Top Menu

Rush Limbaugh apologizes for calling Georgetown student a “slut,” but that doesn’t mean his misogynistic approach will change

Limbaugh smugly waits for this controversy to blow over.

Last week conservative radio blow-hard Rush Limbaugh bit off a bit more than he could chew when he went on a couple of tirades over the course of his Wednesday and Thursday shows wherein he lambasted Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke who was denied an opportunity to testify in front of Congress in support of the contraception mandate. Limbaugh now imfamously called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” speculating that she was having so much sex that she couldn’t afford enough contraception.

Despite the controversy that has erupted, and a limp apology he issued days later, don’t expect that Limbaugh will change his ways. He’s made a career on broadcasting barely-veiled sexism and misogyny, and too many have profited to abandon his deeply ingrained views of women.

This should be obvious in the fact that as reactions to his comments began to flare on Thursday, he facetiously revised his “slut” comment, and then doubled-down, saying

“So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

Since then the backlash against Rush was swift, and at least somewhat bi-partisan. President Obama even took the time to call Fluke personally to offer his support. Campaigns targeting Limbaugh’s advertisers almost immediately gained steam. By Sunday seven major national advertisers had pulled out of his program, including ProFlowers, Quicken Loans, Sleep Number beds and Citrix software.

It was probably the visions of that ad cash flowing out the door that prompted Limbaugh to post a rare apology to his website in which says he “did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.” He closes by saying,

“My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

However, between those conciliatory words Limbaugh mounts a longer, and more vigorous defense of his position.

Reaction to the apology, such as it is, has been tepid at best. The CEO of the Carbonite online backup company reaffirmed his company’s decision to stop advertising on Limbaugh’s program even after his apology. On his company’s blog David Friend wrote,

“No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”

Even Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, who disagrees with the contraception policy, took Limbaugh to task, saying on CBS’s Face the Nation that he disagreed with Limbaugh’s comments and questioned the sincerity of his apology.

I happen to think that Limbaugh is indeed sorry, since he’ll have a hard time spinning this into an attack on him by the liberal media, and because he stands to lose some money in the short term. I might even believe that he means it when he says he didn’t mean it as a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. Partly I can say that because he never really considered Ms. Fluke a person to begin with.

At his core, Rush Limbaugh is an oversized shock jock or morning zoo DJ, whose primary objective and talent is creating controversy and spectacle to get his base demographic to tune in. In that way he’s no different than Howard Stern or Mancow. However, in my view I think he’s more problematic than a run-of-the-mill shock-jock because he inserts himself into debates that have real public policy impact. While I won’t claim he doesn’t believe his politics, they are subservient to raking in the listeners and advertiser dollars.

With three hours of airtime to kill every day Limbaugh has to work pretty hard to keep listeners tuned in, and when he finds an issue or person he can flog, he’s going to go for it. The risk of not beating it to death and losing attention is much greater than the risk of overdoing it. As well, the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” certainly applies most of the time, since Limbaugh can typically rely on a large portion of his audience to stick with him and for most advertisers to be more swayed by ratings success than flack from critics.

It’s the simple truth that in his corner of the media world, which overwhelmingly caters to young and middle-aged white men, misogyny sells. He appeals directly and unapologetically to men who either see their privilege slipping away, or feel like they were deprived of that privilege they believed they had coming as a birthright. Rush knows that, and that’s why he thought comparing Sarah Fluke to a prostitute would be funny and ring with knowing recognition with much of his audience. The tired but alluring paradox of fetishizing women’s sexuality was on full display in Limbaugh’s comments that if we’re going to provide contraception to women, then at least we ought to be able to enjoy it as pornographic voyeurs. He is both disgusted and titillated, and so his response is disdain and to insult the person he finds so alluring.

Furthermore, the stock and trade of shock jocks is personal attack, because it’s easy and effective. Typically the targets are celebrities or politicians, people who the culture more readily accepts as targets, and who enjoy fewer legal protections as a result of being public persons. However, after a while it’s obvious that hosts like Limbaugh fail to distinguish between average people who stumble into the spotlight and the celebrities and pols who actively seek it. In terms of raw vitriol, Limbaugh has certainly made worse attacks upon prominent women like Nancy Pelosi and Hilary Clinton. He only made a simple error in judgement when he targeted someone who the culture at large does not see as so deserving.

As if the term “feminazi” didn’t make it abundantly clear the low regard Limbaugh holds for women who refuse to embrace a subservient position relative to men, he takes enough regular pot-shots at women to sharpen that focus. Just two days before targeting Sandra Fluke Limbaugh took a shot at NASCAR driver Danica Patrick for her position in support of contraception funding, dismissing her for being a woman, when he said, “What do you expect from a woman driver? I don’t know why everybody was so shocked.”

In the wake of Limbaugh’s limp apology BuzzFeed reviewed the host’s last six previous public apologies. What stands out is the fact that half of them were for making sexist and hateful remarks about women. Two were for making insulting comments about the physical appearance of presidential daughters Amy Carter and Chelsea Clinton. Comments of that sort are unnecessary in any reasonable political debate, because neither of these women were political actors at the time Limbuagh made his comments. His only purpose was to be a bully and obtain petty amusement at the expense of two people who at the time were less able to defend themselves than he.

Despite the advertiser exodus Limbaugh’s syndicate Premiere Radio Networks, part of the Clear Channel family, has released a statement standing by him. Spokeswoman Rachel Nelson emailed a statement that said, “The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue. We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions.”

However, the right to express an opinion is not what’s at issue, and never has been. Rather, the issue is yet another example of Limbaugh expressing his obviously demeaning view of women, and whether or not the culture at large wishes to reward that view. As of Sunday it appears at least seven major advertisers no longer wish to be associated with Limbaugh’s views, nor to directly support them. Many other people, including politicians and other commentators, also are publicly denouncing his retrograde views.

Even conservative columnist George Will took prominent Repulicans to task for not being more harsh and pointed in their criticism of Limbaugh. On ABC’s This Week he said,

“I mean, and Rick Santorum says well, what he says was absurd, but an entertainer is allowed to be absurd. No. It is the responsibility of conservatives to police the right in its excesses, just as the liberals unfailingly fail to police the excesses in their own side. And it was depressing, because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.”

If the country’s most powerful Republicans are afraid to chastise old Rushbo, then we should hardly be surprised that Premiere and Clear Channel will simply keep their heads down and wait for things to blow over. And they will, blow over.

Clear Channel is a company that has made much of its fortune on opportunistic pandering to people who are angry about the gains made by women and minorities in the last forty years. Whether or not those views are shared by the folks in charge, it’s no coincidence that the man responsible for masterminding the rise of Limbaugh was Randy Michaels, who was himself ousted from Tribune Company for turning its back offices into a frat party rife with sexist and harassing behavior. After nearly a quarter century bosses at Premiere and Clear Channel know that they’ll experience very little collateral damage from Limbaugh’s on-air mistakes. The advertisers who pull out of Rush’s show are unlikely to also pull their advertising from Premiere’s other programs.

At the same time, there’s going to have be an even bigger advertiser drain along with discord at the local stations before Rush is going to be facing any serious threat to his future. It’s going to take a whole lot more flack and advertiser revolt to outweigh the pull of Limbaugh’s core listenership, which likely isn’t particularly outraged by this controversy.

Rush Limbaugh, Premiere Radio Networks and Clear Channel have gotten very rich on his unique mix of semi-subtle racism, economic conservatism and misogyny wrapped in an entertaining and stimulating package. At the same time, he’s much more out of the mainstream than a network television personality. Enough so that he can lie low for a bit and have a reasonable expectation that the controversy will blow over. Then check back in a year and see how many of the seven advertisers have quietly started buying time again.

I don’t express this prediction happily, but I would be lying if I said otherwise. The house of Limbaugh is built on consolidation, the race to the bottom in the commercial radio industry, and a ready supply of pissed off listeners, overwhelmingly white and male, who actively seek someone to blame for the fact that they did not inherit the world their fathers did (or they believe their fathers did) fifty years ago. I do think this is a demographic in decline. But it isn’t going down without a fight. And the very fact that the Republican elite is afraid to confront Limbaugh and his perceived base shows how desperate that fight is.


Just one dollar a month makes you a patron of Radio Survivor. Help us through our Patreon Campaign!


, , ,

3 Responses to Rush Limbaugh apologizes for calling Georgetown student a “slut,” but that doesn’t mean his misogynistic approach will change

  1. Bob McLearen March 5, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    Limbaugh is simply another under-educated individual who is making up for his short comings, of which there are many, by name calling. Personally, had he said something like this about me on public radio, he would find himself in court facing slander charges. The shame of it is that he is making a lot of money by name calling. He needs to be made to pay for being such an * * * * * * *.

  2. PRC March 5, 2012 at 6:56 am #

    And to think with talk radio migrating more and more to FM we get to hear this crap in high audio quality.

    Oh happy days. : (

  3. John Anderson March 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    I’d really like to believe that Andrew Breitbart finds himself lonely down in the eighth circle, and could sure use some roomies.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes