Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s inflammatory remarks on Feb. 29 drew immediate criticism from nearly everyone, and yet he remains employed by the media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications. Let’s be honest – if it were anyone else, those comments would have warranted immediate termination. But because they belong to Rush Limbaugh – and his 15 million weekly listeners – they get a pass.
Yes, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are two inherent rights this nation is founded on and these rights deserve to be upheld. But both come with the caveat that one does not infringe upon the rights of another – restrictions are placed upon these rights when issues of obscenity, defamation and incitement arise.
It’s hard to argue that Limbaugh’s comments do not fall into at least one of those three categories. His comments were most certainly obscene, calling Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for “having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.” Defamation and incitement have perhaps less clear denotations but it’s undeniable that referring to Fluke as a “prostitute” who “wants the taxpayers to pay her to have sex” comes awfully close.
No one is going to deny the vulgarity of what Limbaugh said. This isn’t even a political issue – it’s a human decency issue. So why does Limbaugh still have a job? Why is he still allowed to spread these types of remarks to millions of Americans each week? Limbaugh’s comments on Fluke may be toward the extreme but he says a multitude of things in the same vein each day. His radio show is a continuous outlet for him to spread his obscene message.
The fact of the matter is that standards – both legal and moral – in the media only go so far. Rush Limbaugh’s $400 million contract is the reason he still has a job. The reality is that if someone is worth enough money and brings in enough money for their employer, then indecency, obscenity and moral bankruptcy are overlooked.
It’s the same reason why singer Chris Brown got a reprieve at the Grammy awards this year and why he’s featured on a song with Rihanna. The American media is willing to look past an individual’s past actions if they generate enough wealth – and sad to say, the American public usually goes along with it.
On March 3, Limbaugh apologized for his remarks after he drew fire not only from President Barack Obama but also the Republican presidential candidates, and after a number of advertisers pulled their support from his show. I’m willing to bet it was the last of these – the potential loss of ad revenue – that is the only reason for Limbaugh’s apology. Political flak is the norm for Limbaugh but a monetary reaction to his comments is not, and unfortunately money is the only thing that dictates the American media these days.
In the long run, I’m afraid the uproar over Limbaugh’s comments will amount to very little. These types of incendiary remarks are usual fare for contemporary political talk radio and in the end this debacle won’t come to much more than “Rush being Rush.” At the end of the day, Limbaugh has a $400 million contract and brings in 15 million listeners a week. And that, unfortunately, is worth more than a bit of decency.