by Amy Bingham
Rush Limbaugh is in trouble.
Following the conservative talk-radio host’s remarks about a college student, Sandra Fluke, who testified before congress during the contraception debate, numerous advertisers are pulling their ads from the show.
After Fluke’s testimony, Limbaugh took to the airwaves.
“What does that make her?” he asked. “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 contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
The backlash was swift and fierce and, for the first time in a very long time, Limbaugh actually backtracked, distancing himself from the remarks.
“My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir,” he said, adding later that he ”acted too much like the leftists who despise me.”
Too late. 33 advertisers and counting have already fled. It may not be an existential threat yet, but it certainly isn’t going to help Limbaugh’s bottom line. Adam Peck writes:
So far, Sleep Number, The Sleep Train, Quicken Loans, Legal Zoom, Citrix, Carbonite, ProFlowers, Tax Resolution, AOL, Bonobos, Sears, Allstate Insurance, Sensa, Bare Escentuals, Vitacost, Hadeed Carpet, Thompson Creek Windows, PolyCom, Service Magic, AccuQuote Life Insurance, Geico, John Deere, Stamps.com, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Bethesda Sedation Dentistry, Cascades Dental, Philadelphia Orchestra, Goodwill Industries, Heart & Body Extract, Netflix, Downeast Energy, Capitol One, and JCPenney have pulled ads from the program, and several others are considering following their lead.
Andrew Sullivan pulled this quote from Tax Resolution Services chief executive Michael Rozbruch:
When reached by telephone, Michael Rozbruch, the chief executive of Tax Resolution Services, said that his company had been a sponsor of Mr. Limbaugh for “just over a year.” He said he had been “inundated” by messages from online protesters that wanted him to drop the sponsorship.
“What put me on the map 14 years ago was ‘The Howard Stern Show,’” Mr. Rozbruch said. Mr. Stern is a famously controversial radio host, and Mr. Rozbruch said he once had a “similar experience” with opponents of that show. “But social media was nowhere where it is today,” he said.
Notice that emphasis on social media? That’s key. Social media makes mutual knowledge spread much, much faster. It’s a phenomenon that’s useful against dictators, pundits and bad prognosticators alike.
Sullivan observes that the “power of Limbaugh’s vocal connection with millions was overwhelmed in the end by the collective chorus of disdain – and its speed and immediacy.”
While I find myself typically turned off by the sort of AstroTurf boycott campaigns that comprise much of the professional boycott industry, this sort of resounding public outcry is much different. The outrage was felt organically across the country, and spread like wildfire over social media networks like Twitter and Facebook until it was deafening.
It’s sort of extraordinary to watch it play out. Limbaugh has such a high perch, and has for so long seemed impervious to criticism of any kind, that to watch his advertisers run off this quickly – it’s sort of shocking, especially given his own passive-aggressive apology.
One thing is certain: it matters less and less how high your perch may be, or how fortified you think your soapbox is – the game is changing. It’s changing in unpredictable ways and the old megaphones are being torn down and tossed into the bonfire.
Nor is this just a threat to Rush Limbaugh. Anyone, regardless of political persuasion, that relied on an old media model in the past will have to react accordingly. Evolution is upon us.
They say that video killed the radio star, but maybe it was the social web – with the smartphone, in the library, that did the real dirty work.