Banning Rush Limbaugh from Radio Would Be a Failure for Feminism


Writing on the Rush Limbaugh/Sandra Fluke controversy in his column, Frank Bruni makes the point that there are a whole lot more words in the English language for sexually “transgressive” females than there are males — who also typically wind up being lauded for their promiscuous proclivities.

“What’s a male slut?” he muses. “A role model, in some cases. In others, a presidential candidate.”

Bruni, articulating the injustices of this double-standard, then details some of the backlash Limbaugh faces, including calls from some prominent feminists that the FCC remove him from the airwaves.

Of course, asking the FCC to step into the fray is nothing short of open advocacy of censorship, and it’s disheartening and unconscionable to see this promoted by respected feminists.

(This point was made yesterday in the Atlantic, which also voiced concern over Limbaugh’s possible prosecution.)

But it’s worth emphasizing that censorship isn’t just wrong — it stands to hurt the feminist cause more than help it.

In their op-ed, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem — co-founders of the Women’s Media Center — penned a piece in which they argued:

If Clear Channel won’t clean up its airways, then surely it’s time for the public to ask the FCC a basic question: Are the stations carrying Limbaugh’s show in fact using their licenses “in the public interest?”

Spectrum is a scarce government resource. Radio broadcasters are obligated to act in the public interest and serve their respective communities of license. In keeping with this obligation, individual radio listeners may complain to the FCC that Limbaugh’s radio station (and those syndicating his show) are not acting in the public interest or serving their respective communities of license by permitting such dehumanizing speech.

The FCC takes such complaints into consideration when stations file for license renewal. For local listeners near a station that carries Limbaugh’s show, there is plenty of evidence to bring to the FCC that their station isn’t carrying out its public interest obligation. Complaints can be registered under the broadcast category of the FCC website:

They insist that the push isn’t political, but that: “what’s at stake is the fallout of a society tolerating toxic, hate-inciting speech. For 20 years, Limbaugh has hidden behind the First Amendment, or else claimed he’s really ‘doing humor’ or ‘entertainment.’ He is indeed constitutionally entitled to his opinions, but he is not constitutionally entitled to the people’s airways.”

They also compare him to Josef Goebbels. (FYI, this is probably the cheapest rhetorical trick in the book, the inappropriate Nazi comparison, not to say hypocritical — Limbaugh makes the exact same well-poisoning maneuver by incorrectly deriding feminists as “feminazis.”)

Yes, it’s bad.

Sadly, it gets even worse when you deconstruct this a bit more.

While it’s fair to say that Rush Limbaugh regularly spews poorly reasoned, hate-filled garbage — oral flatulence, if you will — the key question is whether we should make this vague notion of public interest the arbiter of what can and cannot be on the airwaves.

(Short answer: NO. We shouldn’t).

Try turning the tables: Surely, pro-choice talk radio shows would be considered contrary to the public interest if the cultural and political landscape favored pro life perspectives.

But if we were to follow this very flawed law to the letter as per this editorial — and determine what viewpoints should be present in broadcast based upon “public interest — then government could feasibly ban pro-choice viewpoints in this situation.

And, considering the cultural climate in America isn’t altogether pro-woman, it would probably behoove feminists to be wary of any precedent that could prevent dissenting viewpoints from being disseminated.

Another problem? There seems to be more focus on punishing Limbaugh than addressing the attitudes about women and sexuality that allow this kind of windbaggery to happen in the first place.

It’s not just that he called Fluke a floozie.

For even in the most polite, liberal circles of American society, women who have sex or get birth control or consider themselves feminists are still castigated as deviants.

So, yes. Let’s lambaste Limbaugh a lot — but let’s also do some constructive work to de-stigmatize sex.

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