I’ve held off writing this post to see if the dust was going to settle. It’s not, so it’s time to put these thoughts into some order.
Rush Limbaugh may not have just killed his own show, but he may have loosened the Gordian Knot that has given the right a stranglehold on talk radio for the last two decades.
First, to what he did. By now, you probably already know that Limbaugh went after Georgetown student Sandra Fluke for her testimony on a hearing convened on women’s reproductive rights and access to contraception. Limbaugh, in his usual bluster decided to call Ms. Fluke a slut, a prostitute and ask that if she wanted him, as a taxpayer to pay for her contraception, she should send him sex tapes.
Of course, he ignored what she actually testified about – that lack of access to contraceptives increases the danger for women who might develop ovarian cysts and other conditions that are helped by the use of contraception. But this post isn’t about arguing the merits of that debate.
No, this is about pointing out that what he did was wrong. Period. As I discussed in our post yesterday, the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that what he did was flat out wrong. No dissembling, no waffling. It was wrong. It was demeaning, churlish, sophomoric and a whole bunch of other multi-syllabic words describing how bad it was.
The defense of it first came from Limbaugh. He acted like it was no big deal, then offered the standard conservative non-apology apology: “I’m sorry if anyone was offended”. Kind of like saying, “I’m sorry you walked in front of my car while I ran the red light”. They are the cause of the damage, but it’s your fault for being there. Here’s a clue: If you did something wrong, the proper way to apologize is to say “I shouldn’t have done it”. In Limbaugh’s case, it should have been “I shouldn’t have said it”.
But instead, he uses it to rail against his detractors, complaining that they want to curtail his 1st Amendment rights, and that somehow, his words make him the victim, not the bully. And then comes the really infuriating excuse:
They do it too. (Again, see yesterday’s post for my real thoughts on that).
Let’s really break down that idiotic argument, shall we?
First, pretty much every kid I know has heard the “If your friends jumped off a bridge” line from their parents. We all learned that just because someone else does something, it doesn’t give you an excuse to. Period. So the “they did it too” excuse is just a pile of crap. But if you really want to see how it falls apart, ask them who did it. They will point to three names right now – Michael Moore, Bill Maher, and Louis CK. And that right there shows you they have no clue that they are comparing apples to oranges.
How many times has any of those individuals actually influenced anything the left does? Anything? Moore makes movies and spouts his rhetoric. And to be sure, I condemn about half of what he says. He, like Limbaugh, is earning a buck. And no one on the left actually takes advice from Moore, regardless of what the folks at Fox News believe.
Maher and Louis CK are stand-up comics. They offend as part of their act. And yes, I cringe with disgust when I hear some of their jokes because I find the language or attack offensive. But are they major players in the Democratic Party? Not even close. They’re entertainers.
Limbaugh, on the other hand, has been a major player in Republican politics for years. How many times has John Boehner said something, have Limbaugh attack it, and suddenly reverse his tone? Limbaugh scares the Republicans, and until now, has been able to wield his program like a Sword of Damocles over the heads of the Republican Party. If Rush doesn’t like it, it gets quelled quickly.
Which is why comparing what the other guys do to Limbaugh is wrong on so many levels. They aren’t in the same field, much less the same arena of followers. But they also act like Limbaugh has only been offensive this one time. It isn’t true.
“This one time”, or as one commenter described it “a five-minute lapse”, was actually three days of bashing a private citizen. When Maher or Louis CK go after someone, it’s usually someone in the public eye. I have yet to hear them go after someone who is not a public figure. But Limbaugh went on for three days about a private citizen. And whether she is an activist for women’s issues is irrelevant. Had Limbaugh not decided to go after her for three days, the vast majority of people would not have a clue who she is, and she would have been a footnote in the whole contraception brouhaha. Instead, he chose to make her more prominent.
Contrast that to Sarah Palin, who uses every opportunity to promote herself, to the point of using her followers’ money to tour around the country on vacation last year in a bus with her name emblazoned on it. That’s not just in the public eye, that’s sticking your finger in it. This is a person who craves the spotlight. Does this justify using some of the more vulgar language that has been directed at her? No. Just like being President doesn’t justify being called some of the more offensive racist slurs. Those are reprehensible. I condemn that from anyone. But it’s part and parcel of being a public figure.
Sandra Fluke was not a public figure, until Limbaugh made her so.
But the real issue to consider is that she is only the most recent. Here are some choice quotes (h/t to Milt Shook who has compiled these and many more, along with sources):
- “Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”
- “Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” Source
- To a black caller who disagreed with him: “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” Source
- “Feminism is about victimization. Don’t forget Undeniable Truth of Life Number 24. Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” Source
- On Fox & Friends, defending his selection as a Miss America judge, 02/03/2010: “I’m a huge supporter of women. What I’m not is a supporter of liberalism. Feminism is what I oppose. Feminism has led women astray. I love the women’s movement — especially when walking behind it.” Source
- On his TV show in 1993, while holding a photo of Chelsea Clinton, then 13: “Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is also a White House dog?” Source
- On women who protest sexual harassment: “They’re out there protesting what they actually wish would happen to them sometimes.”Source
You get the picture. There are plenty more.
So why now? Why this time? Because the right has been on a tear of late attacking women. Blocking contraception, invasive transvaginal ultrasounds, the Komen Foundation fiasco – all of these have heightened the awareness of women. And Limbaugh thought he was playing to a friendly crowd when he decided to go down this route.
Make no mistake – it was a conscious decision on his part. You don’t keep bringing the topic up for three days by accident. He wanted to milk it because his loyal dittoheads were soaking it up. But the world of social media got hold of it. Ten years ago, this would have flown right by. But now, a movement can be started with a text message and a tweet. And he kept digging.
But before anyone starts complaining about stifling his free speech, let’s remember one thing – no one is saying he can’t say what he wants to say. No, what folks have done is coalesce behind the idea of contacting the companies that advertise during his program to let them know what they are sponsoring, and that if they choose to continue to sponsor that kind of program, they will lose a customer. Free market, baby! Back in the early 2000′s, when the Dixie Chicks released a song critical of the Bush administration, and spoke out against policies they were against, I guarantee there was not a Conservative tear shed for the backlash against them. It was the free market, and their “fans” spoke with their wallets. Limbaugh is no different.
You see, the 1st Amendment guarantees your right to free speech. It protects you from government stifling of that free speech. You know what’s not guaranteed in the 1st Amendment? That there won’t be repercussions from you opening your mouth. It doesn’t guarantee that if you say stupid, offensive things at work that you won’t be fired. You can say them, but the ramifications of that choice are yours. And it doesn’t guarantee that saying “Sorry you were offended” will make it all better.
But Limbaugh’s situation may be leading to a much more dramatic shift – a change in talk radio. It’s been a trend that has been coming for a few years, but may be hastened by the controversy. The fact is, Limbaugh’s listeners are generally older males. They’re loyal, but they’re not a great buying demographic. You know who is?
24-45 year-old Females. Oops.
The demographic that advertisers seek the most, find the most valuable, are exactly who Limbaugh has completely alienated, with little to no chance of ever getting them to listen in the future. And he plays to an older crowd. Old enough that one station manager has been quoted as saying the mean age for a Limbaugh listener is “deceased”. Not a growing demographic, and not one advertisers seek.
While Limbaugh has tried to play this off as no big deal, his distributor Premiere Networks is in full-blown panic mode. They sent out a memo to stations that carry Limbaugh’s show that all of their national advertisers were to be pulled from the show for a two week period that started today. That’s not small potatoes. That’s major revenue loss. Also, you have to understand the dynamics behind Limbaugh’s show and most other talk radio programs. Most shows are given “free” to affiliates, and the ad time during the show is split, with half going to the affiliate to sell, and half going to the show. Good deal for both.
But Limbaugh actually charges for his show, as well as keeping ad time. It is among the most expensive shows, and the ad time on the show has some of the highest rates. With advertisers pulling out of the show at both the national and local level, his show becomes very expensive for a local affiliate to run. Very expensive. And they aren’t in the business of losing money.
And the ad pull wasn’t just for his show. It includes Michael Savage, Sean Hannity – and any other program deemed “controversial” or “offensive”. That’s a big ripple and a very large chuck of revenue.
Meanwhile, another prominent conservative – with a much softer approach – is making headway in the time slot that has been traditionally Limbaugh’s. Mike Huckabee, who has been a contributor for Fox has been hosting his own show, and is gaining popularity. His non-confrontational, friendly style is much more appealing to the golden female demographic, and he has pledged that while he might talk politics, his show will be much more. To with, he recently interviewed Meryl Streep. Imagine that on Limbaugh’s show.
Will this be the end of Rush Limbaugh? Hardly. But he may end up going the way of Glenn Beck, with a much smaller, loyal audience, and much less of the impact on politics he has been able to wield for the last two decades.