London court, and clean up over this stuff if he wanted to.

HH: Listen to this one, Mark Steyn. This is a professor of journalism at Hunter College. Her name is also Hunter, on MSNBC, I think on Monday, maybe Tuesday, here it is.

Host: Limbaugh’s attempt to buy the Rams rallying the union to be against it. Joining us now is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Karen Hunter. She’s also a publisher and teaches journalism at Hunter College here in New York. You’ve also been a very vocal critic of what’s happening here. You wanted to respond to Rush Limbaugh explaining that he’s not a racist by saying that he wants to be part of an organization that’s 70% African-American.

KH: I could just see the visions of plantation grandeur dancing in his head as we speak. Yeah, it doesn’t make you a racist to want to own a team, but it does kind of, with all his history, question his power position over these players who make millions of dollars, and his ability to be able to move them around, deny them contracts, and do whatever he wants. Well we know, he’s the ultimate power position to be an owner of an NFL team.

Host: But when you talk about whether someone is racist, David and I have always tried to be very careful with this, because you do not know a person’s heart.

KH: Right.

Host: We cannot speak for a person’s motivation, but you can use their words in defining their character, and that’s…

KH: I mean, the Bible says out of there before the heart. It comes out of your mouth, so the words, you even put up two of the statements that he said about the NFL looking like the Cripps and the Bloods. He even said that Dr. Martin Luther King’s killer, James Earl Ray, should have a medal given to him, a medal of honor. He says we miss you, James.

HH: Now…

MS: Look, that woman quoted something that he didn’t say. But putting that aside, I went in, the first time I went in to guest host for Rush Limbaugh, there’s a black man on the other side of the glass telling me do this, do that, whatever. That’s Mr. Snerdley, who talks in Rush’s ear three hours a day. And as he said during the election campaign, is “certified black enough” to criticize Barack Obama. So the second, you know, the number two guy when Rush is sitting in his studio in Palm Beach is a black guy. His most popular guest host, putting aside these obscure foreigners like me that he lets on the air, his most popular guest host is Walter E. Williams, a black conservative. He has Thomas Sowell on, a black conservative. What this woman from Hunter College means, this supposedly successful journalist, is that these black guys are not on the Democratic Party plantation. If we’re going to bandy around all the plantation rhetoric, that’s what they’ve got. It means it doesn’t count if you have Walter Williams as your guest host. It doesn’t count if you have Mr. Snerdley in your ear directing the show, because they’re not Democratic Party plantation blacks.

HH: I found it amazing that the statement went unchallenged by an alleged anchor who would not immediately hear that that was a fable, a lie, and a malicious one. You’re right about libel and slander laws, Mark, around the world. You’re absolutely right about that. I want to bring this update…

MS: But also, you know more about U.S. law than I do, Hugh. I mean, I think there is, the charge of malice here, I think if you look at the way these things were labeled on TV, for example, ABC was very careful to say that it had been cited by somebody. In other words, they put that quote out, I think that gives the game away. I think they put the quote out knowing it was false. I think if you look at the caption on the CNN quote, Rush Limbaugh on the radio, no date, normally if you put up an incendiary statement, they date it. I think in this instance, they know it was false, and that’s a malice, Hugh.

HH: Oh, that’s a New York Times V. Sullivan issue, and we’ll see if Rush wants to go that direction.

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