I can understand why people are so upset with Rush Limbaugh. His three-day jeremiad against the Georgetown University law student and her sex life, after she testified at a rump Senate committee hearing in support of the Obama administration contraception program, was scurrilous, disgusting, mean-spirited, and not funny. He must have either been off his meds or over-medicated. Either way, that's no excuse. It was totally reprehensible.
Now, I don't listen to Rush on the radio anymore. Life is too short. But in his early days he made me fume, blow a gasket, and otherwise upset my normal tranquility. He should be arrested, his tongue taken out, and be treated as a chandelier, as the old saying goes -- hang by day and burn by night. And that's before they punish him.
At the risk of my progressive friends coming to my doorsteps with pitchforks and burning torches, I want to say that as wrongheaded as Rush was in misspeaking, it is also reprehensible for advertisers to pull their ads from his radio show just because of those several hundred ill-chosen words.
What do the actions of such sponsors as ProFlowers, Sleep Train, Carbonite, Quicken Loans, Citrix, LegalZoom, and all the other rats abandoning the good ship Dittoland say about all the skipper's nasty, vicious commentaries on other days? Are they OK with all the venom he spewed daily on other subjects, which made Attila the Hun seem like a flaming liberal?
Advertisers are free to do whatever they want, of course. But they are skating down a slippery road when they start making judgments about their media buys based on the audiometer. By measuring the volume on the meter dial they are leaving themselves open to organized, spontaneous demonstrations by supposed angry citizenry with ulterior motives.
Rush, whose ego is bigger than his belt size or wallet, can take this hit in the pocketbook. But there is a larger principle here.
Long before most of my readers were born, veterans of the war against Madison Avenue were fighting broadcasters who let advertisers control the content of what was put on the public airwaves. You wouldn't believe how cravenly broadcasters bowed down to the Madmen in the bad old days, circa 1950-60. When Judgment at Nuremberg first aired on TV in 1959, to cite one classic example, the show's sponsor, the American Gas Association, made the network bleep out the word "gas" in all references to the Nazi death chambers. In the so-called golden age of drama on TV, it was the sponsors that dictated that only dramas about people with happy problems were suitable for their sales messages.
It took a generation for advertisers to accept the concept that their ads were neutral, no more indicative of their approval of content than the ads in magazines.
Predictably, we are now at the second phase of media censorship: mea regreta culpa. Is what Rush calls an apology a serious apology or just something pro forma he has pulled out of the media first aid kid kit in the bottom desk drawer? How can you trust him anyway? As we have learned in broadcasting, sincerity is the easiest thing to fake -- shades of the McCarthy Era when people needed to apologize for their political beliefs.
It would be counter-productive for an art form like broadcasting to open the gates and let the barbarians back in. To give the Madmen more power than they already have by virtue of voting yes or no about supporting a program in the first place is reprehensible.
My advice to Rush is think before you open your big fat mouth and put your mother's combat boots in it. But I'm sure he'll be able to sleep at night knowing that, given the courage of their lack of convictions, his advertisers will be back.