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Steele’s Apology to Limbaugh Troubles Many Blacks

AFRO.com, News Analysis , Dorothy Rowley Posted: Mar 11, 2009

Reactions have been mixed regarding GOP leader Michael Steele’s apology earlier this week after calling conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh an “entertainer.” But for many African Americans, his apology has been troubling.

Steele, the newly-installed chair of the Republican National Committee and the first African American to hold the post, made the comment March 2 during an on-air interview with CNN late-night host D. L. Hughley.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor, who also said Limbaugh can be “incendiary,” fell into an immediate backlash of Republican criticism and later backtracked with an apology.

He said he’d reached out to Limbaugh to let him know that no offense was meant.

Steele also vigorously denied Hughley’s assertion during the interview that the apology made Limbaugh the “defacto leader” of the Republican Party.

“My intent was not to go after Rush – I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh,” Steele said. “I was maybe a little bit inarticulate. … There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

Nevertheless, to the dismay and disgust of many African Americans, Steele also made similar apologetic comments on other national shows like NBC’s “Today.”

The general consensus among callers tuned in to the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” a widely popular Black radio talk and music program, was that Steele, having apologized to a conservative firebrand as Rush Limbaugh, had “made a fool of himself,” as one caller put it.

On the same Joyner show where he does a weekly commentary, the Rev. Al Sharpton said what African Americans should really watch for is how the Republican Party treats and supports Steele, its leader. After all, said Sharpton, Republicans have been saying they want to do more outreach to Blacks and other communities of color, so how they treat Steele will be very “telling.”

Local Black leaders such as Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the Baltimore City NAACP, agreed; he, too, was not very understanding of Steele.

Cheatham, who freely admits he doesn’t particularly care for Steele or his politics, said emphatically that no apology to Limbaugh by Steele was in order.

“I think anytime you tell the truth, you don’t need to apologize unless it’s taken out of context, or if someone doesn’t hear the full explanation,” Cheatham told the AFRO. “But I guess that what we’re hearing is that the Republican Party told him that he has to apologize because Rush Limbaugh has too much power.”

Cheatham also noted that Steele’s controversial slip of the tongue about Limbaugh marked the second time in a week that he’d made a public blunder. The other foul-up, said Cheatham, involved what he and others considered negative comments made by Steele about students at Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass Sr. High School.

In 2006, Steele visited Douglass in Baltimore, holding it up as an example of the failures of urban education. He again said Douglass isn't doing its job during his interview with Hughley on CNN.

Cheatham and the head of Baltimore’s public schools, Dr. Andres Alonso, have demanded that Steele issue an apology and retraction for what Cheatham called Steele’s “misguided” statements which he said “downplay the hard work of parents and teachers . . . and failed to make mention of our progress.”

"It is inappropriate to use our children to score political points,” added C.D. Witherspoon, president of Baltimore’s African American Democratic Club. “They [students] are not tallies on a score card, but rather living, breathing human beings with feelings and emotions."

Meanwhile, Ron Walters, a University of Maryland political analyst, said Steele had no choice but to apologize. If he hadn’t, it would certainly have cost him his credibility in the Republican Party, Walters said.

Walters added that Steele’s comments on Hughley’s show were actually about whether Rush Limbaugh was the power of the Republican Party.

“But theoretically, Limbaugh has something to do with how successful Steele is going to be, so he had to apologize – it wasn’t a question of what somebody thinks,” said Walters.

From the start of the Obama presidency, Limbaugh and other talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have hammered away at Democrats, with Limbaugh producing a firestorm of criticism after saying he hopes the administration fails. He also claimed this week (in light of a reported feud with the White House) that the Obama administration appeared to be attacking him because “they need a demon to distract and divert them from what their agenda is.”

Meanwhile, Black Republicans such as Ada Fisher, a member of the Republican National Committee from North Carolina, called on Steele to resign. Fisher, appearing Thursday on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” said Steele had become a distraction and that the Limbaugh incident was “taking the party off message.”

For Steele, the Limbaugh flap has stirred up old conflict of interest charges and his leadership of the Republican National Committee. According to reports, Steele fired almost the entire staff when he came on board as chairman and has no chief of staff or communications director

Will he resign?

Said Steele on another, more moderate conservative talk show hosted by former Education Secretary William Bennett: “Not me…not happening…no how.”

Related Articles:

Why Some Black Leaders 'Hate' President Obama

Bitter Truth About GOP

African Americans Vie to Lead Republicans

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