Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke flap: Is it time to move on?

As the controversy over Rush Limbaugh's insult enters its second week, comedian Bill Maher says it's time for liberals to accept his apology and move on. Of course that's really Sandra Fluke's call.

Ron Edmonds/AP/File
In this Jan. 13, 2009 file photo, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh talks with guests in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

It’s been only seven days since Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” but it seems like the ensuing controversy has been raging for much longer than that. Attitudes about the talk show host’s treatment of the Georgetown University Law student have begun to calcify into a partisan divide. Is it time for liberals to just get over it, move on, and accept the apology Limbaugh has offered?

Bill Maher thinks so. At first glance that’s surprising – comedian Maher announced the other day that he’ll give $1 million to a super PAC that backs President Obama. But he’s got his reasons as to why he thinks it’s time to let go of the Fluke controversy.

“Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout,” wrote Maher on his Twitter feed Wednesday.

Of course, Maher’s been accused of saying some pretty crass gynecological things about Sarah Palin and other conservative women, so he might have a vested interest in damping down the fire here.

Former Obama administration economist (and frequent talk show guest) Austan Goolsbee noted this Wednesday, tweeting that “palin is right to point out that bill maher has said some pretty disgusing things about women, comedian or not. They are rush like.”

And as to sponsor pullouts, those could hit Maher and other controversial entertainment figures where it hurts – their wallets.

Talkers.com, which bills itself as the Bible of the talk show industry, noted Wednesday that one outcome of the Limbaugh uproar has been sponsor nervousness about the possibility of controversial statements from any edgy host.

“Major advertisers are issuing yet another round of ‘no controversial programming’ dictates,” writes Talkers in its industry news column. “This is not a new problem for talk radio, and the recent Limbaugh case is likely only to add fuel to a fire that’s been simmering for the past 20 years.”

Plus, isn’t it up to Ms. Fluke to decide whether Limbaugh’s apology should be accepted? She’s the one Limbaugh insulted, and she’s the person at whom he directed his words when he said he was wrong to use the harsh language he did.

And she’s not buying it.

“I don’t think that a statement like [Limbaugh] issued, saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything, and especially when that statement is issued when he’s under significant pressure from his sponsors who have begun to pull their support,” Fluke said earlier this week in an appearance on ABC’s "The View."

Many of Fluke’s defenders have pointed out that Limbaugh apologized for calling her a “slut,” but not for saying that women who want contraceptives from their health insurance are trying to get “American taxpayers” to fund their “personal sexual recreational activities,” and so forth. Given that, many liberals say they’ll continue with their outrage and attempts to get more sponsors to pull ads from Limbaugh’s show, thank you very much.

Still, at this point, is there a diminishing return to the personally-directed anger?

“Sure, it’s funny to dissect all the ways in which [Limbaugh’s] apology falls short, but it’s also a waste of breath,” writes Slate’s Katy Waldman on the web site’s XX Factor blog.

The initial anger contributed to advertiser desertions, but now it may just help Limbaugh make news, according to Waldman.

“Isn’t our shock a little disingenuous?” she writes. “Can’t we just allow his predictably crass and unrepentant star to flicker out? Expecting Rush Limbaugh to change his mind, especially in response to censure from the mainstream, makes no sense.”

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