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Monday, March 05, 2012

Four Questions

It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I am not a fan of Rush Limbaugh. But with Pesach fast approaching, I must ask: Why is this rant different from all other rants?

1) Was what Limbaugh said to and about Sandra Fluke really beyond the pale of what Limbaugh says every day and has said every day for years? Again, I found it reprehensible, but I find pretty much everything he says reprehensible.

2) Why are companies that have been advertising on his show for two decades suddenly fleeing and is it somewhat pandering of them to do so? In other words,  you have supported this bombastic demogoguery for 20 years, why now)?

3) Why did Limbaugh feel the need to "apologize" (danger quotes intentional)? He never apologizes otherwise. But this also may be that I simply hate apologies over political speech. I would much prefer that those who engage in outrageous or offensive speech (on both sides of the political spectrum) stick to their guns. They obviously believe it or they wouldn't have said it, especially when it is in writing or, as with Limbaugh, he repeats it multiple times (according to one report, in three days Limbaugh referred to the amount of sex Fluke was having 23 times). I would rather know what someone really believes and make my judgments about them and their ideas accordingly. (Update: Amanda Marcotte at Slate argues that Limbaugh's apology didn't take because he didn't really apologize and probably had no intention of apologizing because he meant what he said, just not the way he said it).

4) Limbaugh apologized only for using the word slut; he did not apologize for questioning Sandra Fluke's character, behavior, morality, or sexuality. But usually that is enough to quell the storm; why not now?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 5, 2012 at 02:39 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

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Posted by: Becca Rausch | Mar 7, 2012 8:21:35 PM

(1) Yes! It's one thing to be generally nasty and unpleasant, quite another to gratuitously call a woman a "slut" and a "prostitute." Rush blew past the line between mean-spirited conservatism and flat-out, unvarnished misogyny and sexism.

It's puzzling to me why some liberal men (I'm one too) have trouble telling the difference between Rush's nasty conservatism and his blatantly misogynistic comments. If Rush had called a black man a "stupid Negro," or a Jewish man a "greedy Jew," nobody would be questioning whether that was beyond the pale, even by Rush Limbaugh's standards. In fact, Rush has been severely criticized for making racist comments(eg, saying Donovan McNabb was overrated because the public wanted to celebrate a black quarterback), that while seriously offensive, were not nearly so flagrantly hateful toward blacks as the slut comments were towards women. So what is it that is different about "slut" that makes it less out of the ordinary? Do liberals assume that Rush routinely uses overtly racist and sexist slurs? He doesn't. Or is "slut" somehow more acceptable than racial slurs?

Posted by: AF | Mar 6, 2012 11:57:35 AM

(1) No, because as Jon Stewart said last night, Limbaugh has been a really terrible person for a lot of years now.

(2) - (4) My guess is it's a combination of (a) what folks have said before, that this was an attack on a non-public figure, a single law student; (b) social media and other cyber-organizing have made it easier to rally around causes; and (c) Limbaugh's attacks are fairly easy (indeed, accurately) understood as attacks on women who use contraception generally, and that's a whole mess 'o people (not to mention their friends and families).

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 6, 2012 8:54:46 AM

A speaker can "believe" agitprop, in the sense of being truly or genuinely sympathetic to the viewpoint expressed, regardless of its factual validity. Limbaugh, as far as I can tell, genuinely believes that there is something wrong (immoral, unethical, whatever) with single women in their late '20s using birth control and/or being sexually active. And, as far as I can tell, he believes that being on the pill is correlated to the amount of sex someone has--which obviously is false, but that doesn't mean he doesn't believe it. And, again as far as I can tell, he agrees with the sentiment that women should not be able to have sex "without consequences." All of that was captured in his multi-day, multi-part rants.

So own it.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 5, 2012 11:30:13 PM

"Was what Limbaugh said to and about Sandra Fluke really beyond the pale of what Limbaugh says every day and has said every day for years?"

Why should Limbaugh get his own pale?

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Mar 5, 2012 8:38:03 PM

So an overarching theme of Howard's post is whether we should expect consistency and coherence from popular political pundits and/or the news media that covers them. I think this case illustrates as well as any that we should not. I think Matt's more or less right that Limbaugh (and other commentators, right and left) aren't really making arguments for the value of truth but are posturing to whip up support for their preferred outcome, regardless of the veracity of the underlying claims. This is not really public discourse in a Rawlsian sense, where people are won over by solid reason, but agitprop, where people are won over by emotionally powerful rhetoric (cf. Breitbart, who was clearly effective at the latter, regardless of what one might think of his political views or his methods).

That Limbaugh has said countless things that might be more worthy of outrage than this one is not, though, necessarily bad. Joseph McCarthy went on for a long time before someone finally stood up to him, and then he wilted in the classic manner of the glass-jawed schoolyard bully. Those who think Limbaugh is a pernicious presence in American public life are basically taking a page out of his book--their attempt to score points on Limbaugh is not perfectly principled, but it is (or may be) effective.

Posted by: DF | Mar 5, 2012 7:01:43 PM

They obviously believe it or they wouldn't have said it

Do you think that's true of Limbaugh? He says so many things that are transparently stupid (such as this) that I assume it's a type of posing. A vile and evil sort of posing, but not a statement of belief in any normal sense, like saying "your momma does (some vile thing)". Then, when he says it, his fans chuckle Beavis and Butt-Head like, saying, "huh, huh, huh, he called her a slut!" It's bad stuff, but not meant, I'd think, to be a contribution to factual discourse, and not taken as such except by fools most of the time, I'd think.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 5, 2012 4:25:01 PM

A sympathetic subject of the rant makes all the difference, I think. When Rush goes after politicians, or others in the public eye, no one pays attention anymore. But his target was a young and attractive student no one had ever heard of, which makes her much more sympathetic.

Posted by: Anon A Non. | Mar 5, 2012 3:35:54 PM

1) Not really. I used to listen to him in the car growing up (parents were hard-line conservatives), so I have a pretty good idea of the stuff he talks about. The difference, I suppose, is that his attacks are usually on prominent political figures, not on law students who stand up for their beliefs by testifying in front of Congress and then have their moral character called into question because of that. You expect a certain amount of mud-slinging when you're a politician or talking head; you don't in Ms. Fluke's situation.

2) Because, even though he's been saying offensive things for years, this is the one that's being covered, the one that's leading people to pressure the companies, and the one that ultimately has the potential to hurt their bottom line. Liberals and moderates who don't listen to Rush may not have been aware that (for instance) Carbonite was advertising with him, but they are now, and I would guess they've figured out that the potential lost business from those groups combined with the bad PR outweighs the potential lost business from conservatives who would continue to use the product.

3) Cynically (and, I would guess, more accurately)? Because he was losing advertisers. I could give Rush the benefit of the doubt and say that he genuinely realized that he'd crossed a line, but given the patterns evident in, oh, let's say, his entire career, I'm not really inclined to do that.

4) Once a firestorm starts, it's not easily put out by a single bucket of water. I might also dispute the claim that a quarter-assed apology like this one is "usually" enough to quell anything - I'd be curious to see other examples of similar situations.

Posted by: Doctor Chim Richalds | Mar 5, 2012 3:10:34 PM

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