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Flushing Rush

Has the flamboyant host taken angry talk radio to a dead end?

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

“Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.

This is the voice of Rush Limbaugh, host of the most popular talk radio program in America. Limbaugh, whose palm closes over $50 a year when it’s not clutching his trademark cigar, offers his audience such wisdom as:

“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?”

But Limbaugh, on the air nationally since 1988, has become a problem—a big one—for his syndicator, Clear Channel. Listener anger at his brand-name invective evidently reached a tipping point last year, when he turned Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, into a target because she went before Congress to advocate for insurance coverage for birth control. Said Limbaugh:

“What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex — what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

The tirade, which didn’t stop there, finally hit a nerve that years of such pontification as—

“Take guns out of the possession, out of the hands of liberals, take their typewriters and their keyboards away from ‘em, don’t let ‘em anywhere near a gun, and control their speech. You would wipe out 90 percent of the crime, 85 to 95 percent of the hate, and a hundred percent of the lies from society.”

 —never quite seemed to hit. A Facebook movement called Flush Rush arose, and is still growing; it urged members to boycott the Limbaugh show’s advertisers, and an estimated 2,600 did. Among the earliest to leave were Sears, Geico and Netflix. Another group called Boycott-Rush-Limbaughs-Sponsors-to-SHUT-HIM-DOWN has more than 54,000 followers.

This spring, since the end of the first quarter of the year, there’s evidence that public irritation has affected Limbaugh’s syndicator’s bottom line. CC Media Communications (Clear Channel) has reported losses of $203 million, much more than last year’s first-quarter losses of $143.6 million. Revenues for the company’s largest division, media and entertainment, fell by 2.2 percent.

On March 1, before the first quarter of the year ended, Angelo Carusone wrote on his Media Matters for America blog, “Last September, I attended the Radio Show, an industry event produced by the Radio Advertising Bureau and the National Association of Broadcasters. In every session that I attended, managing the negative impact of Limbaugh was addressed at some point—even in the sessions in which I didn’t expect it to come up. Overall, I left with the impression that the industry is deeply aware that a problem exists and is in the process of adapting.”

According to Carusone, the backlash against Limbaugh has been so severe that it has threatened talk radio as a whole. Carusone quoted Courtside Entertainment CEO Norm Pattiz, who said at a Talkers forum in 2012 that because of the Limbaugh boycott, a “tremendous chunk of advertising revenue was wiped out in terms of support for national talk radio programs.” Others in the industry say talk radio may move away from politics and toward sports.

In the Valley, the Limbaugh show is aired on WHYN-AM in Springfield, a Clear Channel station.•

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