Rush Limbaugh: Saved by Sandra Fluke?
When Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" on his radio show Feb. 29, it sure seemed like the end of an era might be upon us.
Public outcry prompted sponsors to pull support from the show, leaving many to wonder whether the conservative stalwart would have much longer to lash out against liberals and ladies.
To be fair, Rush did
damage control issue an apology, but many saw the mea culpa as meaningless -- worthy of all-out mocking.
But as bad as Rush's gaffe might be -- and to be clear, it is bad -- you have to wonder: could this bolster Limbaugh's languishing career?
Some reports indicate that Rush's ratings have remained strong -- maybe even up -- since the onset of the Sandra Fluke shitstorm.
An article in the Daily News points out that listeners have not stopped tuning in, though the incendiary remarks might drive permanently off-put advertisers. (Note: we know the News is a right-leaning publication, but that doesn't completely take away from some of the facts reported.)
Check it out: "Limbaugh's fans, including public figures like Sarah Palin, have circled the wagons and take the whole controversy as further evidence the hypocritical liberal media is out to get him: Rush is the victim," the paper notes.
Though Republicans might try and distance themselves from Limbaugh, G.O.P Presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has not come out in open criticism of him, suggesting he's still a powerful figure who conservatives don't want to upset, according to the paper.
Laurie Cantillo, who works as program director of all-news WTOP in Washington and Limbaugh's boss at WABC (770 AM), said the polemic might puff up his ratings right now, however, "it won't be worth the damage that's been caused in loss of revenue and advertiser confidence."
A new essay in The Daily Beast suggests that the left's reaction to Limbaugh might help his image as a conservative folk hero -- and give Republicans talking points about what they often decry as the left's alleged ideological vacuum.
"Attempts to advance a left-wing media agenda by destroying Rush Limbaugh's radio show will surely fail, just as efforts to advance a progressive economic agenda by punishing the nation's most productive corporations and individuals have always failed," begins Michael Medved.
Now, Medved is a conversative, but his argument suggests something that's hard for liberal-minded people to understand about the right -- how it feeds off the faux, us-versus-them mentality. For many, it's possible that the attacks on Limbaugh will be perceived as a Soviet-like attack on free speech.
"But attempts to create viable radio alternatives to Rush and other right wingers have never gained traction, so rather than continuing to compete in the open market place, lefties merely yearn to shut down the other side with sponsor boycotts, public pressure or, most obnoxiously, the so-called Fairness Doctrine...
The core concept of bureaucratically imposed "fairness" actually constitutes an oppressive, invidious authoritarian relic (removed by unanimous vote of the Federal Communications Commission in 1987) that would destroy the entire talk radio industry by preventing any station from establishing an ideological identity."
Even the Atlantic, which is a very far cry from a conservative mouthpiece, features uncertainty about some elements of the reaction:
Author Conor Friedersdorf voices disapproval of demands that he be banned from the airwaves. He writes:
"For years, I've warned conservatives about the bigoted rhetoric and dubious analysis that Rush Limbaugh offers on his radio program. There is no bigger critic of the man than me. I am nevertheless appalled by the prominent liberals who want the state to use its coercive power to silence him. Writing at CNN.com, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem actually compare the talk radio host to Josef Goebbels before arguing that if Clear Channel won't drop him the FCC should throw him off the air because his broadcasts aren't in the public interest."
His final analysis, however, is most telling -- he argues that key members of the left have started playing as dirty as the right:
"The behavior of Allred, Steinem, Fonda, and Morgan in this case reminds me of what Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain were doing during the uproar over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque: shortsightedly urging government to intervene, on flimsy pretenses, where it doesn't belong. Private citizens are perfectly capable of registering their objections without government -- and have no right to demand assistance from government in stopping what merely offends them."
To say that Limbaugh will bounce back without consequence is a hasty conclusion, to say the least. Remember that Mike Huckabee will soon launch his own talk show, in Rush's much-coveted 12-3 p.m. spot.
Still, it's unclear how much controversy -- especially when it stems from woman-bashing -- can really damage the rep of members of the moral right.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.