As Advertisers Continue To Flee, Can Rush Limbaugh Weather The Storm?

March 6, 2012 7:46 a.m.

Rush Limbaugh’s apology to Sandra Fluke — the Georgetown University law student whom he called a “slut” after she testified at a House contraception hearing — hasn’t been enough to keep advertisers from fleeing the show.On Tuesday, several more advertisers dropped Rush Limbaugh, including AccuQuote Life Insurance, Service Magic, PolyCom, Hadeed Carpet and Thompson Creek, according to Think Progress. By their tally, 24 advertisers have defected from the show. Among those advertisers, nine national sponsors have pulled out, according to reports. And two radio stations — one in Hawaii and the other in Massachusetts — have dropped the show.

Politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle have weighed in. The Republican presidential candidates have denounced Limbaugh’s offensive comments in varying degrees. House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman called Rush’s words “inappropriate.” Georgetown University’s president commended Fluke’s testimony and rebuked Limbaugh’s response. Even President Obama called Fluke, thanking her for speaking out about women’s issues and telling her that her parents should be proud.

All that being said, will Limbaugh — who has up to 20 million weekly listeners –take a big hit over this latest controversy? It’s not likely, the publisher of a talk radio trade magazine said. “Life will go on; Rush will continue,” Talkers publisher Michael Harrison told TPM. “It’s one of the, if not the most, successful talk shows in America. We’re talking about something that obviously could survive for a long time without advertisers.”

The firestorm surrounding Rush’s comments — which on Monday got the late-night comedy treatment — speaks to the importance of Limbaugh’s show, Harrison added. “The real phenomenon,” Harrison said, is that an entertainer like Limbaugh — who is not an elected official, member of the clergy or the head of a major company — could make a few remarks and have it rise to the level of a presidential reaction.”

Obviously, Obama wasn’t just responding to Rush Limbaugh’s assault. Congressional Republicans have been pushing legislation to roll back the administration’s requirement that employers include contraception coverage in their health insurance plans. In Limbaugh, critics of the Republican efforts find a perfect villain. But the media circus that follows Limbaugh around only inflates his importance.

“We fuel the fire we try to put out,” Harrison said.

A spokesperson for the Rush Limbaugh show wouldn’t comment on what financial impact the advertisers have had on the show. She offered the following statement from Clear Channel’s Premier Radio Networks:

Premiere Networks is committed to providing its listeners with access to a broad range of opinion and commentary without condoning or agreeing with the opinions, comments or attempts at humor expressed by on-air talent. We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions. The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue. Last week, in an attempt at absurdist humor to illustrate his political point, Mr. Limbaugh used words that unfortunately distracted from the message he was trying to convey. We believe he did the right thing on Saturday, and again this morning on his radio show, by expressing regret for his choice of words and offering his sincere and heartfelt apology to Ms. Fluke.

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