Commentary Magazine


Despite Gaffe, Limbaugh Won’t Be Silenced

As James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web column in today’s Wall Street Journal, the left is crowing today about putting Rush Limbaugh on the run. As Taranto writes, “The kerfuffle was no fluke but a left-liberal set piece” in which a concerted effort was made by liberal members of Congress to spin the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church as a defense of women’s rights. But liberals aren’t satisfied with just their success in changing the conversation from one about religious freedom to one centered on the mythical attack on the right to contraception by the church and conservative opponents of ObamaCare. The real prize in this controversy is not the way the left has enabled the president to avoid taking responsibility for the way his signature health care bill will subvert liberty but the chance to take down the most popular conservative talk show host for the last 20 years.

The flight of Limbaugh’s advertisers under the storm of pressure orchestrated against the radio personality is significant. Since Limbaugh’s tasteless comments about Sandra Fluke’s testimony in which the Georgetown University Law student complained about the cost of birth control, nine of his sponsors have pulled their ads from his show. Limbaugh’s belated apology to Fluke was not enough to stop the bleeding because some of those who dumped him did so after his attempt to walk back his foolish and vulgar jibes. But by pushing so hard to knock off the king of talk radio, the liberal chorus of outrage may have gone a bit too far.

Most Americans, even those who agreed with Limbaugh about the issue, thought his over-the-top remarks about Fluke being a “slut” because she thought her Jesuit-run law school ought to pay for her birth control costs were way out of line. He’s been publicly spanked for this and rightly so. But the moment the effort to punish him becomes a campaign to destroy him, the nature of the narrative of this issue can change just as quickly as it did last week.

The fact that the outrage over Limbaugh was hypocritical didn’t buy him much slack as he was forced to face the music about his comments. But as soon as this outrage morphed into a crusade to force him off the air, that hypocrisy becomes relevant again. Those who think Limbaugh’s insensitivity to women is such that he ought not to be allowed to broadcast need to be asked why they haven’t signed on to similar efforts to force someone like HBO’s Bill Maher off his well-paid cable perch? He has said far worse about conservative women than Limbaugh’s faux pas.

Of course, the difference here is not that what Limbaugh said was worse, because it wasn’t. It is that he is a conservative who trashes liberals rather than a liberal who trashes conservatives.

In the New York Times Media Decoder feature about Limbaugh’s woes, columnist Brian Stelter points out one of those advertisers who have left his show, Tax Resolution Services, was “put on the map” by their sponsorship of “The Howard Stern Show.” The company’s chief executive Michael Rozbruch says the reason why he bowed to pressure to leave Limbaugh after loyally sticking with a vulgar creature like Stern is due to the increased pressure from “social media.”

It’s true that Facebook and Twitter have given such campaigns a boost, but anyone who thinks political hypocrisy is not at work here is not paying attention. The effort to destroy Limbaugh will fail because the shift from righteous indignation at him to an effort to suppress his voice only serves to remind his huge fan base the reason why Limbaugh and the whole genre of conservative radio had to be created was the liberal monopoly on traditional broadcast outlets. Shutting him down has been a liberal dream for two decades, but his Fluke gaffe won’t serve as an excuse for silencing the movement he has come to exemplify. As Limbaugh promised his listeners today, any advertiser who bolts from his show will be replaced.

Liberals are overplaying their hand on Limbaugh and, as Taranto rightly points out, sooner or later the debate will switch back to the ObamaCare mandate and the way it threatens to dangerously expand government power.