Thursday’s "Today Show" gave yet another demonstration that the mainstream media can’t get over the success of Rush Limbaugh. NBC correspondent Michael Okwu, reporting on Limbaugh’s new contract, which the New York Times has indicated is worth $400 million, "reminded" viewers of three past "controversies" involving the talk radio host: his 2003 resignation from ESPN after remarking on the sport media’s coverage of NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb; how Limbaugh mocked Michael J. Fox, "accusing the actor of exaggerating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease;" and the legal trouble he faced in Florida related to his addiction to prescription painkillers.
On this "doctor shopping" issue, Okwu remarked, "In 2003, Florida authorities charged Limbaugh with illegally-deceiving multiple doctors, in order to get overlapping painkiller prescriptions. He pled not guilty and the charges were later dismissed, though Limbaugh admitted he was an addict."
It’s not surprising an outlet like NBC and its "Today" would bring up these issues again, since it was the mainstream media that worked overtime to spin them when they first emerged. When Limbaugh, during an ESPN broadcast in 2003, charged that "the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well" and that McNabb "got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he really didn’t deserve," the mainstream media, and the "Big Three" network in particular, painted Limbaugh as a racist for the remarks. "Today’s" own co-host at the time, perky Katie Couric, gave a list of supposedly racist comments made by Limbaugh on his radio show.
With the "controversy" surrounding Limbaugh’s "mocking" of Michael J. Fox, "Today" co-host Matt Lauer asked, "How did it all get so ugly?....it got really personal this week when Rush Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of exploiting the effects of Parkinson's disease to make a political point in a campaign ad." However, the talk radio host received an at least partial vindication when Fox himself admitted that he didn’t take the drugs that ease his Parkinson’s symptoms before some of his public appearances, in order to show "what Parkinson’s was like."
Then in 2006, when Limbaugh was booked in Florida on "doctor shopping" charges, many mainstream media outlets led with the news, including NBC’s "Nightly News" program. On sister network MSNBC, gadfly Keith Olbermann celebrated over Limbaugh’s mug shot.
The full transcript of Michael Okwu’s report from Thursday’s "Today:"
MATT LAUER: Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh is never really at a loss for words, and now, thanks to a very big new contract, he'll never be at loss for money either. Here's NBC's Michael Okwu.
MICHAEL OKWU (voice-over): It must have been a 'rush.'
RUSH LIMBAUGH: .. And you are worth what you earn.
OKWU: According to reports, which Limbaugh says are mostly true, the contract will pay a whopping $400 million -- $38 million a year for eight years.
MICHAEL HARRISON (Editor, Talkers Magazine): Clearly, this is the biggest deal that we've ever heard of, if in fact, this is the deal. This one's off the charts.
OKWU: The signing bonus alone is a reported $100 million -- up front. With that cash, Limbaugh could buy a couple of his own Boeing business jets, or say Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's French chateau; and still have enough dough to buy this Caribbean island -- twice. For the past 20 years, Limbaugh's talk show has been the most popular in the country, his loyal listeners a major force on the political right.
HARRISON: Limbaugh may be like Elvis Presley or The Beatles, kind of a once-in-a-generation phenomenon.
OKWU: But Limbaugh's reign has included its share of controversy. In 2003, he resigned from ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, after suggesting that football star Donovan McNabb received undue credit because of his race. Some of his own supporters thought Limbaugh went too far when he mocked Michael J. Fox, accusing the actor of exaggerating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.
OKWU (on-camera): In 2003, Florida authorities charged Limbaugh with illegally-deceiving multiple doctors, in order to get overlapping painkiller prescriptions. He pled not guilty and the charges were later dismissed, though Limbaugh admitted he was an addict.
OKWU (voice-over): None of the controversy has slowed him down.
LIMBAUGH: To me, the great thing about it is -- another eight years, all the way through 2016. I'm not going anywhere. I've told all of you that I am not retiring until every American agrees with me.
OKWU: That may or may not happen, but Limbaugh doesn't appear to be worrying. He's still on the air, still attacking liberal foes, and still getting paid. For 'Today,' Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.
VIEIRA: Attacking liberals definitely pays off.
VIEIRA: (Laughs) Geez!
LAUER: This is Vieira-type money.
LAUER: This is crazy money -- crazy money!
VIEIRA: Don't even start.