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Posted by on Apr 27, 2007 in Arts & Entertainment, Media, Politics | 33 comments

Rush Limbaugh Runs Obama Race Song Parody In Wake Of Imus Firing (UPDATED)

So much for all the talk about how talk radio and American culture entered into a more respectful era when it comes to racial sensitivies.

The talk about how times had changed already seem quaint since the New Era lasted not even two weeks.

Rush Limbaugh is now embroiled in a new controversy involving literally playing the comedy race card about a Democrat named Barack Obama running for President. Watch and listen to the song parody run on his show and judge for yourself. So times have changed in the Imus firing aftermath?

Yours truly LOVES satire (and uses some in shows) and while this song’s lyrics are clever, supposedly this kind of pointing to and making fun of race was going to be discouraged or at least not condoned anymore on talk radio — particularly by management types. The song lampoons Al Sharpton and Obama. The issue is NOT whether satirist Paul Shanklin (who is likely to be attacked eventually for parodying African Americans speech when he is white, although he is not the first to have done that and it has not been a big issue in comedy) has a right to create and sing song parodies. He also has a right offer them on his website and sell his CDs.

In fact, people on the right AND left need to lighten up; many partisans will ONLY laugh at satire aimed at people they politically dislike. Good satire like The Capitol Steps can poke fun at both sides and be enjoyed by all sides.

The central issue is that all the energy-consuming fuss, blog posts, editorials, live press conferences, apologies, outraged talk show hosts, and firings surrounding the Don Imus controversy at least implied that the vulgarization of America had been put down perhaps a notch — and that the rules of the game were changing on television and, by implication, on radio. Because times had started to change.

But Limbaugh, whose fans angrily defend him any time he is accused of stepping over the line, operates in his own cultural universe and the airing of this piece suggest little has changed.

OR WILL IT? John Amato reports HERE that black employees are up in arms over Limbaugh’s airing of what if the IMUS STANDARD is used would now be considered a racist song parody — and that station managers are starting to fear an Imus-like backlash. A MUST READ.

Diversity Inc:

Should Rush Limbaugh be held accountable? The idea behind “Barack, the Magic Negro” originally stemmed from an article published in the Los Angeles Times written by opinion, entertainment and political writer David Ehrenstein, who is black. He was the first to call Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as the “Magic Negro.”.

But it was Limbaugh’s idea to ask voice impersonator Paul Shanklin to imitate the voice of the Rev. Al Sharpton for his parody that was heard on “The Rush Limbaugh Show” called, “U Da Real Negro, Screw Obama.” And Limbaugh put a video of it on his web site for his subscribers.

All the ringing declarations on weblogs about how newsmakers and Democrats should have shunned being on Imus due to his political incorrectness raise the question: then why is Vice President Dick Cheney appearing on Limbaugh’s show? If newsmakers and media types stay away from one (white) broadcaster who feels race is a hilarious topic to use in song satires or in one-liners, then shouldn’t there be a DEMAND from ALL SIDES that Republicans and Democrats and media types stay away from ANY broadcasters who indulge in use racial stereotypes or caricatures to amuse their audiences (and themselves)?

A hint to broadcasters: there are plenty of topics to joke about and plenty of things to make fun of when it comes to politicians (or citizens) without making fun of the color of the skin or the way they talk.

The great comedy coach Greg Dean once told me in a comedy coaching session that humor works within the context of shared assumptions” and a joke is a “shattered assumption.”” And that’s what was so troubling about the Imus foot-in-mouth bout: the assumption that listeners agreed and would think it’s hilarious. And Rush? Listen to it again and decide yourself if there are assumptions behind it.

PS: There are also reportedly other black caricature political song parodies on Rush Limbaugh’s website. DETAILS HERE.

FOOTNOTE: In emails with friends who are Rush fans, comments on some websites and a comment on a talk show, those who defend Rush argue a) he didn’t originate the material, b) he didn’t create the material, c) it stems from an L.A. Times piece.

So it should NOT be a problem for anyone if we run the image below because a) we didn’t create it, b) it was taken long before the current Rush controversy and c) Rush Limbaugh did not actually pose for it:


BUT THAT’S JUST OUR VIEW. HERE ARE SOME OTHERS (these are excerpts so click on the link for the full post):

Fresh Intelligence: “As of yet there’s been no major public outcry and subsequent response from Limbaugh, but with Imus’s blood still fresh in the water, expect shortly a raft of wincing and gasping social commentators to—rightly—float up beside the blubbery host with harpoons drawn.”

The Nation:

Perhaps this kind of garbage (set to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon”) is someone’s cup of tea. Limbaugh does have millions of listeners and they do adore of much of what the man says. Whether he’s lampooning former President Clinton’s daughter or suggesting Michael J. Fox is exaggerating the effects of his Parkinson’s disease. So I don’t expect his listeners to desert him over this. What does surprise me is that Vice President Dick Cheney among other major conservatives is still a regular guest on Limbaugh’s show and I don’t anticipate the kind of repudiations that Don Imus received over his transgression from him or anyone else on the right with regards to Limbaugh.

It is true that Imus was chided because he was on a national cable news network and was perhaps less associated with being a provocateur than Limbaugh. But I still think Cheney and his ilk should refuse to appear on Limbaugh’s show from now on. I wonder, will there be any outcry? Are people becoming so desensitized to this now that they just don’t care about the inevitable phony apology and/or Al Sharpton protest. I’d like to see calls for Limbaugh’s removal not just from the black community but from the supporters of the president and vice-president who are not racist, who don’t find “jokes” like “Barack The Magic Negro” funny.

Riehl World View sees it totally differently. Read the post in full. One key part:

What I think is that the neo-fascist liberal losers are now clearly on a witch hunt to take down anyone they can. They just can’t deal with Limbaugh’s popularity….

I suspect what losers like these do anonymously is troll schoolyards and mens rooms looking for prey when they aren’t spending all of their time monitoring conservative talk radio for a target. Given the lack of timeliness for the material, clearly they are simply attempting to amass as much as possible and claim that it’s boiling over in an attempt to make it so.

What they should do is read up on McCarthy and realize that America has only so much tolerance for un-American tactics like this attacking free speech. Eventually even the mainstream media will turn on these clowns, as they should.

Taylor Marsh: “Rush is one of the untouchable Republicans who is too powerful to attack with any real outcome unless he burns a flag or something and even then I’m not so sure it would matter. The only offense is to give Rush the coverage he deserves, which is to mock his political impotence. Nobody in the Republican Party pays any attention whatsoever to Rush’s philosophies or suggestions. They use Rush, his show and his audience, period, and he lets them do it because he has to. It’s the most toxic codependent relationship in politics. Rush’s reward is money. That’s the only god he worships. Oh, and maybe Titleist, too.”

Digby:” Rush is not some misunderstood schlub who just made a few slightly off-color jokes and doesn’t understand why it bothers some people.He’s not even a nasty old racist/misogynist creep like Imus who just thought he could demean anybody he felt like and make big money doing it. Rush Limbaugh a professional cog in the GOP machine who has been helping to set the political agenda in this country for more than a decade. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he plays on racist stereotypes and it isn’t just for the laughs.”

Andrew Sullivan: “Charming.”

Talking Points Memo: “Don Imus has nothing on Rush Limbaugh. Check out these new racially-charged parodies of Al Sharpton and Barack Obama that Rush is pushing right now with his multi-media empire.”

On Politics (go to original for additional links):

Commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes today both at his own blog and at the liberal Huffington Post that the Magic Negro song and video that conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh has been playing “is crass, tasteless, and race tinged, but it’s accurate.”

Meanwhile, DiversityInc’s “Today’s Feature” story asks whether Limbaugh should be held accountable for the parody as radio host Don Imus was for his racially charged comment about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team.

The song and video get their theme from this Los Angeles Times op-ed piece by David Ehrenstein, who wrote that:

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama “also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination — the ‘Magic Negro.’ ” That is, Ehrenstein said, the person who can “assuage white ‘guilt’ (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history.”

Limbaugh took off from that, using a white parodist singing “as Al Sharpton,” to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon.

Philly Burbs:

I think that as is the case with most of these right-leaning talking heads, they honestly don’t think what they say is racist or seriously insensitive. In their personal court of opinion, it’s just the way it is. Being a major free speech proponent, I have no problem with them airing such views, even though I don’t agree. They don’t offend me, they make me laugh.

But if we’ve become so thin-skinned that the slurred words of a leathery old coot like Imus start a national scandal, and Al Sharpton has to get involved, and then a neo-con, pill-popping lardass like Limbaugh has to lose his job as a result of playing some unfunny song parody, I’m certainly not going to lose any sleep over it.

EUR Web: “*It almost seems as if conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is daring activists to call for his dismissal with last month’s release of a comedy bit entitled “U Da Real Negro Al, Screw Obama.”


  • Is Our Headline Wrong? One prominent blogger says the parody ran before Imus. However, some of the posts linked to in this story say an updated version was aired recently. Another talks about Limbaugh’s website. The latest post on diversity talks about it being on his website. Our KEY POINT HERE was if this was broadcast after Imus or listeners were told to go to the website to hear it (sort of a loophole). MSNBC in firing Imus (and I have been a HUGE fan and listener of Imus for many years and linked to a fan blog of his several times) was the corporation sending a message on boundaries. If it’s just on the website he’s still running it for listeners but apparently getting around it. Check out all links for this story and judge yourself. (And Limbaugh fans who go on his site know if there are other pieces where race is used to go belittle those who happen to have a “D” in front of their names.).
  • Read James Joyner. As usual he is one of the most thorough bloggers and offers a thoughtful take on it. He offers the best, most dispassionate defense of Limbaugh and the parody. A key point on which we differ:

    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.”

    The problem with Limbaugh’s comment is here. He has a history of making racial comments that got him into hot water (being removed from his TV sports job, the controversy over his repeatedly reference to Obama as a “half-rican American.” Whether someone likes Rush or not, those controversies existed.

    And Limbaugh’s many fervent fans have picked up the L.A. Times line almost verbatim. But if talk show hosts from coast-to-coast who had had problems in the past with making comments that got them in hot water with those who felt they went over the line with racial comments simply REPEATED Don Imus’ comment and called the basketballers what he did on Fox News, radio talk shows, CNN there would be a lot more talk show hosts sending out résumés.

    The argument that the L.A. Times said it first so it can be repeated over and over (after you’ve made an issue about “half-rican American” Obama) doesn’t hold water. Limbaugh’s critics — and his listeners — know fully well what’s going on. It’s just that Limbaugh is doing it so it must be OK or SHOULD be OK. If a school kid uses the “F” word in class and says “I’m just saying what Jimmy said first!” its likely he’d go to the office, too. Bottom line: even from your comments you can see Limbaugh was consciously pushing the envelope – raising a subject he didn’t have to raise but CHOSE TO RAISE in a provocative way.