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Limbaugh addresses critics of his plan to buy the Rams

[Editor’s note: On October 17, 2009, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch retracted the quote appearing below regarding slavery, explaining that the quote cannot be verified.]

Amid a growing chorus of opposition to his interest in buying the St. Louis Rams along with Dave Checketts, the owner of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, radio host Rush Limbaugh addressed the situation during his weekday radio show.

By way of brief (and probably needless) background, Limbaugh is a polarizing figure. Those who love him adore him. Those who hate him do so with all the intensity of the surface of the sun.

From a business standpoint, he’s a genius. He knows how to get under the epidermis of his detractors while at the same time pressing the buttons of his proponents. All the while, his ratings -- and thus his wallet -- grow.

He’s also very adroit when it comes to using the English language, and when dancing around delicate subjects.

Limbaugh focused his Monday remarks on the media, claiming that he’s not surprised by the reaction of some journalists and broadcasters. And without specifically mentioning the quote in question, Limbaugh generally denied that he uttered one of the passages that is cited often by those who believe Limbaugh is a racist.

Here’s the quote, which can be found at multiple web site via a simple Google search, and which Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch used in a recent column: “I mean, let’s face it, we didn’t have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: Slavery built the South. I’m not saying we should bring it back. I’m just saying it had its merits. For one thing, the streets were safer after dark.”

During his Monday show, Limbaugh broadly claimed that 15 hours per week of radio programming covering 21 years had been reviewed. (It’s a job that would take more than 16,000 hours, so he apparently has a bunch of employees.) Said Limbaugh, “There is not even an inkling that any words in this quote are accurate.”

But here’s the key -- he never directly denied saying the precise words that Burwell assigned to him. Sure, Limbaugh made vague claims of libel and slander, but there should be no ambiguity here. If Burwell attributed a concocted, made up quote to Limbaugh, Limbaugh’s lawyers should be demanding a retraction and a large bag of cash.

Though I’ve got no idea whether Limbaugh said it, Burwell says that Limbaugh said it. And if Limbaugh didn’t say it, he’s got an open-and-shut defamation claim against Burwell, the Post-Dispatch, and anyone else who has attributed that quote to Limbaugh.

Indeed, Limbaugh should own the keys to, which cites Limbaugh as the source of the “slavery . . . had its merits” quote and other racially inflammatory remarks, such as “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”

But instead of Limbaugh directly challenging those whom he believes are deliberately misrepresenting his words, conservative web sites are implying that Limbaugh never said that which declined on Monday to expressly deny saying. At, for example, Scott Whitlock calls out MSNBC for relying on Steelers linebacker James Farrior as the source for the quote. In so doing, Whitlock calls the “slavery had its merits” quote “dubious” and describes it as something Limbaugh “supposedly” said.

Look, either he said it or he didn’t. And in referring to an item from the Post-Dispatch that troubled him because it suggested that he supports slavery, all Limbaugh had to do was read the quote that Bryan Burwell attributed to Limbaugh and say, “Folks, here are the words they say that I said. And I swear to you that I never uttered these words.”

The fact that Limbaugh didn’t do that makes us think that maybe he said it. And we’ll continue to think that maybe Limbaugh said it until Limbaugh either specifically and categorically denies making the remark or successfully sues Burwell and the Post-Dispatch for falsely claiming that Limbaugh made a statement that any fair-minded person would regard as incredibly and patently racist.

We previously said that we’ve got no problem with Limbaugh owning an NFL team, if he can keep his political views separate from his sports interests. But in light of the quote that Limbaugh for whatever reason wouldn’t directly and unequivocally say he didn’t say, we’re not so sure that he should be permitted to buy the team based simply on his ability to write the check.

If, after all, playing in the NFL is a privilege, isn’t owning one of the franchises a privilege, too?

Moreover, if the “slavery . . . had its merits” statement isn’t enough to disqualify Limbaugh from owning an NFL team (if he said it), then why in the hell did the folks who run Major League Baseball essentially ban former Reds owner Marge Schott from her own building for saying that Hitler had his merits?

Maybe we’re simply missing something. If we are, please use the comments section to enlighten us.