The straw that finally broke the camel’s back was not the worst thing that Rush Limbaugh ever said. The man who coined the term ‘feminazi’ and seemed to have a personal grudge against Hillary Clinton had certainly called women worse things than sluts and prostitutes. But last week when Rush looked at Sandra Fluke, a young woman testifying before Congress about the importance of birth control and called her a slut—then hammered on it for several days—both women and men stood up and said “enough.” The limp statement of appeasement his office issued just fanned the flames.
Rush Limbaugh has been one of the key designers of the conservative message, a message that has become increasingly bullying, inflaming, xenophobic, and misogynistic. People have already aped his current attack. It doesn’t take a genius to draw a line from the misogyny of Limbaugh and others to a Congressional panel on women’s health with no women.
That all-male panel was already a sore spot. When Rush attacked a woman—a college student—who was there to make women’s voices heard, he became the focal point of built-up anger. By attacking and smearing Sandra Fluke, he was not just picking on one young woman, he was sending a message that this is what women should expect when they stand up for themselves and participate in the political process. Was this also deliberately calculated to distract people? Very likely; he uses this tactic often, but this time, he probably didn’t realize what he was unleashing on himself.
Following the success of the campaign that got Glenn Beck off of television, people have been spreading the word through social media to let Rush’s advertisers know that associating with Limbaugh will not be good for business—and we have been heard. People are still working on the official list of advertisers, particularly the local advertisers in various markets, but so far over 50 advertisers have pulled their business. Carbonite’s CEO David Friend issued a particularly eloquent statement:
“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. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”
Only a handful of advertisers intended to directly sponsor Rush Limbaugh. The rest are “inadvertent” advertisers: companies who bought large blocks of advertising to be spread across different time slots at a radio station or chain of radio stations. This is common and allows companies to get more ad time for their money while stations have ads for all time slots. That is why so many companies were caught by surprise when they were publicly called out for sponsoring Rush: They didn’t think of themselves as sponsoring anyone. Of course to listeners, an ad is an ad regardless of intent.
An “inadvertent” advertiser may claim to be hostage to a block scheduling contract, but the block schedule is meant to make sure stations have ads at off-peak times, not to force advertisers into prime daytime slots. No station ad manager with any sense is going to force a company to sponsor a program during peak listening hours if it doesn’t want to. Thus, until Rush is aired at 2am, there is no reason a company can’t “quarantine” Rush from its advertising. GEICO has done this since 2004, though apparently its directions were not followed since spots did appear during the show.
ProFlowers Tax Resolution, and AOL have said they will suspend advertising—not the same as committing to drop sponsorship but a step in the right direction.
In every market in which Rush is broadcast, national ads are supplemented by local ads. Thus, there are still a lot of inadvertent advertisers out there who don’t know they are sponsoring Rush Limbaugh. The list of local advertisers who are dropping Rush is growing as the ads are publicized.
Rush has also lost at least two radio stations and two musical artists, the Canadian band Rush and Peter Gabriel, whose music was played during the show without their consent.
Of those sponsors remaining at this hour (the tally changes frequently) ones worth noting are LifeLock, which uses Rush as a spokes man and issued a statement of solidarity, and the Newt-based SuperPac Winning Our Future.
Follow the progress of the campaign against Rush:
Crowdsourced list of advertisers heard on Rush’s show in a variety of markets and their status re sponsoring him
Media Matters list of advertisers
Twitter hashtag: #stoprush
Remember, too, that Glenn Beck wasn’t taken off the air because he lost his advertisers. His show went on for months after it stopped being profitable. He only lost his show when his audience started dropping. Why? He wasn’t there to make ad money; he was there to deliver propaganda. Likewise, Rush is not primarily a money machine (though he has become rich by peddling hate), he is a propaganda machine, and a very skilled one. As important as it is to get him off the public airwaves, this is only one more battle in a longer war.