Rush Limbaugh: What’s Next?

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Conservative talk show giant Rush Limbaugh has made a career out of saying scandalous things on his radio show. Last week, Limbaugh came under fire from major national news outlets for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” after she testified in support of health insurance coverage of contraceptives. What’s happened since then? Let’s look at a timeline of how events unfolded.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 29: Rush Limbaugh begins his attacks on his radio show against Fluke, voicing his clear opposition to the idea that taxpayer-funded healthcare should cover birth control: “What does it say about the college coed [Sandra] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute,” he said in a quote that went viral over the next few days.
THURSDAY, MARCH 1: Limbaugh continues to deliver his personal attacks. These included choice horribly misogynistic lines such as “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
FRIDAY, MARCH 2: Obama calls Fluke personally to extend his support for her position and show his appreciation for her activism. Limbaugh appears unaffected. Sponsors begin to withdraw their advertisements in protest.
SATURDAY, MARCH 3: Limbaugh issues a vague apology on his website, claiming his phrasing was unfortunate but his position on the issue remains the same: “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.”
MONDAY, MARCH 5: Limbaugh defends his apology (which was mostly dismissed as an attempt to please advertisers or avoid a lawsuit) on his radio show, apologizing again to Fluke for “using those two words to describe her.” Fluke rejected his apology on The View later that day, saying “I don't think that a statement like this, issued saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything.” However, Premiere Nation, the radio network that hosts Limbaugh’s show, stood by the host’s right to express his opinions.
TUESDAY, MARCH 6 – TODAY: Advertisers continue to pull their support from Limbaugh’s show, including major names such as JC Penny, Netflix, Allstate, Capitol One, AOL, Geico, and TurboTax. To date, at least 45 advertisers have withdrawn their support. Many radio stations have dropped the show, and several musicians (including Rush and Peter Gabriel) forbid Limbaugh from using their music in the show’s background.
So what next? Will this affect the upcoming election? The controversy has definitely hurt the media image of conservative Republicans, but candidates have not been too quick to distance themselves from his remarks. While Gingrich stated he was “glad [Limbaugh] apologized”, Romney has avoided addressing the issue, saying only that it was “not the language I would have used.” Santorum focused on the fact that Limbaugh is a media figure, saying, “he's being absurd. But that's, you know, an entertainer can be absurd.”
But how absurd can an entertainer be before he (or she) crosses a line? Recently, Republicans have been firing back at Obama for taking over $1 million in campaign donations from Bill Maher, a left-wing comedian who has over time been responsible for his own set of disrespectful comments towards women. Limbaugh, like Maher, defends his right to free speech as “an entertainer” (as Santorum put it).
Ultimately, will this controversy force Rush off the radio waves? Unlikely. Limbaugh is undisputedly still the king of conservative talk radio, with over 15 million listeners. The man is indispensible as a brand name and a media personality. As long as his listeners remain faithful (which, as of now, seems to be the case), he will probably remain on the air, preaching the same gospel to right-wing conservatives. However, it is good to know that when an entertainer like Limbaugh takes his remarks too far, the American public (not to mention the President) is there to call him out.
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