Broadcast to troops in bases throughout the world and aboard US Navy ships, the network’s self-described mission is to provide “a touch of home” for service members overseas.
Yet as the furor over Mr. Limbaugh’s description of a Georgetown University student as a “slut” reaches troops overseas, US military veterans as well as soldiers serving in Afghanistan are asking the Pentagon to drop Limbaugh’s radio program from its lineup.
An organization of some 100,000 US military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, VoteVets.org, is also circulating a petition calling for the removal of Limbaugh’s show from the US military’s network, and signatures on it are growing everyday, says Maj. Jon Soltz, the chairman of VoteVets.org.
There are currently more than 11,000 military veterans and family members who have signed the petition.
In denigrating the student, who testified on Capitol Hill in favor of health-care coverage of birth control, Limbaugh “is commenting not on an individual, but on all women,” says Major Soltz, who returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq in December. “The government shouldn’t be promoting the type of content that essentially disrespects all women in the military who use contraception.”
Veterans say they do not have any objection to the Armed Forces Network, known as AFN, carrying conservative radio commentators – the network carries Bill O’Reilly for example.
“I totally believe in people’s freedom of speech,” explains veteran tech Sgt. Jennifer Norris, who served in the Maine Air National Guard from 1996 to 2008. “But when it comes to calling someone you don’t even know a slut, it feeds into the misogynistic attitude towards women – and it hurts our cause.”
This is particularly the case as the US military grapples with rising rates of sexual assault in its ranks, Ms. Norris and others add. In some units, “As a woman, you were either a slut, a bitch, or a dyke. Rush’s mentality feeds right into that, when we’re trying to work so hard to get rid of that.”
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, on Wednesday said he would like to see AFN drop Limbaugh’s show, but that he would not seek legislation to do so. “I would hope that the people that run [AFN] see just how offensive this is,” Senator Levin told CNN.
The decision by AFN to air Limbaugh’s show was controversial when it was made back in 1993. At the time, a group of more than 70 lawmakers complained to then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin about the network’s failure to carry the show. Mr. Aspin in turn supported its broadcast, and the decision was made to air it.
Another call to drop Limbaugh’s program from AFN was made in 2004, after the conservative talk radio host compared the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib to a “Skull & Bones” initiation, referring to the Yale University secret society.
“I’m talking about people having a good time,” Limbaugh said in May of that year of US soldiers, who were later prosecuted for misconduct under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. “These people – you ever of emotional release? You ever hear of needing to blow some steam off?”
He added in a later show, “We need some prison torture, you know, bubble gum cards.”
For now, Pentagon officials say they have no plans to drop the show. “Our goal is to provide a wide array of programming for service members overseas that would be available to them stateside,” says Pentagon spokesman George Little. “Airing programming on the American Forces Network does not constitute endorsement of what is said or shown.”
That said, Mr. Little adds, “We always take seriously the feedback of our service members.”
In Afghanistan, Limbaugh’s comments have been a frequent topic of conversation among some troops. While many troops, both male and female, find the comments disrespectful to the female soldiers with whom they serve, Limbaugh does not have much of a following overseas, says one American soldier in deployed to Afghanistan, who was not authorized to speak about Limbaugh.
“No one in the Army listens to [him] anyway,” he adds. “AFN carries him for the retired white 65 to 90 crowd.”