Has Rush Limbaugh permanently damaged his career?

Other edgy talk-show hosts have said stuff they were never really able to take back. Seven advertisers have now pulled spots from the Rush Limbaugh show.

Micah Walter/REUTERS/File
Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh speaks at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, in this file photograph. Limbaugh, roundly criticized for branding a law student a "slut" over her support for President Barack Obama's new policy on contraception coverage, apologized on March 3 for his "insulting word choices."

Has Rush Limbaugh done permanent damage to his career by calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute”?

We know that sounds a little far-fetched, but as of Monday it appears possible. Yes, Mr. Limbaugh has posted an apology on his website, but critics have dismissed this move as insincere. Even GOP presidential contender Ron Paul on Sunday said, “I don’t think he’s very apologetic.”

Seven advertisers have now pulled spots from Limbaugh’s show, producing a real (though still unquantified) financial penalty for the radio host/provocateur. And it’s worth remembering that other edgy talk-show hosts have said stuff they were never really able to take back.

Remember Don Imus? Back in 2007, he referred to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” on his syndicated morning program.

“The one-time shock jock’s radio career has never fully recovered,” writes Paul Farhi in The Washington Post in a piece that equates the Limbaugh and Imus situations.

For Limbaugh, one problem right now is that his apology was not exactly a symphonic mea culpa. In it, he notes that he’s an entertainer and says he “did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.”

But what’s “slut” but a personal attack? Limbaugh had also said Fluke should post tapes of her intimate acts online so “we can see what we’re getting for our money.” Is that not ... pretty personal?

Critics thus clam that the degree of apology is not yet equivalent to the nature of the attack.

“This was not a case of bad ‘word choice’. It was a brutally sexualized accusation, against a specific person, prolonged over three days,” writes conservative commentator David Frum in a CNN piece.

Limbaugh is further hurt by the fact that there are plenty of people on the political left who don’t want this discussion to die. It serves their purpose by allowing them to argue about Rush’s words instead of the underlying administration policy of mandating that employer-provided health coverage include free contraceptives for women.

Plus, Limbaugh has made many enemies over the years with his slashing rhetoric, and they’re not about to let up on the counteroffensive. Take liberal filmmaker Michael Moore – a favorite Limbaugh target. He’s turned around and accused Limbaugh of being what the talk-show host accused Fluke to be.

“And BTW Rush, your vile & vicious attacks on me over the years – I wear them as a badge of honor. You are sad & sick & I’ve always pitied u,” wrote Mr. Moore in a Twitter message to his followers.

However, some conservatives complain that the liberal mainstream media has a double standard in this case – that they (the MSM) have let similar comments from left-wing radio hosts go by without nearly as much comment.

At the conservative RedState website on Monday, Ben Howe points out that Carbonite, an online backup support firm that has said it will pull ads from Limbaugh’s show, also sponsors a lefty talker named Ed Schultz. Mr. Schultz has called conservative commentator Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on air, yet Carbonite hasn’t pulled ads from him.

“Could they just be dropping sponsorship of Rush in an effort to gain some exposure to help their company get new customers? Because let’s face it, they’ll get more exposure from dropping Rush then they’ll ever get from keeping Schultz,” writes Mr. Howe.

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