In response to some emails saying you MUST be a liberal or “lefty” and no way can you be a moderate or centrist to be outraged by Rush Limbaugh’s three day — I repeat THREE DAY — national dissing and insulting of law student Sandra Fluke, some things need to be said:
1. There is a line that anyone on the left, center or right can cross. Limbaugh has crossed it.
2. There are now many news reports and tweets indicating that Republican strategists are not at all happy with what Limbaugh has done and how he has literally gifted the Dems ammunition to portray his comments as bolstering the line Dems are pitching that there is a Republican “War Against Women.” So those who email and say a site that is centrist or moderate must be a far left site might want to take some time and find out the identities of those Republicans and expose them as liberal Democrat moles in their party. The “best defense is a good offense” so it’s natural that those who truly feel that a THREE DAY smear of a private citizen is not usually allowed to continue on the radio will come under attack to try change the subject and make them the issue. And if a Republican comes out and says it, they’ll be lambasted for doing the Democrats handiwork. Some are even suggesting Fluke was somehow (no joke, seriously folks) a set up — part of a calculated plot. Should Joe Arpaio investigate?
3. Any other talk show host would get a warning for what he said. But he has continued it for three days and — you can bet on it — will continue on Monday. For instance on Friday he said Fluke “had boyfriends lined up around the block. Or they would have been in my day” after saying earlier that she had so much sex she couldn’t afford it. He seems almost giddy with each new zinger. With each new day, Limbaugh has continued, as if to say hey all of you I can say whatever I want any way I want and no one can stop me. He has no consequences. Censorship is one issue; political allies making it clear they repudiate such polemics is another. Censorship has not occurred; neither has unquestioned repudiation of his comments. Instead, the usual pattern with Limbaugh is occurring: he says something highly controversial and many (not all) of his political allies find ways to defend him. He lowers the bar with a comment — and the bar remains at that level. Until it’s lowered again.
4. I predict he’ll survive even if he loses a ton of advertisers but it is true that if he loses sponsors (as he is doing) it will send him a message. For instance, Proflowers.com‘s flowers go to women. Do they really want to be associated with someone who is saying things for three days in a row that would get any other radio talk show host suspended? Do they want their branding associated with that? The issue here is that it was bad enough once. The first time he said it there were calls by some to contact the advertisers. It could be argued that was jumping the gun. But he continued for two more days. Controversy usually whips up his ratings. It’ll be interesting to see the ratings during this period. Will some of his normal listeners including some who disagree with him (he is a superb broadcaster in terms of how he paces a show and prepares for a show) decide they just won’t listen anymore?
But there are conservatives who are making it very clear that Limbaugh stepped over the line.
And our political Quote of the Day comes from The Daily Mail’s blogger Don Surber. Here’s a chunk of his post:
We are long past the time when Rush Limbaugh should man up and apologize privately and then publicly to Sandra Fluke for calling her a slut.
He went way over the line and his joke was not funny.
It was mean-spirited and misogynist.
Conservatives need to take a little mental trip back to June 2009 when David Letterman joked about Sarah Palin’s “slutty flight attendant look” and joked about her 14-year-old daughter, Willow, having sex at Yankee Stadium with Derek Jeter in the middle of a game.
We called to boycott the advertisers of David Letterman and demanded that CBS fire him.
So who are we to allow Rush Limbaugh to do the same to a woman with whom we happen to disagree?
This is no way to treat anyone.
It’s just politics.
People should be allowed to enter the public fray without being smeared with verbal feces like this.
The apology in American political life is something a bit unusual. It usually (but not always) works. At the minimum, an apology from a public figure cuts the “legs” of a story off at the knees.
By continuing his own (yes I’ll say it) war against women in comments that would get any other talk show host suspended or lead to corporate-pressured apology, Limbaugh is continuing the story — which also, by the way, distracts from stories about the Republican primaries which, at best, reproduce criticism of Barack Obama.
Go to the link and read Surber’s post in full. He runs David Letterman’s apology as an example of how Limbaugh might consider putting an end to this controversy which could boost Rush’s ratings but has Democrats smiling. When Barack Obama called Fluke to talk to her it was an act he would have been unlikely to done if he felt it was politically toxic. The contrast between Obama, Limbaugh and those who defend and enable Limbaugh fit perfectly into an emerging Democratic narrative.
A Washington Post editorial nailed it. Here’s part of it:
IN A DEMOCRACY, standards of civil discourse are as important as they are indefinable. Yet wherever one draws the line, Rush Limbaugh’s vile rants against Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke crossed it. Mr. Limbaugh is angry at President Obama’s efforts to require the provision of contraception under employer-paid health insurance and the White House’s attempts to make some political hay out of the policy. His way of showing this anger was to smear Ms. Fluke, who approached Congress to support the plan, as a “slut” seeking a government subsidy for her promiscuity.
Like other “shock jocks,” Mr. Limbaugh has committed verbal excesses in the past. But in its wanton vulgarity and cruelty, this episode stands out. Mr. Limbaugh’s audience, and those in politics who seek his favor as a means of reaching that audience, need to take special note.
The Post notes it’s not calling for censorship or even talking policy here.
What we are saying is that Mr. Limbaugh has abused his unique position within the conservative media to smear and vilify a citizen engaged in the exercise of her First Amendment rights, and in the process he debased a national political discourse that needs no further debasing. This is not the way a decent citizen behaves, much less a citizen who wields significant de facto power in a major political party. While Republican leaders owe no apology for Mr. Limbaugh’s comments, they do have a responsibility to repudiate them — and him.
Further down, it concludes:
Incivility is not a one-way street in America. Far from it: Mr. Limbaugh’s left-wing equivalents have trashed any number of conservatives over the years. Conservatives have a point when they protest that the “mainstream media” don’t always heed their legitimate grievances.
Yet under the influence of Mr. Limbaugh and his ilk, the Republicans risk coming before the voters in 2012, and after, with nothing but grievances. This is what former Florida governor Jeb Bush was trying to tell his fellow Republicans when he observed, apropos of a recent discourse in the GOP primary: “It’s a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people’s fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for a broader perspective, and that’s kind of where we are.”
For the good of U.S. political culture — or at least its own political self-interest — the GOP must distance itself from Mr. Limbaugh. In response to listener complaints and, apparently, the promptings of its own corporate conscience, Sleep Train Mattress Centers has quit advertising on Mr. Limbaugh’s show. Dare Republican leaders show less decency?
Look at it another way:
Politics is a matter of branding.
Do Republicans want to be seen as completely merged with the Rush Limbaugh brand?
Do they think women voters and independents will buy their brand if that is the perception?
UPDATE: A Harris Poll finds Limbaugh wins hands down (46%) as America’s least favorite news personality. (Republicans take note).
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.