The fallout from Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke is growing exponentially. Reports to date have shown that advertisers are responding to the public revulsion of a political heavyweight battering a private citizen who was exercising her right to free speech. The latest accounting of bailing advertisers was reported by Radio-Info via an internal memo they acquired from Limbaugh’s syndicator:
“Premiere Networks is circulating a list of 98 advertisers who want to avoid ‘environments likely to stir negative sentiments.’ The list includes carmakers (Ford, GM, Toyota), insurance companies (Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm) and restaurants (McDonald’s, Subway).”
However, the memo made news of a different sort when it addressed specifics regarding which programs represent the negative environments to which it alluded. The memo continues:
“To all Traffic Managers: The information below applies to your Premiere Radio Networks commercial inventory. More than 350 different advertisers sponsor the programs and services provided to your station on a barter basis. Like advertisers that purchase commercials on your radio station from your sales staff, our sponsors communicate specific rotations, daypart preferences and advertising environments they prefer… They’ve specifically asked that you schedule their commercials in dayparts or programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).”
What this means is that the advertiser exodus will not be limited to just Limbaugh. Equally offensive radio bloviators like Beck and Hannity and Savage are going to see their ad placements, and revenue, decline.
In anticipation of the professional apologists and distracters, I would like to note that nobody’s First Amendment rights are being violated here. The government is not mandating any restriction of speech. Advertisers are freely deciding what is in the best interests of their businesses.
Conservatives are supposed to support free markets. Well, here’s their chance. If Limbaugh et al want their advertisers back, all they have to do is refrain from their overt incivility and slander. They don’t have to change their political beliefs or prejudices. And if that’s too much to ask, they can take their programs to venues that will support them without a dependence on commercial markets that must answer to their customers.
And for those who think that there is a moral equivalence between Limbaugh and Bill Maher, I would like to note that Maher is a comedian. He has a history of harsh satire directed at people across the political spectrum, including President Obama. That said, I personally don’t approve of racism or misogyny, even as a joke. But I do recognize the difference between a comedian and a political operative. Limbaugh has been an avowed advocate for Republicans and conservatism for decades. Maher has been an equal opportunity basher and satirist. While I would like to see the political discourse in this country become more civil and substantive, I would not impose those same standards for civility on people like Maher or George Carlin or Dennis Miller. Or for that matter John Rich or the Dixie Chicks. The arts have a unique role in expressing a broad range of opinion from a personal, creative perspective. Artists are expected to inspire, challenge, and even shock from time to time. Politicians and pundits are expected to inform, persuade and, hopefully unite.
It is also important to recognize that Maher’s offenses were always directed at public figures who had the resources and media access to defend themselves (i.e. Sarah Palin), while Limbaugh takes aim at people without such advantages. Where could Sandra Fluke ever reach 20 million people a day the way Limbaugh does? On MSNBC?
The beating that Limbaugh is taking at the hands of his advertisers is entirely deserved. And if conservatives want to cancel their subscriptions to HBO to protest Maher, then by all means go for it. If the final result is a more elevated discussion of the issues that impact us all as citizens, then it will have been worth it.