Rush Limbaugh’s been facing a wave of protest since his ugly attacks on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke: he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she testified before Congress about the importance of employer coverage of contraception. In response, advertisers have begun to pull out of the show. And in a near-unprecedented move, Limbaugh issued an apology for his choice of words, though not for the sentiments behind them. But Limbaugh’s efforts to save his show seem unlikely to stop advertisers from fleeing the show or to stem the tide of criticism from figures ranging from Sen. John McCain, to New York’s Cardinal Dolan—to one of Limbaugh’s colleagues in the shock jock game, former CBS radio host Don Imus.
“So were it me, and I ran a radio station or whatever, I would make him go down there and apologize to her face-to-face. He owns a Gulfstream 4, get on it, go to Washington, take her lunch, tell her, ‘look, I’m sorry I said this stuff and I’ll never do it again,” Imus said. He recalled that when he made offensive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, referring to them as “nappy headed hoes,” “Look at what I did. It was a lame attempt to be funny, and it was three words. And I went and met with these people after I’d been fired…If he was on my radio station, he wouldn’t be on it.”
Imus’s criticism also illustrates that Limbaugh is held to different standards than his fellow commentators on radio and television. Here are some of the punishments Limbaugh’s counterparts have faced for ugly sexual remarks about women:
-In 2009, after Imus made his remarks about the Rutgers basketball team, CBS Radio suspended him for two weeks without pay, MSNBC stopped simulcasting the program on television, and CBS eventually fired him even though his program netted $15 million in annual revenue. Imus apologized at the time and publicly acknowledged his comments were “really stupid.”
-Last May, MSNBC suspended host Ed Schultz for a week after he used language similar to Limbaugh’s during his radio show. Talking about Laura Ingrahm, a staple of right-wing radio, he described her as “this right-wing slut, what’s her name? Laura Ingraham? Yeah, she’s a talk slut.” He apologized to Ingraham on television, calling his language “vile and inappropriate,” and saying “It was wrong, uncalled for, and I recognize the severity of what I said. I apologize to you, Laura, and ask for your forgiveness.”
-In February, Clear Channel suspended California radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou for two days after a segment about Whitney Houston’s death in which Kobylt imagined what it must have been like to be Houston’s friends, saying: “It’s like, ‘ah Jesus, here comes the crack ho again. What’s she gonna do? Oh, look at that, she’s doing handstands next to the pool. Very good, crack ho. nice.’ After a while, everybody’s exhausted. And then you find out she’s dead.” The hosts agreed to attend sensitivity training and bring on guests to discuss why their remarks were so ugly.
Fluke was asked today whether she thought Limbaugh should be fired. She said that was a choice for Clear Channel and Limbaugh’s advertisers. But we’ll ask for her: what makes Limbaugh immune—thus far—from punishment by his employer for an ugly, extended personal attack on a woman performing her civic responsibilities? Maybe it’s that, given the profits Limbaugh rakes in, Clear Channel’s established the price of a woman’s reputation.