Last week, right wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh called a 30-year-old woman a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
The woman, Sandra Fluke, is a law student at Georgetown University. She testified before House Democrats last month that Georgetown, a Catholic university, should be required to continue paying for contraception as part of its insurance plan, instead of receiving a “conscience waiver,” which would allow them to not to.
In response last Wednesday, Mr. Limbaugh said:
“What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], 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. She wants to be paid to have sex.
The next day, he doubled down on his remarks, saying that Fluke is "having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk," and continuing:
“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.”
He continued his attack on Friday, saying:
“She’s having sex so frequently that she can’t afford all the birth-control pills that she needs. That’s what she’s saying.”
“Well, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have?”
Not only were Limbaugh’s comments disgusting, but they revealed a complete lack of understanding about birth control. He seems to believe that birth control pills are “pay for play” – that the price a woman pays for contraception is based solely on the amount of sex she’s having. And he seems completely clueless that millions of monogamous couples, including many married ones, use birth control. It goes without saying that he also doesn’t understand that many women use contraception for medical purposes, such as to help alleviate the severe discomfort caused by painful menstruation.
By the end of last week, numerous advertisers dropped his show. Mr. Limbaugh quickly did something he rarely does: he apologized. Sort of. But his apology continued to misstate the facts:
“In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom.”
That “apology” was another smear, reducing concerns about women’s health to something that should remain a private concern between couples in their bedrooms. By this afternoon’s program, he had already lost nine advertisers, so he went a little further:
"Those two words were inappropriate. They were uncalled for. They distracted from the point I was trying to make, and I again sincerely apologize. I do not think that she is either of those two words. I did not think last week that she is either of those two words."
But moments later, he said, “In fighting [liberals] on this issue last week, I became like them.” So Limbaugh has not only failed to issue an apology that didn’t simultaneously serve as a swipe, but also to acknowledge his own dishonesty regarding contraception itself. And the fact that his “sincere” apology came not during his three days of withering comments, but only after advertisers started fleeing, calls into question how genuinely remorseful he feels.
Still, all of that begs a question: How profusely can he apologize if the very concept of apologizing is contrary to his brand? Is he the rare case in which an unequivocal apology could actually hurt him more than a half-hearted apology?
I’ve listened to Mr. Limbaugh on and off for 20 years (usually when I’m on a long drive in a rental car on company business). How many times has he railed against liberal apologists who apologize for our nation’s policies or actions? How many times has he sneered at a politician who backed down and apologized instead of fighting defiantly?
As a result, he stuck himself between a rock and a hard place. On one side, he has angry advertisers who are fleeing his show and demanding a stronger apology. On the other side, he has an audience that expects defiance instead of even a whiff of remorse. And that’s preventing him from going as far with an apology as most crisis counselors – including myself – would advise.
In the end, I suspect Limbaugh will survive this episode, a bit worse for the wear. But hopefully it sends a message to other talk show hosts that this type of misogynistic language comes at a hefty price.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.