Saturday afternoon Rush Limbaugh did a very rare thing. He apologized, “sincerely” even.
The popular conservative talk show host – known for his biting, sarcastic attacks on all things liberal – told Sandra Fluke he “did not mean a personal attack” when he called her a “slut,” a “prostitute,” and a “feminazi,” or when he suggested she make sex tapes and post them online “so we can all watch.”
Ms. Fluke is the Georgetown University law school student who spoke out about contraception as a necessary provision of health care programs. She was invited to do so by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after she had been prevented from participating in a committee hearing by Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, who invited only male religious figures to discuss President Obama’s policy regarding birth control and religious institutions.
Heated political discussion of an issue important to women (most of whom favor the Obama plan) in recent weeks has allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as conducting a “war on women.”
When Limbaugh began his attack on Fluke this past week, which continued without let up for two days, Republicans began distancing themselves from the man widely perceived to be an important figure in conservative and GOP politics.
“That language is insulting, in my opinion,” Carly Fiorina, National Republican Senatorial Committee Vice-Chairman and former US Senate candidate, said on CBS’s “This Morning.” “It’s incendiary and most of all, it’s a distraction.”
Democrats made sure the public perceived Limbaugh as “the new face of the GOP,” as one headline put it, and they were quick to see the possibilities.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emailed supporters urging them to "Stand Strong Against Rush Limbaugh" by donating to the House campaign arm, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reported. President Obama made a public point of phoning Fluke to offer his support.
Even some Republicans worried that the controversial broadcaster seemed to becoming a major party spokesman.
"The party is in transition," Ed Rogers, a Republican lobbyist and close ally of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, told Cillizza. "Our leaders have not found their voice or direction…. Limbaugh is filling a vacuum in a world that requires a constant media counter-point."
One after another, advertisers with Limbaugh’s syndicated radio program began pulling out.
Carbonite CEO David Friend said he would confront Limbaugh directly when they meet this coming week.
“The nature of talk radio is that from time to time listeners are offended by a host and ask that we pull our advertising,” Mr. Friend wrote in an open letter to his customers. “However, the outcry over Limbaugh is the worst we’ve ever seen.”
Some had suggested that Fluke might sue Limbaugh for slander.
It's unclear whether that possibility had anything to do with Limbaugh's backing down. Here’s his apology in full:
"For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. 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? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.
My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."