Conservative shock joke…excuse me, jock, Rush Limbaugh, recently created a fervor over his attack of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke for her position on insurance coverage for birth control.
Mr. OxyContin labeled Ms. Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” then took it a step further the following day when he called on her and her friends to post videos of them having sex so that he could watch:
”So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.“
Despite the massive outcry from (especially) parents and women who denounced Limbaugh’s implication that women who use and/or want access to contraception are whores, the famously unremorseful Limbaugh did not issue an (insincere) apology until his advertisers began to pull their money from his program…and even then, he continues to take an indignant tone towards the companies who pulled their support, essentially bragging to his audience that they (advertisers) need him more than he needs them.
We’ll see how that theory plays out as his employer continues to hemorrhage millions in lost ad revenue a day…
To date – thanks in large part to the social media explosion and outcry over his comments – Limbaugh has lost over 45 major sponsors and advertisers, who issued statements that they do not wish for their brand to be associated with such misogynist rhetoric. Incidentally, one of these advertisers was the Girl Scouts of America, undoubtedly uncomfortable with Limbaugh’s grossly abhorrent characterization.
Update 3/10/12: Over 141 national advertisers have pulled or requested that their ads not be played during Limbaugh’s program.
The President even weighed in on the controversy during a recent press conference, in which he responded to a question, perhaps speaking on behalf of all parents of young daughters who could probably imagine their own response if their child had been the target of Rush’s attacks:
“The reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way.”
“And I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens. And I wanted Sandra to know that I thought her parents should be proud of her, and that we want to send a message to all our young people that being part of a democracy involves argument and disagreements and debate, and we want you to be engaged, and there’s a way to do it that doesn’t involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you’re a private citizen.”
Originally I had planned on doing a full write-up on the timeline and underlying story behind the controversy, including the fact that 99% of all women have used contraception – whether to prevent unwanted pregnancy (something Pro-Lifers should support, as the argument could be made that it would lead to less abortions) or for medical reasons and how Limbaugh’s comments have been hugely detrimental to the GOP’s stance with women heading into the election…especially since no one could argue that Limbaugh’s influence with the Republican party can be even closely matched by any commentator on the left side of the isle.
In this article, however, I primarily wanted to focus on another gross mischaracterization that always bothers me whenever there is a public uproar over distasteful comments…whether by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus, Bill Maher or Hank Williams Jr.
”It’s a Violation of His First Amendment Rights!!!”
No. It isn’t.
Inevitably, there is always someone who comes to the defense of the provocateur by claiming a violation of the Freedom of Speech clause of the First Amendment.
Therefore, allow me to clarify this argument for those people who like to espouse the virtues of the First Amendment within our Constitution, yet who have clearly never read nor bothered to understand it:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In the case of Limbaugh’s comments, he certainly has the right to exercise his free speech (and did), however the reaction to it was not a violation of those rights.
A violation would be if he were placed into jail for the comments, having broken a law of which abridged those rights…a law that does not exist, thanks to the First Amendment. Even being fired would not be a violation of those rights, as he is not breaking any law that has been passed that infringes upon them.
Mr. Pain Pill Addiction and 4 Marriages has every right to say stupid and offensive shit…however his employer, advertisers and sponsors are not obligated to be associated with them…that is their right. Whether it violates the image / policies of his employer or tarnishes the brand of an advertiser who does not want to be associated with offensive material, Limbaugh is paying for the consequences of his own words…he is not, however, being carted off in handcuffs for saying them.
For further context: If Target advertised on a radio program that boasted 15-20 million listeners (as Limbaugh’s does) and the host joked about rape…it is entirely within Target’s rights to pull their advertising money from that program and not wanting to have their family-friendly image / brand associated with such content. That is simply an unintended consequence of exercising Free Speech, not a violation.
No. It’s not.
The privilege of broadcasters to use a portion of the public and free radio frequency spectrum is regulated by the FCC. In fact, broadcasters must prove that they have served the public interest in order to get license renewal every 4 years. If they can’t, the license goes to someone else who will.
With that license comes certain agreed-upon regulations that govern the use of the public airwaves that can be heard by any man, woman or child with a radio. As such, broadcasters must adhere to those standards.
The FCC is not hindering or censoring Rush Limbaugh’s ability to voice his opinion, nor are the licenses being pulled from every affiliate that carries his program as a result of his remarks. Therefore, he is not being censored and I assure you that Mr. Zero Food & Drug Self Control will continue to make abhorrent comments, as is his right…and is also yours to simply to change the channel and not listen.
Whether his comments result in his employer firing him or the loss of advertising dollars gets him pulled from some of the stations that carry his program – that is fully within his control and what he chooses to say – but the FCC is not going to censor him unless he violates the Standards and Practices clause of his employer’s license, of which every other radio & TV station must adhere to. And before that would ever happen, he would be fined for violations, but not censored.
On Free Speech
As a content producer and podcast host, I am acutely aware of my First Amendment rights, as I am a staunch advocate for them. I may despise Rush Limbaugh and everything he stands for and says, but I support his right to say it…I just simply exercise my right to change the channel and not listen to it.
It’s that simple.
The current outcry over his comments are his – and his alone – to be held accountable for. He was not carted off to jail as a martyr of Free Speech and he is certainly not a victim…in fact, his entire existence is predicated on his special brand of vitriol and the attention that it gets. If his own words caused listeners to tune out and for his advertisers to pull out, that is their right and under no circumstances are poor Mr. Limbaugh’s being violated in any way.
Although I have been offered jobs in terrestrial (AM/FM) radio, I choose to produce a podcast that I can have complete control over it and its content. I have turned down advertisers who had wished to have influence over the content on my show to better suit their brand…and if I did accept an advertiser, I would certainly understand them severing the relationship if I said something on my program that did not coincide with the image that they wish to portray to the public.
The FCC does not regulate podcasts and therefore I am not constrained, nor is my freedom of expression stifled in any way. I do an uncensored program and can say anything I damn well please without any thought of FCC standards…this is my right. “Uncensored” does not necessarily translate to “profane”, but that opinions and comments (including language) are not influenced by FCC regulations or sponsors and therefore can be truthful, direct, honest, impassioned, conversational and thought provoking.
I say all of this to illustrate my passion for the First Amendment, and as such, my irritation when it is defined and characterized incorrectly.
By: Dana Sciandra
PS – Although I could write an entire diatribe on the “merits” of Mr. I Smoke Huge Cigars Because They Remind Me Of A Male Phallus’ stance on contraception, and the fact that no Republican candidate for President has had the courage to denounce his comments; I’ll just share Jon Stewart’s brilliant take on it: