The nature of my job permits me the luxury of listening to talk radio pretty much all day long; here in the New York city area, the line up on WABC-770 consists of Don Imus, Geraldo Rivera, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and John Batchelor. Since Imus and Rivera tend to get on my nerves (Imus is an idiot and Rivera is a flaming liberal) the morning is spent listening to John Gambling and Mike Gallagher on WOR-710. Needless to say, I was listening on that fateful day when Rush Limbaugh offered his commentary on the statement made to the press by Sandra Fluke in lieu of testimony she was prevented from giving to a congressional committee.
Although Limbaugh’s principle objection focused on the fact that Georgetown University is a Catholic institution that cannot constitutionally be compelled to provide or fund contraceptives for anyone, he veered off on a tangent and in the course of attempting to illustrate absurdity by being absurd, promptly stepped in a steaming pile of canine excrement. Allen Fitzhugh noted in his 2 PM post yesterday that Limbaugh is still trying to scrape the poop from his shoes. So far, he has issued a formal, public apology and suffered the loss of seven major show sponsors (Carbonite data back-up, Sleep Train and Sleep Number mattresses, Citrix software, Quicken Loans, LegalZoom and, most recently, ProFlowers). Given the haste for the exit door, I wouldn’t be surprised if several more sponsors jump ship.
Here’s is what Limbaugh said that caused the uproar:
What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, 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. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. (interruption) The johns? We would be the johns? No! We’re not the johns. (interruption) Yeah, that’s right. Pimp’s not the right word. Okay, so she’s not a slut. She’s “round heeled.” I take it back.
I was listening to his program at the time he said this and immediately smacked my hand to my forehead. Oh my God, I thought to myself, this is way over the top. He just slandered her on a nationally broadcast radio program. Yes, he kinda, sorta walked back his comment but lost that ground when he said “round-heeled.”
Worse yet, when Ms. Fluke spoke about the high cost of contraception, she was not referring to herself but to other women. Here is the relevant portion of her testimony (note the highlighted words):
“When I look around my campus, I see the faces of the women affected by this lack of contraceptive coverage.
“And especially in the last week, I have heard more and more of their stories. On a daily basis, I hear yet from another woman from Georgetown or from another school or who works for a religiously-affiliated employer, and they tell me that they have suffered financially and emotionally and medically because of this lack of coverage.
“And so, I’m here today to share their voices, and I want to thank you for allowing them – not me – to be heard.
“Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school. For a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships, that’s practically an entire summer’s salary. 40% of the female students at Georgetown Law reported to us that they struggle financially as a result of this policy.
“One told us about how embarrassed and just powerless she felt when she was standing at the pharmacy counter and learned for the first time that contraception was not covered on her insurance and she had to turn and walk away because she couldn’t afford that prescription. Women like her have no choice but to go without contraception.
Apparently, Limbaugh never accessed the full transcript of Fluke’s remarks before attributing them to her personally and calling her a slut and a prostitute. Had he done so, he would have known that she wasn’t talking about herself and therefore was NOT the one complaining about having to spend $1,000 per year for contraceptives. For all he (and we) may know, Sandra Fluke might not be all that fond of sex, despite her activism on behalf of “free” contraceptives for those who want them.
By any legal metric I’m familiar with, Limbaugh’s comments constitute slander – although in the case of broadcast media, the action is treated as libel (written defamation) because television or radio broadcasts reach an audience as large or larger than print publications.
It pains me to write this because I’m a charter listener of Limbaugh’s show and admire him very much for all he has done to promote Movement Conservatism. I don’t believe for a moment that he was being vicious or mean-spirited. That said, his statement was a gaffe of monumental proportions that probably cost him a lot of listeners and seven show sponsors so far. He painted himself into a corner, out of which only time and forgetfulness can offer an exit, as those who were offended by his remarks will never accept his apology. They smell his professional blood in the water and it’s a sure bet they’ll be going in for the kill.
Don’t be too surprised if, sometime next week, Sandra Fluke holds a press conference with Gloria Allred at her side and announces that she is filing a lawsuit against Rush Limbaugh for slander. If the suit proceeds, Rush will probably settle the matter quietly out of court and Ms. Fluke will become a media darling with all sorts of opportunities presenting themselves, including speaking engagements, a spot on one of the network of cable shows or even a run for Congress.
It has been said that “loose lips sink ships.” True, that. But there are occasions when loose lips can launch very lucrative careers and the present instance appears to be one of them.