prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Rush v Fluke and Broadcast [In]Decency

Posted by prof e on March 5, 2012

In case you missed it, Rush Limbaugh said some pretty terrible things last week about Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown Law School. Fluke testified before a congressional committee in favor of legislation that would require that birth control be covered as part of all heath insurance programs. This is somewhat controversial amongst Catholic institutions who believe that they should be exempt from providing a service that runs counter to their official doctrine. Religious leaders from other faiths have joined the debate fearing that government intrusion into this arena could open the doors for further erosion of First Amendment rights to practice their beliefs without government interference.

Rush Limbaugh, an outspoken voice for the conservative movement has never been shy about speaking his mind. In fact, his media career is founded on a bombastic approach that often includes personal attacks. Last week he called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” and suggested that she post videos of her sexual encounters online for taxpayers in exchange for their funding her activities. Nearly everyone agrees that Limbaugh crossed the line with his remarks. After AOL and a half-dozen or so other advertisers withdrew their ad dollars, he issued this apology.

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress … Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

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.

This is not without precedent and is not limited to conservative talk radio hosts. According to Kirsten Powers, liberal radio and TV commentators have similar track records of misogynistic missteps. This event also is a reminder of the Don Imus incident in 2007 when he referred to the Rutgers woman’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.” However, as Paul Farhi pointed out in the Washington Post, Imus is not in the same league as Limbaugh. Limbaugh is the most popular talk show host in the country. His 8-year, $400 million contract virtually guarantees that Premiere Radio Networks will continue to give Limbaugh a microphone. In fact, some believe that this might even help to fire up his base. According to the New York Times, Premiere issued this statement:

The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue,” the company said. “We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions.

What do you think? When strong emotion meets opinion, where should broadcasters draw the line?

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22 Responses to “Rush v Fluke and Broadcast [In]Decency”

  1. John Rudeman said

    This issue started out as a political football fumbled by the Obama administration, but was recovered by the dominant right-leaning media — namely Americas most successful and famous sheep herder/radio bloviator, Rush Limbaugh.

    Obama quickly and publicly revised the dubious policy when the story initially broke, but this didn’t stop Rush from beating the dead horse and spinning the story in just the opposite direction per usual.

    But let’s be clearer about some of the nuance of the contraception issue, as it’s a legitimate discussion to have.

    1.) Basic contraception (condoms, the sponge, and things of that sort) are inexpensive and should be paid for by men and women who are intimate at their own expense. This is a no-brainer.

    But 2.) More sophisticated, doctor prescribed and managed contraceptive methods often serve dual purposes, not simply dealing with pregnancy prevention but in other instances abortive practices; additionally, birth control drugs can be used to treat and manage other women’s health issues not necessarily related to sexual intercourse.

    One can do their own research on these medical conditions, however. These forms of contraception/treatment are sometimes built into health insurance plans and premiums, which makes the issue a political football to be tossed around and used to entertain the public on the drive to and from work. If a particular contraceptive drug has wider ranging treatment characteristics, the debate becomes about how the expense of the treatment should be subsidized, by the employer or the individual, and about just whose frail moral sensibilities might be offended as a result. Let the Conservative zeal and Liberal squeal begin! This is where Rush’s money is made.

    It’s a needlessly inflammatory argument to provoke, but fat morons like Rush who pander to the rigid ideologies of stupid Americans are paid generously to shape listener opinions. He only got called out on this particular occasion because he dumped on all women generally, not simply “Liberal Femi-Nazis” (Mrs. Fluke, accordingly) like he usually does; he foolishly stepped outside of the safety zone of the bogus Conservative VS Liberal mantra. Anyone can say anything nasty about the other side in that dichotomy, as long as an entire demographic group isn’t at danger of being lost as a potential consumer. Rush’s comments, absent the cover of “fighting liberalism” were simply the rants and raves of a sexist piggy, which the majority of his listeners can’t get enough of. He’s not in real danger, just out a few replaceable advertisers.

    Rush is a tremendous entertainer by the way, commanding, as Dr. E. reported, a paltry $400 million dollar paycheck in only 8 years, not to mention whatever else he makes on the side, and has made throughout his career. Think about that for a moment: how much ad revenue in total does Rush’s show bring in per year, let alone over the course of 8? Probably a few hundred-million every year, his radio show alone earns for the owners. Furthermore, radio broadcast pundits from just the right-wing commentators alone likely net upwards of a billion dollars or more every year in advertising revenue. Of course, popular Liberal radio hosts and pundits closely rival some of the huge salaries of Rush and others on the right. But right-wing leaning media, from the last time I looked in to such things, command the LARGEST audience shares and earn the largest sums of AD REVENUE year over year — more than any other ideological sub-group in media. I’m not even including television news media, where FOX News reigns supreme. Again, I haven’t checked these numbers in a couple years but I’m positive that the Liberal media myth is false, and this topic serves as a jump-off point of inquiry for media students in my view. Also, another test of my claim that there isn’t much of a Liberal bent in mainstream media discourse is to scrutinize the slanted language used by say Fox and CNN, to see how the language used to cover certain news stories is quite similar. MSNBC is just a bad parody of FOX’s coverage with an obvious whiny liberal bent to be sure, but its earnings and audience reach are pathetic comparatively. Also, non-cable broadcast news networks fit into the center-right to far-right paradigm as I see it, but whom the hell cares?

    Aside from that, the question at the end of this topic asks where broadcasters should draw the line when it comes to recalcitrant, rude, and divisive political speech. I personally think they’ll only ever draw a line in the sand when whole demographic markets are threatened. In other words, if a large enough chunk of consumer sales are in danger of being lost — advertisers will yank revenue — not because of some sort of genuine moral objection to the rhetoric used, but rather because it might hurt sales to be associated with such a brand, hence Rush Limbaugh’s current predicament.

    He crapped on women in such an overt way this time; he just couldn’t wriggle out of it properly. But slippery old Rush isn’t going anywhere, except to hell if there is such a place.

  2. Melissa said

    Personally I’m glad that advetisers have begun to pull from Rush’s show. He has crossed the line numerous times and despite the fact he has high ratings, it doesnt mean we should accept ignorance to run rapid. Having a political position on issues is one thing but to be hypocritical when your voice reaches so many is a disserivce to your listeners. Lets not forget that Rush has been married FOUR times and has no children. So either he is unable to bear children or his wives used birth control. Also viagra is a drug that IS covered, and Rush has no problem letting the tax payers help him out with that. We all have opinions, but when you have an audience there has to be some responsibility in the words we choose to use. And yes this kind of rhetoric goes on on both sides, but consumers and advertisers can take some type of stand to hopefully shift things in a more moral direction.

  3. Nik said

    I agree with advertisers pulling from Rush Limbaugh’s show and that Limbaugh clearly crossed the line. Using the words he used to descrive the law school student was innapropriate and should have never been said, especially by someone who is so highly looked upon in the political arena. However I can see that these will only help Limbaughs ratings. People will continue to tune into to hopefully catch Limbaughs next slip up. Even if he was trying to express a valid point, he should have been much more careful with his choice of words.

  4. Aubree Jo Miller said

    I think that even though his words were very rude, Rush was only doing everything we expect him to do. People tune into his show because they want to hear the outrageous things that he says on a daily basis. It just happens that when this topic appeared, he said some things that didnt sit well with a lot of people. However, I have to agree with all of the advertisers that are backing away from him. He has been on the cusp of trouble with his show for very long, and he finally crossed the line. I think his apology only came because he felt he had to do it or he would suffer in the future, and the harsh things he said to one person alone were too harsh to be forgiven for. He needs to be judged and punished for the things he has said to Ms. Fluke. He has always been crude and harsh, but there is a line he had always barely stayed behind, and with this subject, he went too far and it is clear that he doesnt care about what he did either way.
    It is understandable that he thinks it is unfair for Ms. Fluke to expect the government to pay for her “recreational sex” as he said it, so he voiced his opinion, and that is fine, however, he voiced it in the complete wrong way. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, and unfortunately he chose the wrong way.

  5. kginter5 said

    Personally I feel that Rush is out of line and is always out of line. He obviously has a history of these sorts of outbursts but yet people continue to listen to him therefore he thinks it is o.k. He is a staunch republican and all he does is degrade the democratic view. To take a topic like this and twist it in the fashion he did is uncalled for. For him to even have the nerve to call Ms. Fluke a slut is disgusting and he has no right to have his own talk show. I’m glad advertisers decided to pull their adds from his show because of this. No one should support such comments and if they do they are just as low as he is for saying it.

  6. Marki Cook said

    Rush is an extremist. He says what he wants when he wants. People know this. Before someone goes to listen to Rush they need to put their emotions aside. Of course he may over do it but, that’s why he is so darn entertaining. People like to complain, America likes to complain. There is point where things can get out of line but, this was not out of line. So what, he called her names on the radio, I’m sure that wasn’t the first time she has been called something inappropriate. If you want or are going to listen to Rush be prepared to hear some things you don’t like. If it gets to a point where you completely can’t handle what he has to say them turn off the radio. It’s as simple as that. As for Miss Fluke, I understand she may have been embarrassed about what he said about her but, no one will remember in a week. Rush will have something just as entertaining to say the next time he goes on the radio. It’s like a nasty rumor; the best way to stop it is to not pay attention to it. Don’t bring attention to the issue if you don’t want people talking about it.

  7. Jennifer Hackett said

    I’ve never really tuned into Rush’s radio show, but from what it sounds like he is a pretty outspoken person and doesn’t like to hide his true feelings. The First Amendment does protect the right to freedom of speech so I feel like he doesn’t have to restrict what he says. If you know what kind of person he is then you can’t expect anything more from him. The words he said about her were very rude and should have never crossed that line so i definitly agree with advertisers when they began to pull his funding. Being sexually active is a choice so if people are going to do it, the government shouldn’t have to pay for their birth control so they don’t get pregnant. You can either pay for it to be safe or just don’t have intercourse. If Sandra feels as if the government should have to pay for birth control then she is allowed to voice that opinion, just like Rush is allowed to voice his opinion on the matter, but it is uncalled for to call her bad names and say the things that he did.

  8. Parker Bickel said

    Rush Limbaugh losing some of his advertisers is somewhat of a good thing. This shows Rush that he is not untouchable and that he can and will be punished in some form or another for making indicent comments. Although you have the 1st admendment right to say whatever you want there are still lines that can be crossed and should not be crossed. Limbaugh should be punished in some form or another not by law but by the station and advertisers.

  9. cassie Crutchfield said

    There is a reason that Rush Limbaugh is one of the top Talk-show Host in the Country. He openly speaks his mind, even if his views may seem offensive to some. I agree that in this instense and on other occasions he has crossed the line,but on the other hand thats what keeps him relevent and keeps listeners tuned in. In some ways this is very similar to the On The Media podcast “How Music Conveys Emotion.” In this podcast McGill proffesor Dan Leviton describes how songs that convey a lot of emotion often start out with a simple, repetetive beat and then purposely a wrong note is played to catch the listener by surprise and keep the song interesting. I think this same technique can also be applied to talk radio. By purposely crossing the line listeners can become emotional about the topic and find it to be more interesting. If Rush Limaugh’s talk show was a family oriented program I might feel differently and want him to have more restrictions. However it is not, becasue he covers political issues, I stongly believe he should be able to speak his mind, engage his listeners and chalenge them to become more aware.

  10. John Geonetta said

    Shock jocks are popular because of their personalities. Rush is popular for the same reason Howard Stern is popular, he says and does outlandish things. He says the things lots of us are thinking but are afraid to say. Not everyone will agree with everything he says, but people listen to Rush because they agree with his views. Everyone has the right to free speech and all Rush did was express that right. He may lose some listeners and advertisers, but there are always going to be more to take their place.

  11. Deann Pantoya said

    Last week Rush Limbaugh clearly said some things to Sandra Fluke that I personally feel were uncalled for and rude. I strongly agree with the ads that withdrew from his talkshow. I know that i would not want my advertisment being aired on somebody’s talk show who acted the way that Rush did. Clearly he has a history of saying these rude and unnecessary comments, however people continue to give this guy a microphone and listen to whatever he has to say. Poor Sandra Fluke, was made into another victom of Rush’s rude comments. Thankfully he did apologize to her. It’s just sad that it took the ads to withdrawal for him to apologize to her.

  12. Caitlin Norton said

    Rush Limbaugh has always been an over-the-top controversial talk show host or better referred to as a “talking head”. He is outspoken and does not censor what he says and probably believes that he should not have to. This is what makes his show one of the best in the country. People listen to him for that reason. He knows that this is how he gets listeners to keep tuning in. On the other hand, what Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke was wrong. It was out of line. He could have disagreed with the points she made because everyone deserves to have their own opinion. But when you allow that opinion to personally attack anyone, that’s when it is taken too far. Rush Limbaugh sent out an apology to Sandra Fluke two or three days after the comments were made, only after key advertisers were beginning to withdraw their ad dollars. Everyone knows that’s the only reason he issued the apology, including Sandra Fluke herself. It was right for these advertisers to drop their ads from the show, because it shows that they do not agree as well with the comments. This certainly does not mean that Rush Limbaugh’s show will be hurting in anyway. He still has a 4-year contract and enough publicity created that possibly more listeners will began tuning in just to hear what other outrageous things he might say.

  13. Aaron 130 Gonzales said

    Rush is always out of line with the things he says but is and always will be known for that. People listen to him for the excitement of wondering what he will say next. Yeah he takes things too far but who doesn’t? I’m not saying what he said was right, but I’m saying what he said should have been expected. Now I would like to know if he apologized out of his personal morals or the morals of his show. If it was a scripted apology to get away from the hatred, ads to return, and to get the media monkey off of their back, there should be no point in an apology. What is to stop him from doing something again, because we all know it is bound to happen. At the end, people will still return to the show

  14. Brandyn Baca said

    I Listen to Rush Limbaugh almost everyday, for the very reason why he got hm self in trouble. Well maybe Rush did cross the line a little with Mrs. Fluke. Although Rush may have crossed the line i do believe this little stunt of his will in the long run give him more publicity. I’m sure thousands of people heard Rush Limbaugh’s name for the first time yesterday and are now interested in what this vulgar mans opinion is. As we all know after his scandal he lost many advertisers that used to want his noble name to support their product. Not until then do we start hearing the apology’s from Rush.This guy is on a as a contract for millions of dollars you would think he would watch what he says.After hearing his apology i really felt as if it was a generic one. So i will leave you guys with this question, why is it ok for Rush to imply that someone is a “slut” but Dr. Laura Cant say the “N” word?

  15. Krystel Martinez said

    Rush has always had a flirtatious dance with the line. It’s like people crossing the boarder illegally from Mexico. It’s happened before and we haven’t really done anything, so it will happen again and we still won’t do anything. Rush is a vulgar man, but that’s the main reason why people listen to him. It gives them something to talk and complain about. It’s like he’s doing people a service, providing a topic for the day and any publicity is good publicity so why not make people gossip about him because what he said was out of line? He can do whatever he wants because he doesn’t really have any consequences right now. Yeah he can pay fines and have advertisers drop him, but he has tons of money and companies care more about the wide range of audience and potential consumers than about their own morals.

  16. In my emotional opinion, I dislike that even with his apology, Rush insults women by comparing contraception with new sneakers for students. It’s ridiculous to think that even in 2012, 62 years after the invention of the pill, men are still putting woman on the backboard when it comes to our health. I understand that he is very close to the line about everything he says but in the new election state that abortion and contraception are involved in, I do not think joking about this matter or Ms. Fluke is okay in the least. The world has changed dramatically since 1700 BCE when condoms were invented for men, give woman the chance to evolve. This world is sexualized and if i do remember correctly one of our presidents was impeached for his sexual explorations for Christ sake, i wonder if he remembers that.

  17. Bekah Hathaway said

    Rush has created the “popular kid” image for himself. He is rude and gets away with it because there will always be those people that agree with the harsh things that he has to say. I think he takes things to far…had he simply made a comment about contraception and how he does not agree with it becoming an issue in congress, instead of turning to name calling of Fluke. For me his show is to much of an extreme, but on the other hand, he has so many listeners because of how easily he speaks about controversial topics without having much sensitivity towards those involved. I think that having an opinion about something is one thing but Rush, using his popularity to make other people look inferior to him which is a bit to much.

  18. Sasha Klepitskaya said

    First of all, I want to say that Rush was so far out of line when he spoke those words that I am honestly absolutely speechless as to how he managed to get away with such disrespectful public indecency and unnecessary, immature, actions. I respect the First Amendment and his right to voice his opinion, but as a popular media icon, he should have more intellect and common courtesy than to act in such a way. If it were up to me, he would have to face more drastic consequences than simply an apology letter. I support the comment directly above mine which describes him as the “popular kid” image, for this point is very accurate and a depressing illustration of what kind of state that has been reached. This is also an issue of how much can be said on all media platforms. Like the previous case of this kind of indecency with Don Imus, the boundaries of free speech and the regulations of what is allowed to be said to the public are being stretched. Secondly, it saddens me to see how some people are reacting to such an idea which Fluke proposed, which in my mind is an issue which needs to be addressed promptly. I understand that there are numerous other issues we are facing today, but I can see an easy and positive fix which can be done regards to one issue, and I don’t see why action cant be taken to make a change in this topic.

  19. Corey Sullinger said

    When strong emotion meet opinion I believe the line has already been drawn. It should not damage the perception of the person. In this case with Rush I am guessing Fluke would be more or less considered a public figure considering she was testifying. If this is true then one would have to prove malice was part of the supposed attack. In this case it was a joke I do not believe malice was part of it, Rush was not trying to hurt Fluke. Using the word slut and prostitute although did not exactly add to this joke. People should certainly think about what they are going to say before then say it especially through any form of mass media.

  20. Caitlyn Hollifield said

    I do think that Rush Limbaugh went a little too far. We are allowed to have a freedom of speech, unless we harm someone. I think Limbaugh hurt Ms. Fluke and I am glad he apologized. Even though a myriad of people across the nation may say the things he does, but not get in trouble for it, he is heard by millions and should watch what he says. He is a national icon and should represent America with dignity. He is given the right to say whatever he wants, so why not say comments that truly benefit the country instead of cruel ones.

  21. Sam Haseltine said

    I believe that the religious point of view should not be applied to the fact that religion is separate from state. This law, if allowed, would not conflict with the freedom of religion because those with the religious beliefs could avoid this section of healthcare and avoid birth control all together as their religion intends. I think that it would be a helpfully preventative method and allow for more people to be more prepared when refering to sexual health. It would allow for a decrease in teen pregnancy as well because an issue with sexual protection is that it unaffordable to those who want it or need it the most. I think that religion should not be put into perspective when something like this is optional. Not everything is in agreement with certain religions and therefore does not need to comply with their rules.

  22. Alexandra Veksler said

    So it is clear that what he said is wrong and unfair. But I truly do not believe that this is a big deal. Everyone is on a high horse criticizing him for what he said. I would like to know why no one has pulled advertisements from Bill Maher. What he said about Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman is so much worse that calling someone a prostitute. The whole reason people even watch or listen to these types of programs is for shock value. People listen to them specifically to hear things that are innapropriate. I feel as though everyone is over reacting to this. I just cannot understand how everything can be so one sided.

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