Should Rush Limbaugh Be On the Armed Forces Network?
Until his advertisers began departing in droves over the weekend, one imagines that Rush Limbaugh was having the time of his life.
His verbal attacks on Georgetown University law student and reproductive rights activist Sandra Fluke brought him the sort of attention he loves, the kind of outrage that allows him to rail anew against the supposed humorlessness or stupidity of his detractors and to pose as the victim of his cultural enemies.
Limbaugh may no longer do drugs, but he's still an addict. Consider how he escalated his attacks over the week: the more he was criticized, the more outrageous his comments became. Give him a hit of sweet, sweet controversy and he wants another, bigger hit.
At least until it started hitting him in the wallet. Over the past 72 hours, Limbaugh's show has lost at least seven major advertisers,including Quicken Loans, LegalZoom, Sleep Number, Carbonite, ProFlowers and Go To Meeting - companies who devote a major portion of their advertising dollars to talk radio.
In a rare attempt to act contrite and staunch the financial bleeding, Limbaugh released a statement on Sunday which at least used the words "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke." It wasn't actually an apology, of course. In Rush's World, where he is never wrong, the national outcry was the fault of those who didn't *get* his art of illustrating "the absurd with absurdity." He allowed only that his "choice of words was not the best."
This may be enough to assuage some of his advertisers (although the CEO of Carbonite says it isn't), and if he can lower himself to show a little humility on his show this week, still others may return. It depends on the willingness of the public to keep up the pressure on advertisers and stations to hold him accountable for his words and actions.
One of Rush's biggest enablers has so far escaped attention: the Armed Forces Network. For years, Limbaugh's show has been beamed around the globe to service members, military support staff and families. Other attempts have been made to remove him from that network and have failed.
This is the time.
In his more customized attacks on Fluke, it's easy to overlook the fact that Limbaugh has a two-decade long track record of classifying women as inferior goods. This is the man who coined the term "Feminazi," who once stated that "feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream." In Rush World, most women are either babes, sluts or whores. They're cunning and manipulative or whiny and weak. There's not much middle ground.
Freedom of speech is not absolute. As a society, we've generally agreed that pornography, obscenity and hate speech has a limited place on the airwaves. Defining an entire gender by ancient (and usually pretty lewd) stereotypes as a way to keep them in lesser status is a form of hate speech.
So the question becomes: does Limbaugh's brand of misogyny really have a place on government-funded airwaves? Particularly when it's beamed to a military where some 30% of American servicewomen are sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers at some point in their deployment? Does he foster a view of women and their role in society that allows our servicewomen to be seen by fellow soldiers as comrades and equals?
VoteVets, a coalition of veterens of Iraq and Afghanistan today released a statement calling on the Department of Defense to drop Limbaugh's show:
Rush Limbaugh has a freedom of speech and can say what he wants, but in light of his horribly misogynistic comments, American Forces Radio should no longer give him a platform. Our entire military depends on troops respecting each other – women and men. There simply can be no place on military airwaves for sentiments that would undermine that respect. When many of our female troops use birth control, for Limbaugh to say they are “sluts” and “prostitutes” is beyond the pale. It isn’t just disrespectful to our women serving our country, but it’s language that goes against everything that makes our military work. Again, we swore to uphold our Constitution, including the freedom of speech, and would not take that away from anyone – even Limbaugh. But that does not mean AFN should broadcast him. In fact, it shouldn’t.
Our military deserves better than Rush Limbaugh's brand of "discourse." We all do.