Did Rush Limbaugh Go Too Far in Insulting Sandra Fluke On Air?
An opinion piece discussing the recent on-air insults of Sandra Fluke by U.S. radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, with references to similar on-air episodes, including those of Bill Maher and Don Imus with reactions to same.
Rush Limbaugh's On-Air Treatment of Sandra Fluke
The big news on Saturday, March 3, 2012, was Rush Limbaugh’s belated apology to third year law student Sandra Fluke. Ms. Fluke was barred from testifying at the Senate’s health care hearings on women’s access to contraception. Republican Darrell Issa of California called her “unqualified.”
A panel of all-male others (including a male Catholic priest) were allowed to testify, instead. This exclusion of Ms. Fluke prompted the Democrats to hold a forum where Ms. Fluke told her story of a friend whose struggle to secure birth control pills from Georgetown University (a Catholic institution) to prevent cysts took so long that medical complications cost her an ovary.
On-Air Attacks on Sandra Fluke
The attacks on Sandra Fluke started on the first day of Women’s History Month. Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio talk show host, insulted and demeaned Ms. Fluke on his show for three full days. He called her “a slut” and “a prostitute” on day one. He moved on, in the next two days, to suggest that, if birth control pills were provided to female students, they should be required to post sexual videos online.
This is not the first controversy for Rush Limbaugh, whose antics provoked Senator Al Franken’s book Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, in which he proved that Limbaugh did little fact-checking, instead broadcasting inaccurate information if it would serve to shock his audiences. Rush has mocked Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease and called Michelle Obama fat. He laughed at the Japanese earthquake disaster and made the outrageous statement soon after the 2008 presidential election, “I hope Obama fails.”
Bill O'Reilly, Bill Maher
Limbaugh is not the only commentator who intentionally provokes outrage. Bill O’Reilly often stirs things up. Bill Maher was taken to task for making fun of white men in the sexting scandal that involved Brett Favre. Maher, on September 17, 2001, self-destructed while commenting on 9/11 saying, “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.” That remark cost Maher his ABC television program, “Politically Incorrect.”
Don Imus Flap
Perhaps the radio commentator flap most closely paralleling Limbaugh’s current brouhaha, however, is Don Imus, who was fired by CBS radio when he called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes.” Despite repeated apologies and a two-week suspension, Imus was fired.
CBS said at the time, “In our meeting with concerned groups, there has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people..That consideration has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision.” The fact that Imus scorned “women of color trying to make their way in this society” did not escape rebuke from CBS, but the rest of the CBS remarks of 2007 apply equally to the current Sandra Fluke situation.
Advertisers Drop Limbaugh's Show
On Facebook, Carbonite’s CEO, David Friend, said that Limbaugh had overstepped “any reasonable bounds of decency” and added, “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.” Carbonite canceled all current and future advertising on Limbaugh’s show. Eight other advertisers had dropped Rush's show at last count.
Barack Obama Comments
Most apropos of all Imus reactions, however, came from then-Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, back on April 11 of 2007: “…there’s nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude…It was a degrading comment. What we’ve been seeing around this country is this constant ratcheting up of a coarsening of the culture that all of us have to think about…Insults, humor that degrades women, humor that is based in racism and racial stereotypes isn’t fun. And the notion that somehow it’s cute or amusing, or a useful diversion, I think, is something that all of us have to recognize is just not the case. We all have First Amendment rights. And I am a Constitutional lawyer and strongly believe in free speech, but as a culture, we really have to do some soul-searching to think about what kind of toxic information we are feeding our kids.”
That was before Barack Obama became President Obama. President Barack Obama called Sandra Fluke to tell her that her parents should be proud of her (something Limbaugh had ridiculed on the air, saying, “Can you imagine, if you’re her parents, how proud you’d be?”)
In a seemingly insincere apology on March 4 (after three days of attacks on Ms. Fluke) in which Limbaugh went totally off-topic ( “Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?”) Limbaugh said: “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 choice.”
What Limbaugh doesn’t understand is that it’s not just his word choice, nor his apology for the semantics but not the sentiments, which occurred after three days of attacks. Rush Limbaugh insulted every female of child-bearing age in America with blatant disregard for the truth and honesty of Ms. Fluke’s message. He insulted the mothers of America---all of us, regardless of age.
It’s not Limbaugh’s word choice. It’s everything and everyone he ridicules, whether Michael J. Fox’s debilitating Parkinson’s disease or Michelle Obama’s weight (when a good long look in the mirror should tell Mr. Limbaugh that mocking others’ weight is a bad idea.) The incivility and lack of mutual respect that has bogged down Congress is fueled by behavior such as that displayed by commentators on both the left and the right when those media personalities cannot model basic human decency.
Advertisers are defecting from Limbaugh’s show (eight at last count). Perhaps our long national nightmare will soon end and Rush Limbaugh will be fired. As Bill Maher told the Post Gazette, on September 18, 2006, after his own ill-timed remarks cost him his TV show, “And so, to anybody who gets fired like I did, my advice would be you never know---it could be a good thing. It really could.”