Last week, on the heels of Rush Limbaugh’s multiple-day verbal assaults on Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, I began to tweet the names of several of Limbaugh’s sponsors, asking them to cut their ties with his program. Fluke is the woman originally denied a spot as a witness at a hearing on the birth control mandate called by House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA). She ultimately made her case since then not only on Capitol Hill but in countless television and radio interviews. Her advocacy in support of the clearly outrageous tenet that health insurance should cover women’s primary health care apparently further enraged the already-apoplectic right to the point where Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and suggested she post sex videos on line.
Then the avalanche began.
On the advice of a colleague, I started my first petition on act.ly, beginning with a focus on ProFlowers, one of Limbaugh’s leading advertisers. I posted it on Twitter as well as to Facebook and Redditt. With the help of many people and through the magic of social media, that petition quickly went to the top of the list on act.ly. Others immediately began to weigh in with their own actions, including UltraViolet, MoveOn, and DailyKos, all groups with major lists and all calling on various Limbaugh sponsors to quit paying for his misogynistic and misleading attacks on women (and here I refrain from even attempting to summarize the ways in which he has misrepresented other people and issues in the past).
As of this morning, a mere five days later, and due to the collective action of many groups, nine sponsors have stopped advertising on Limbaugh’s shows, at least for now.
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Advertisers continued to bail even after Limbaugh tried to staunch the initial exodus with what he called an “apology.” Major sponsors that have said they were terminating or suspending their advertising support for Limbaugh’s show include SleepTrain, SleepNumber, Carbonite, Quicken Loans, Citrix Online, eHarmony, Legal Zoom, Proflowers, and, as of this morning, AOL. Joan McCarter has a good piece at DailyKos listing all of the sponsors, and including screenshots of their statements, as well as an update as of today.
The strongest statement and the one, in my opinion, with the greatest clarity, came from Carbonite CEO David Friend, who after first stating that he was concerned and would confront Limbaugh, was as offended by the “apology” Limbaugh offered as were millions of women. In his final statement, Friend wrote:
“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. 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.”
Friend does not use the term “permanently withdraw” in this statement, so it is not clear whether this is a temporary action or not. But others were even more iffy. A number of sponsors included the words “suspend” in their statements, which leaves the impression that this is in fact a temporary decision until things die down.
ProFlowers, for example, hung on for several days despite widespread pressure online, and through phone calls and canceled orders. It turns out that ProFlowers is owned by Liberty Media, a well-known right-wing media company, which in turn has strong ties to the Koch brothers. Perhaps because so many other advertisers were dropping or perhaps because the number of flower orders dropped precipitously, ProFlowers finally suspended their advertising. As McCarter notes, others such as TaxResolution and AOL also used the language of “suspension.”
But this is not enough. For one thing, Limbaugh’s comments were not just directed at Sandra Fluke, but at all American women who use birth control, have sex and want to prevent pregnancy or have medical needs for contraceptive methods. The level of sheer misogyny and hatred he promotes is galling on an average day; this one topped the charts. And he would not have a platform for misinformation at the level he does if not for advertisers that support him and the Republican party for which he speaks, and which seems, as someone on Twitter put it, to want to bomb Iran but be afraid of Rush Limbaugh. He is, if nothing else, a well-compensated hate-monger.
It’s not enough to “suspend.” Limbaugh’s advertisers need to commit to quit. They each need to permanently commit to quit advertising on his show permanently. And each of us needs to monitor these companies and commit to quit buying from them if they renew their support of Limbaugh.
Last week taught me personally the sheer power of “one-plus” in the age of social media. I never imagined that the first petition would get the response it did, nor that so many would band together so quickly to hold advertisers accountable for a show so clearly based on hatred. But for the longer term, this only works if we each keep ourselves and each other accountable. I commit to quit using any service by companies advertising with Rush Limbaugh now and in the future.