Sunday, March 4, 2012


The public discourse took an unfortunate turn last week when radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown law school co-ed a “slut” and a “prostitute.” The student, Sandra Fluke, testified before Congress regarding her position that contraception for women should be covered under mandatory health insurance coverage. Limbaugh, for his part, seized upon her remarks to state his moral judgment that students should exercise more restraint in their sexual lives. In case you’re one of the three people in America who has not heard this yet, here is Limbaugh’s tirade:

The firestorm that followed was predictable and divisive. At least one advertiser, Sleep Train, a mattress manufacturer, immediately cancelled its relationship with the Limbaugh show. Others followed. Also predictable was Limbaugh’s choice to personally attack Fluke and Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who chaired the hearings at which Fluke testified. He even went so far as to mock her last name, referring to her as Sandra Flake. He also cavalierly passed judgment on college students who are having a lot of sex. I’m wondering if Limbaugh remembers his own college days at Southeast Missouri State University. Although he never graduated, those of us familiar enough with the Cape Girardeau campus know that like any other college campus, plenty of sex happens there daily. Older, conservative white guys tend to conveniently forget about their own college sex lives when it suits them.

Exhibit B? Bill O’Reilly. A savvier TV talking head might bow out of this particular melee. However, O’Reilly, rarely one to thoughtfully choose his battles, took to the airwaves to bolster Limbaugh’s public condemnation of Sandra Fluke. In his own highly moralistic, scathing commentary, O’Reilly also mocks Fluke, by referring to her as Sandra Fluk, (with its implied rhyme). Another old, conservative white guy, O’Reilly’s desperate grab for attention [read ‘ratings’] demeans the work of professional journalists by suggesting that if the government mandates coverage of birth control for female college students, it should also insist on coverage of football equipment for male students. Really. Watch:

From the perspective of yet another older white guy, and a journalist, I just want broadcasters to do their job, rather than make themselves the story. I want them to focus on the issues about which they are reporting, rather than on the personalities that bring attention to the issues. I feel just as strongly about MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell who found it necessary to say this to Fluke during an MSNBC interview: “I have to say you’ve done a number of interviews and you’ve handled it all with extraordinary grace through all of this.” Again, Mitchell finds it necessary to express her own views about Fluke, and to make Fluke the story rather than government-mandated insurance coverage of contraceptives. In that one sentence, Mitchell goes off topic and turns this into a personality story. By doing this, Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Mitchell do a disservice to the audience.

What you, the consumer, are witnessing is the American free enterprise system gone awry. The mass media industries are so intensely competitive now that they rely on their superstars to keep you from changing the channel or clicking away to another site, regardless of the tactics they use. The competition that so richly bolstered the capitalistic system in our country is operating at the lowest common denominator of taste and dignity.

Those of us who believe in the basic tenets of good journalism wish we had a solution to this digitally-enhanced mess, but we just don’t. That’s why a narcissistic, unprofessional blob like Limbaugh has been able to elevate his crack rhetoric to a level that makes him the highest paid radio personality in the history of the medium. Not that I want to rub it in, but last year Limbaugh earned $64 million. Ugh. He did so by disrespectfully referring to the First Lady as Moo-chelle, by declaring that Barack Obama would not have become president if he were not black, by comparing the president to Hitler, by mocking Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s tremors, and by demeaning any population group that does not fit with his narrow view of acceptable human behavior.

By late Saturday night, Limbaugh had issued a half-baked apology to Fluke, couched in further defense of his own views. The most cynical among us might deduce that the apology was only offered after several advertisers pulled out of Limbaugh’s radio show.
They include Pro-Flowers, Sleep Number, Sleep Train, Legal Zoom, Citrix and Quicken Loans. In part, he said, “What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?” A simple, ‘I apologize for publicly demeaning you” to Fluke (above, right) would have sufficed.

Someone should point out to Limbaugh that those oxycodone and hydrocodone painkillers he was addicted to a few years ago were surely covered by his health insurance. It should also be noted that many health insurance companies cover Viagra, but not birth control pills. Oh...and about those birth control pills. Limbaugh needs to know that they are quite often prescribed for medical conditions that have nothing to do with birth control. Conditions such as endometriosis, reportedly a highly painful condition that affects millions of American women. But most of all, someone should tell Limbaugh that 20-somethings are going to have sex. Lots and lots of sex. So for him to make derogatory comments about the frequency of sex among young people is patently absurd. Let’s not condemn co-eds for being sexual. Let’s instead condemn media personalities who abuse the airwaves by publicly humiliating individuals with the courage of their convictions.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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