The Winners and Losers of Rush Limbaugh’s Slut Controversy

“Outraged” advertisers score a win-win.

In front of the entire nation, conservative radio giant Rush Limbaugh repeatedly called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute” for her support of an Obama administration policy requiring health insurers to offer contraceptives. In the ensuing media storm, here’s who’s coming out on top, and who is left burning in the ashes.

Winners in the Rush Limbaugh “Slut” Controversy

Rush Limbaugh, the Entertainer
Entertainer Rush follows a cardinal rule: There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Bet the ranch that his ratings will increase, and so will his advertisers. This is not foreign territory to Rush, as he has been engulfed in numerous high-profile controversies in the past, since, let’s face it, controversy pays. To the tune of $40 million a year.

Remember, too, that Rush has the luxury of saying pretty much whatever he wants without fear of repercussion. With a net worth in excess of $350 million, he needn’t worry about paying the rent should he get fired. And how likely is Clear Channel Communications (his employer) to fire the most lucrative figure on the radio? It’s doesn’t take courage to tell and defend the truth when one stands to lose nothing. For those who idolize Rush in that regard, find a real hero to adore.

Oh, and his apology? It’s a stretch to even call it that, but all part of the game. Apologize while not really apologizing, and trash your enemies in the process. If nothing else, Limbaugh would be a great politician.

Rush Limbaugh’s Advertisers
Sure, some advertisers have “temporarily” suspended advertising, but most of those companies are also practicing the above rule. A business (very publicly) announcing that it will yank advertising from Limbaugh scores a huge coup by receiving untold millions in free publicity. And in a few weeks when the shelf life of this story dies, most, if not all, will quietly return to Limbaugh. It’s a win-win for advertisers, and Clear Channel knows it. And let’s face it: Limbaugh’s advertisers know he’s controversial, which is exactly why they pay top dollar to run commercials on his show. To them, occasional forays over the line of decency are acceptable risks.

Sandra Fluke
There are hundreds of thousands of law students, but Fluke has broken through the ranks of obscurity to be forever known as the “Limbaugh slut girl” who wanted taxpayers to foot the bill for her sexual habits. She helped her issue gain political ground, and will never have to worry about landing a job. Fluke’s popularity—and notoriety—is her golden ticket. Who knew testifying at an unofficial congressional hearing could be so lucrative?

Mandatory Contraception
This issue gained significant momentum, unwittingly helped by a poor student being mercilessly—and personally—attacked by an ultra-wealthy bully. And what about the actual merits of the issue? To many in the Great American Middle, they don’t matter. Right or wrong, they think if Limbaugh is attacking Fluke, she must have some valid points. Conversely, if Limbaugh has to demonize her, his position must be so weak that it can’t be won on its own merits. (Too bad, because on the issue, Rush was right.)

Losers in the Rush Limbaugh “Slut” Controversy

Mandatory Contraception
President Obama’s attempt to mandate contraception coverage by health insurers tramples on market freedom and religious freedom. There are religiously affiliated entities opposed to providing services, directly or indirectly, such as contraception and abortion.

Truth be told, most insurers are more inclined to offer contraception services anyway because it makes financial sense. Paying for the Pill is infinitely cheaper than shelling out thousands for OB-GYN visits, ultrasounds, pregnancy complications, delivery, vaccinations and, of course, the regular medical bills that accompany a new child throughout his life. But the market should determine that coverage, not government.

Rush Limbaugh, the Movement Leader
Entertainers do whatever is necessary to entertain and make money (see above). But when they cross the line and represent themselves as serious leaders of a political movement, there are problems. Most Rush fans can’t discern the difference, and that endangers their conservative cause when their iconic leader does something that benefits himself but vastly sets back a core issue.

It’s not that he doesn’t care, but he puts his own interests ahead of the cause, even if that means hurting the movement. This is nothing new, and it isn’t just Rush. Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a “faggot” was another example of needlessly providing red meat to the left. And make no mistake, this issue will be back in the general election, with Obama and the Democrats painting all Republicans as extremist, mean-spirited Rush Limbaugh-types. Not a winning image for the GOP.

The Republican Party
Another fantastic issue in which the Republicans could have differentiated themselves from Obama and the Democrats—and another opportunity squandered. What else is new?

Not one Republican leader—and not one GOP presidential contender—transformed this into what it is: the lack of common sense health-care reform. This is all George W. Bush’s fault, along with the sizable GOP majorities he had for six straight years. Did they make any real attempt to solve the problem of skyrocketing health-care costs? No. Had they done so, Sandra Fluke wouldn’t be begging the taxpayers to pay for her contraceptives.

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  • dagbat

    We are in the weeds again. A lot of drama about nothing of substance. Let’s face it, the thought of the government mandating free contraceptives for everyone, because some people can’t afford them or for others it is financially burdensome, is ridiculous. The assertion that this free handout is critical for women’s health and that it will reduce health care costs is just as ridiculous. The real issue here is that we have lost our ability to use our common sense and see this for what it is. A government that thinks it should be in the business of fixing every problem that it deems to be important. A government that has exceeded its constitutional limitations and doesn’t know it. All of this might make some sense if the government was effective and efficient, but are they?

  • Mark Cofta

    Why is requiring health insurance to cover medical needs NOT common sense?

    Coverage by insurance, by the way, is not paid for by taxpayers, nor is it a government mandate to actually use all the services offered. The insured pay the insurer, and then the insurer pays out for services used. That’s why this whole Catholic brouhaha is moot: if the church doesn’t want its followers to use birth control, they should instruct them not to do it, rather than trying to force their will upon people through dictating their insurance coverage. We can easily have religious freedom AND responsible health coverage with a little — yes — common sense.

    As for “market freedom,” the simple truth is that “the market” doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s health. According to “the market,” if you have a pre-existing condition (like, say, being a woman) and can’t pay, you’re SOL; if your disease is too expensive, it’s better for “the market” for you to die quietly. The government needs to step in because healthcare isn’t about economics, it’s about health — and “the market” only cares about the (economic) health of CEOs and shareholders.

    “The market” is notoriously inefficient, as well as heartless and brainless, about people. Our taxes pay for protecting us from the severe policies of “the market” by providing roads, schools, police and fire protection, and many other societal works that we take for granted. We should add healthcare to the list of vital services that should not be trusted to the merciless policies of “the market,” which measures human life’s worth only in dollars.

  • peter1

    I won’t even get into depth on the economics of the cost of a pill versus the cost of a pregancy, which is why most private insurers already happily cover the cost of the pill (a woman would have to be on the pill for about two centuries to equate to the cost of covering one pregnancy), and just focus on the Rush stuff.

    Isn’t it possible that his advertisers are using this controversy as a convenient way to cut ties with a guy who has become more and more irrelevant, whose ratings have plummeted (lost 1/3 of his audience in 2011), or at least use it as a tactic to later renegotiate their contracts at a greatly reduced cost?

    The market speaks. More than 40 national and local advertisers have abandoned him, at least for the time being.

    Now, I don’t think he should be fired for what he said. To be honest, I think this whole thing has been overblown. And the idiots who listened to him before should still be able to listen to him. I don’t like anyone’s free speech being impeded, be it Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher.