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Limbaugh's Troubles

Aired October 3, 2003 - 07:33   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: This past week has been a tough one for Rush Limbaugh, quitting his job as an ESPN commentator after racially- charged remarks about an NFL quarterback. And then, the news that the conservative radio talk show host is now linked to a prescription drug investigation in Florida.
Susan Candiotti picks up the story in Miami.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Law enforcement sources tell CNN, Rush Limbaugh has surfaced in an ongoing probe into the black-market sale of prescription pain killers, including OxyContin and Hydrocodone, in Florida. The drugs can only be legally obtained with a doctor's order. For example, OxyContin.

JOE KILMER, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: It's four or five times stronger than heroin, yes, like I said, and that's one of its selling points. People know what they're getting.

CANDIOTTI: Authorities say they became aware of Limbaugh when his former housekeeper, Wilma Cline, who worked for Limbaugh at his ocean-front Palm Beach home, came to them with secretly-recorded taped conversations she said she had with Limbaugh about drug buys. A law enforcement source says investigators are convinced the voice on the tapes belongs to the conservative talk show host.

Our law enforcement source says Limbaugh's former housekeeper claims she met with him at this gas station and other public places to make some of the drug deals over a four-year period. The woman claims she was paid about $200,000 for the pills.

Limbaugh issued a statement that does not directly deny he illegally bought drugs. Quote: "I am unaware of any investigation by any authorities involving me. No governmental representative has contacted me directly or indirectly. If my assistance is required in the future, I will, of course, cooperate fully."

In 2001, Limbaugh talked with listeners about taking legally- prescribed drugs to treat his hearing problem. Quote: "You would not believe the medications that are flowing through me in an attempt to reverse this. I'm popping pills. I'm shooting up stuff. I've never done stuff like this before."

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It's such a tempest in a teapot. CANDIOTTI: The drug allegations surfaced the same day Limbaugh talked about his split from ESPN. Limbaugh said he quit to blunt the uproar over his remarks about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, suggesting he gets favorable press because he's black.

LIMBAUGH: It was not a racial opinion. It was an opinion about the media.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): It's safe to say this has not been a good week for Rush Limbaugh. It's unclear whether he'll be charged in the investigation. Law enforcement sources say their overall probe is targeting suppliers and sellers.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.


HEMMER: Susan, thank you.

A closer look right now at the troubles for Rush Limbaugh and what role the media may have been playing in this apparent free-fall.

Elizabeth Spiers with "New York" magazine is here in our studios on AMERICAN MORNING.

Nice to see you. Good morning to see.


HEMMER: There is this argument developing based on these comments from last Sunday as to whether or not it was a racial comment or a racist comment. Do you think Rush Limbaugh is a racist based on what he said?

SPIERS: Well, you know, I don't know Rush personally, so I can't -- I wouldn't speak to the issue of whether or not he is a racist. But, the comments that he made were completely unsubstantiated. You know, it would be one thing if Rush Limbaugh were producing some sort of internal memo that said -- from a big media house that said this is what we want to see, and then base the comments on that. But...

HEMMER: So, you're saying that the comment he made was not based in fact.

SPIERS: Right, right, basically.

HEMMER: For decades, he has railed against what he considers the liberal media, and that was part of his statement from last Sunday.

SPIERS: Right.

HEMMER: Is there something in here that says this is the liberal media now getting back at Rush Limbaugh?

SPIERS: You know, I don't think so, because I think anybody who would have made the comments that Rush Limbaugh made the other day would have been castigated by the media, just because they were unsubstantiated and they smacked of -- especially Rush Limbaugh, because he's built an entire career on having some sort of moral high ground. And then, those comments just sort of speak to his own prejudices.

HEMMER: If he had said this on his radio program, would we be talking about it right now? Would he have lost his job at ESPN?

SPIERS: Probably not, but, you know, that's sort of preaching to the choir for Rush. You know, he's talking to an audience in that case that probably agrees with him.

HEMMER: If you listened to his comments yesterday at the NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters in Philly, and listened to the statement he put out yesterday, he mentions the crew, the people on the ESPN broadcast...

SPIERS: Right.

HEMMER: ... for the guys he worked with basically. Is it possible that these are the guys that came forward and said you know what? We can't go on with this show this following weekend so long as Rush is going to be there.

SPIERS: I think it's possible. I mean, it would be truly speculative on my part to make a statement about whether or not that's exactly what happened. But, you know, I think they had to -- ESPN obviously made a conscious decision to hire Rush based on the fact he has some buzz, even as a conservative commentator, so that had to play into it a little bit.

HEMMER: Elizabeth Spiers, "New York" magazine, thanks for sharing your views with us this morning.

SPIERS: Thank you.

HEMMER: Have a good weekend.


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