Polar Attraction: Sharpton Threatens Limbaugh With Lawsuit

225px-Rush_Limbaugh_at_CPAC_(2009)250px-al_sharpton_by_david_shankboneIn American politics there are few more polarizing figures than Al Sharpton and Rush Limbaugh. Now, in what will be a spasmodic moment of euphoria for many, Sharpton and Limbaugh may be going to court with the former suing the latter for defamation. Putting aside the sheer joy of the moment for many, the case could present some interesting questions over whether Limbaugh defamed Sharpton in a Wall Street Journal Op-ed.

Sharpton accused Limbaugh of “erroneously” characterizing his role in a string of violent incidents in New York in the early 90’s. Limbaugh stated that Sharpton “played a leading role in the 1991 Crown Heights riot (he called neighborhood Jews ‘diamond merchants’) and 1995 Freddie’s Fashion Mart riot.”

There is no question that Sharpton was involved in the protests that followed an accident where a Hasidic Rabbi accidently struck and killed an African American boy with his car.

Sharpton is relying on a study commissioned by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo that showed Sharpton was not involved in the Crown Heights incident until after the rioting had ended. The existence of such a report can be used to satisfy the higher standard for the defamation of public figures like Sharpton. Under the New York Times v. Sullivan standard, Sharpton would have to show knowing falsehood or reckless disregard of the truth.

Ironically, Limbaugh was using the column to contest his being dumped as a possible co-owner in an NFL team due to his past inflammatory statements, particularly on race issues. Limbaugh has made such comments as “the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.” He resigned in 2003 from ESPN after he said that all the positive coverage of Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb was due to the fact that media was “very desirous that a black quarterback do well.” (here).

It is equally ironic to see Sharpton cry defamation. Of course, he lost in the defamation case involving Tawana Brawley. In 1987, Sharpton made himself a national figure when he organized protests after Brawley was found inside a plastic bag behind an apartment house in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. She was covered with feces and racial epithets smeared on her body and accused various white men, including Steven A. Pagones, a former Dutchess County assistant district attorney. Sharpton attacked Pagones and the other men with Ms. Brawley’s lawyers, Alton H. Maddox Jr. and C. Vernon Mason.

A grand jury eventually found that the account was a hoax and Pagones successfully sued Sharpton, Maddox, Mason and Brawley. Sharpton has never apologized for his role and failed to pay the damages until various businessmen came forward to pay the damages for him in 2001.

Sharpton is known of publicly trashing other individuals or groups. He notably does not deny that he called Jews “diamond merchants.” His heated rhetoric is often criticized as using social problems for his own advancement, chanting such things as “Whose streets? Our streets!”. In one speech, he screamed “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” In the Crown Heights matter, he was widely viewed as fueling the anger and anti-Semiticism in the area. His financial dealings have been almost as controversial as his political dealings, here.

Having a Sharpton v. Limbaugh battle is almost too much for most hearts to bear like a legal version of Mothra vs. Godzilla. The key is going to be the meaning of “role in the 1991 Crown Heights riot.” If Limbaugh had simply said, “Crown Heights protests” or “Crown Heights controversy,” he would be able to secure an easy dismissal of such a lawsuit. Limbaugh, however, may try to shift the focus from the noun “riot” to the noun “role.” He could argue that Sharpton’s over-heated rhetoric had helped create the tensions that ignited in the riots.

Below is the best simulation of the possible court fight that might ensue in New York:

For the story, click here.

27 thoughts on “Polar Attraction: Sharpton Threatens Limbaugh With Lawsuit”

  1. Dredd:

    Now the preacher looked so baffled
    When I asked him why he dressed
    With twenty pounds of headlines
    Stapled to his chest

    opere citato

    now that sounds like the good reverend

  2. My problem is with the outrage. Rush says that the media wants a black quarterback to do good and he is a racist and there is all kinds of uproar. Rush gets fired. Warren sapp and many other players make the same comment about a white player being praised by the media because of his skin color and it goes un-noticed.

    Rush is held responsible for what he said forever but its different for Warren Sapp?

  3. What black football player would play for a team owned by Mr. Limbaugh? If it ended up as an all white-guy team, then they are sure losers in the game of football or baseball.

  4. Chris,

    So what you’re saying is that: There’s a double standard because Rush was dropped from a group of investors that wants to buy the Rams but the NFL network hired someone who said something that was similar to something that Rush said once?

    Seems sound reasoning to me.

    Regardless of if the owners actually voted to deny his groups bid because he was involved, or let their opinions be known so that he was dropped before they had to choose one way or the other the outcome is the same. Rush doesn’t get to invest in a team because the other owners don’t want him to.

    Like I said, it’s the NFLs ball, they get to decide who plays.

  5. Chris,
    The head of the league expressed his concern with Rush Limbaugh’s participation and he works for the owners. Why would any owner want an avowed racist as a fellow owner?

  6. I know how it works. The league didn’t deny Rush’s application, he was dropped as an investor by Dave Chicketts.

  7. Chris,
    To own a franchise in the NFL, the owners have to pass muster with the league and the other owners. Consider it like a Country Club that can let in whomever they want to. It is similar to ownership requirements in the other major sports leagues. There was the senior DiBartolo who wanted to buy the White Sox some years ago, but the league didn’t approve of him so his application to buy a team was denied. His son was the managing partner of the ownership group that owned the San Francisco 49’rs,but that was not enough to satisfy major league baseball.

  8. Chris,

    I don’t care if Rush owns a team, but the NFL does. It’s their ball, they get to decide who plays.

    I was just pointing out that your comparison is flawed.

  9. How would him owning a football team be a liability to the image of the NFL. The NFL allowed Micheal Vick to play. I think what he did tarnishes the image of the NFL more than anything Rush has done. There are dozens of NFL players who break laws and commit crimes and are still allowed to play football. Why shouldn’t Rush be allowed to own a team?

  10. Chris,

    I would think that what’s more likely than the owners rejecting his ownership bid (which is a whole different beast than the NFL network hiring an on air employee) because of one remark is that the other owners decided that due to the many public controversies that surround him he would be a liability to the image of the NFL as a whole.

    You’re comparing apples and oranges and telling us that apples grow on vines.

  11. So then why would that comment prevent him from owning a football team, since it was made before his bid?

  12. Chris,

    I’m assuming you’re talking about Rush getting booted from his “color commentary” position. I’m sure you realize that there’s a difference between what a man says while on air and on the job, and what someone said BEFORE they were hired. I’ll also point out that Warren Sapp had the decided advantage of being an expert on football.

  13. Many NFL players, including Warren Sapp, echoed many of the same concerns about the media wanting to praise a football player named Jason Sehorn because he was white. Those comments didnt stop Warren Sapp from getting a job with NFL network. Seems like a double standard to me.

  14. Ok, smart ass side: I guess this is the pot calling the pot belly black?

  15. Sounds like the took the Texas Medicine and mixed it with the railroad gin:

    Now the rainman gave me two cures,
    Then he said, “Jump right in.”
    The one was Texas medicine,
    The other was just railroad gin.
    An’ like a fool I mixed them
    An’ it strangled up my mind,
    An’ now people just get uglier
    An’ I have no sense of time.
    Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
    To be stuck inside of Mobile
    With the Memphis blues again.

    (Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Bob Dylan).

  16. Excellent and one more reason to stop blasphemy laws in their tracks. Will this be on pay per view?

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