It's Super Tuesday, one of the most critical days of primary voting for the GOP presidential candidates. But Republican radio commentator Rush Limbaugh has dominated the national media coverage after he made disparaging remarks about Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke.
Limbaugh has apologized twice for his repeated remarks about Ms. Fluke. Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute" after she testified last week before a congressional panel advocating for healthcare coverage of birth control.
On Limbaugh's Monday radio show he reiterated his written apology, which was issued Saturday after a handful of sponsors pulled their advertisements. "I always tried to maintain a very high degree of integrity and independence on this program," he said Monday. "Nevertheless, those two words were inappropriate, they were uncalled for, they distracted from the point that I was actually trying to make, and I again sincerely apologize to Miss Fluke for using those two words to describe her."
In his Saturday written mea culpa, he said his "choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir."
To date, more than a dozen companies have pulled sponsorships including AOL, Tax Reform, ProFlowers, Quicken Loans, Sleep Number, The Sleep Train, Citrix, LegalZoom and Carbonite. Hawaiian radio station KPUA ended its support of Limbaugh and dropped his show, which is broadcast across more than 600 markets, reaching between 13 million and 20 million weekly listeners. (Update: As of Tuesday afternoon, more than two dozen companies had pulled their ads from Limbaugh's program, including NetFlix, Capitol One, and John Deere, The Atlantic Wire reports.)
The reaction from the growing number of advertisers that have pulled their ads stems largely from consumer comments made in social media circles, says Brad Adgate, SVP of Horizon Media. "Consumers can now directly talk to sponsors and advertisers, one-on-one…. It is no longer a top-down approach where marketers tell consumers what to think. It is now a level playing field and consumers can tell marketers what they think," Adgate notes. "This is a great opportunity for consumers to voice their opinion" and voice their opinion they did.
More than 7,000 people wrote comments on ProFlowers' Facebook page to voice their displeasure with Limbaugh. The CEO of Carbonite used social media to explain why the company pulled its sponsorship.
"No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady," wrote Carbonite CEO David Friend on the company's Facebook page. "Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse."
During his Monday radio show, Limbaugh commented on the advertisers who no longer support his show. "I'm sorry to see them go. They have profited handsomely from you. These advertisers who have split the scene have done very well from their access to you, my audience on this program," he told listeners. "That's a business decision and it's theirs alone to make. They've decided they don't want you or your business anymore."
Although he's paid to be controversial, Limbaugh's comments about Ms. Fluke were inappropriate, Adgate says.
This is not the first time Limbaugh has been over the top in his remarks. In 2006, Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox, who has been clinically diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, of "exaggerating the effects of the disease" during a campaign ad for Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill. He went on to say Fox was acting. "This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting, one of the two," Limbaugh said.
Adgate believes the timing of Limbaugh's comments were planned. Limbaugh was trying to get attention ahead of Super Tuesday, Adgate asserts. "He said this over a number of days. I don't think the first couple of days he got a reaction or a response; he wasn't on the radar," Adgate tells The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task in the accompanying interview. "I think he just wanted to push the envelope and pushed it a little too far."
Limbaugh, the highest paid radio host with a $400 million 8-year contract, is often hailed as a top Republican voice outside of Washington who is credited with setting the tone for the Republican party. Interestingly, all of the Republican candidates have essentially failed to come out against Limbaugh's controversial comments with the exception of Ron Paul, who spent many years as an OBGYN. Adgate says this lack of criticism probably has less to do with the GOP candidates protecting Limbaugh and more to do with them wanting to distance themselves from such polarizing comments.
Will the Fluke controversy hurt the highest paid radio host? Not likely says Adgate, who believes this scandal has hit its "peak."
"There is a money at stake and I think it is going to take a lot of pressure for Clear Channel to make any drastic decisions the way CBS did with Don Imus five years ago," he says.
Imus was forced off the air after his racist remarks toward a female African American basketball player at Rutgers University. He was forced to apologize but was subsequently fired by both CBS radio and MSNBC. But one year later Imus was back on both radio and TV at Fox Business News.
Glenn Beck is another controversial radio/TV pundit who more recently left Fox News due to a dust up with advertisers. After his June 2011 departure from the notably conservative cable network, Beck created his own webcast GBTV in which revenue comes from the audience and not advertisers, says Adgate.
Many sponsors pulled away from Beck and could do the same to Limbaugh if he is not careful. "[Limbaugh's fate] really comes down to marketers' reactions to consumers [and] it is really hard to gauge that," Adgate says.