The dismaying scramble to cash in on Limbaugh


I live in a community that is multiethnic and multicultural. It is a community divided by sharp political, economic, and social differences. But it is a community knit by common values, common goals and aspirations. In this community, Greater Baltimore, we may not like each other, we may not always agree, and we may not bridge the gulfs that separate us, but our destinies still are linked; inextricably linked.

This is the community in which I live.

I would like to live in a community that has learned to understand and respect this diversity and is moving to bridge the gulfs that sub-divide it. I dream of a community that has recognized that our destinies are linked, that our values are similar, and that our aspirations are compatible. I am preparing my sons for life in a community that has recognized those things, accepted them, learned not to fear them.

This is the kind of community I would like to see us become. It is the kind of community I think we could become if enough of us wanted to.

This is why I find Rush Limbaugh offensive. He does not reflect the community in which I live. He does not reflect the kind of community in which I would want to live. He does not reflect the kind of community I believe Baltimore is capable of becoming.

And I find it really, really contemptible that two of the top 10 radio stations in this market were haggling over his services.

WCBM-AM, the seventh most popular station here, currently carries Mr. Limbaugh's nationally syndicated show. But WBAL-AM, ranked second in the ratings war, has spirited away Mr. Limbaugh's show. After months of negotiations, the station announced Saturday that it has won the bidding war and will begin carrying "The Rush Limbaugh Show" in January.

Thus, we have the sad spectacle of two top stations scrambling over a man who offends many in this community. Makes me wonder whether either of those stations reflects the values of me and mine.

"This was not a political decision, this was a business decision," says Jeff Beauchamp, vice president and station manager of WBAL. "We've seen the research, we've looked at the numbers across the country, and the fact is, Rush Limbaugh is a talk show radio phenomenon. He is aired on over 560 stations across the country. He has 20 million followers. That's ten-fold the numbers of Larry King or any other nationally syndicated host.

"I don't think WBAL's programming skews to the conservative at all," Mr. Beauchamp continues. "I guarantee you, if Rush Limbaugh were a leftist fanatic and showed those kind of numbers, we'd still have him on the air."

Calling it a business decision based on numbers is no excuse. Rush Limbaugh, for any reason, remains just as offensive.

Here's what bothers me: Blacks make up roughly 25 percent of this community, and 14 percent of WBAL's audience, according to Mr. Beauchamp. We represent the entire spectrum of political beliefs, though most of us vote Democratic and most of us support so-called liberal social policies. But nearly all of us share a belief in diversity and nearly all of us understand that the civil rights movement was not, and is not, a bunch of whining loafers begging for a free hand-out.

Mr. Limbaugh frequently derides inclusion -- not the methods, but the goals. And, in his view, the hard-working blacks who fight for social and economic equality have become "professional victims." He dismisses as a "politically correct" fad all of society's attempts to understand and respect other cultures and ethnicities.

I can speak for blacks, because I myself am black. But I suspect other previously excluded groups find Mr. Limbaugh's blanket dismissal profoundly disturbing.

"We thought about our responsibility to the community," says Mr. Beauchamp. "We take our responsibilities very seriously. But I do not believe there is much difference between the African-American community and the community at large. They want discussion that is stimulating, thought-provoking and entertaining. Some people will love Rush Limbaugh. Some will hate him. But we think he is like the Howard Cosell syndrome: the man people love to hate."

I think is nonsense - and more than a little irresponsible.

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