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FAU study refutes Limbaugh's take on media

Tuesday, October 7 Study refutes Limbaugh's take on media

By Larry Keller, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Commentator Rush Limbaugh's comments on the media's supposedly kid-glove treatment of black quarterbacks not only got him sacked, they are wrong, says a Florida Atlantic University professor.

"Rush Limbaugh just didn't have the facts. Love him or hate him, he was wrong," said David Niven, an associate professor of political science with an interest in media coverage on race.

Limbaugh opined during a recent ESPN telecast that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is overrated because the "media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well." The furor that followed forced Limbaugh's resignation from the sports network.

Niven conducted an extensive study of media coverage of NFL quarterbacks in 2002 in order to learn why fans so often prefer a team's backup signal caller. In doing so, he compared fans' attitudes about black and white NFL quarterbacks.

The professor analyzed more than 10,000 stories from 25 major newspapers to see how much credit and blame quarterbacks received for their team's triumphs and failures. And he compared news coverage of seven black quarterbacks -- including McNabb -- with seven white quarterbacks of comparable skill and playing time.

The black quarterbacks had an average NFL efficiency rating of 80.2, compared with 80.3 for their white counterparts.

The black players' names appeared in headlines in 5.7 percent of the stories, vs. 5.4 percent for the white athletes. The performance of black quarterbacks was panned in 12.1 percent of stories, while white quarterbacks were criticized in 11.7 percent of articles. Black quarterbacks were praised in 9.2 percent of stories, compared with 9.1 percent for their white colleagues

"There's no significant statistical difference at all," Niven said. "It's darn near equal."

The same held true when Niven compared news coverage of an individual black quarterback vs. a white counterpart with a similar statistical ranking. So in comparing media treatment of McNabb with the San Francisco 49ers' Jeff Garcia, for example, there still was no statistically significant difference, Niven said. And if Limbaugh had done his homework, Niven said, he would have discovered media stories last year with headlines such as "Eagles Don't Seem to Miss McNabb" and "Eagles Soar Minus McNabb" when he missed several games because of an injury.

"I think (Limbaugh's) intention was to get attention, to offend, to say something that wouldn't be forgotten after the show," Niven said.

"In that regard, he succeeded."

larry_keller@pbpost.com

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