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Category: Media, Media Monitoring

Limbaugh’s Half-Hearted Apology Isn’t Enough

| March 4, 2012

On Saturday morning a friend and I were engaging in a bit of thought-experiment: If Rush Limbaugh actually felt like he had crossed a line with his three days of remarks about Sandra Fluke, what would a truly repentant person do in this case? Promising never to use such misogynist language again would be de rigueur of course, but what other steps would a truly repentant media personality take?

If he truly was sorry, we decided, Limbaugh would first personally call Sandra Fluke and profusely apologize. He would not try to mitigate or explain anyway any of his behavior. He would say he was absolutely in the wrong to call her and any woman a slut and a prostitute, or suggest that they post sex videos of themselves online, and all of the long string of items he said about Fluke, the women of Georgetown University, and any woman who merely asks that her prescription birth control be covered by her health insurance provider.

He would also have to make a donation to an organization that provide free or low-income birth control for women who truly can’t afford it, like say, Planned Parenthood, because he would now understand that as a very rich white man, perhaps he’s not in a position to understand what women, both poor and low-income, can afford to spend on their health care.

He would also make a public apology on his show where he’d explain why he knows what he said, repeatedly, was misogynist and hurtful to all women. He would invite Sandra Fluke to be on his show as well to explain to his audience the points she was making to Congress. If Fluke declined then he would reach out to another organization to find an advocate who would be happy to make that point. It’s a free country, Limbaugh still doesn’t have to agree with Fluke’s politics, but in his responsibility as a citizen, and a person with a prominent position in the media, is expected not to try to damage civil society with dialogue that goes beyond hurtful to dehumanizing of women.

Limbaugh didn’t just “call Fluke names,” he ultimately was trying to declassify her standing as a person with normal human rights. The “W” word as I like to call it, (whore) and its synonyms dehumanize women. Describing women, especially women who are simply making argument with which you disagree, in sexual or sexualized terms, not only demeans them but all women. Using such terms, especially in a public forum for hours a day --- as Limbaugh did – spreads this poison out to society that it’s acceptable to put down women using these terms.

Sexism, and open misogyny like Limbaugh’s, is harmful to society, not just to the women like Fluke, to whom the words are directed. Because the public sexism on his radio show is demonstrating to society how everyone can treat women, like garbage. Explaining this innate harm sexism causes to society is why the Women’s Media Center speaks out so strongly against it.

Of course, I told my friend on Saturday morning, Limbaugh would never go through all that to show he was actually contrite. “Instead he’ll probably issue some lame half-hearted apology, probably on Monday,” I said.

I was off on my prediction only by when it would come. On Saturday night a “lame half-hearted” apology appeared on

In a statement of 192 words long Limbaugh uses only 55 words to say he was sorry and the other 137 to continue to argue that he’s actually right (just not about those particular words). He demonstrates no understanding of why what he did was wrong or even promise he’ll try not to do it again in the future. This apparently is on par with how Limbaugh “apologizes” in the rare times he ever feels the need to even slightly take back something he’s said.

No one, not Limbaugh’s sponsors, not the media, not women, should feel this “apology” suffices. Limbaugh, I’m sure, thinks that now he’s said the requisite minimum number of words (apparently 55), we can all calm down and his life can return to normal. I’m sorry Rush but this is not what’s going to happen.

Just last week when the Women’s Media Center reported a sports anchor in San Diego called NASCAR driver Danica Patrick a “bitch” on-air, he at least was suspended a week without pay to demonstrate how seriously the station took the incident. There were actual consequences. Limbaugh spent three days spewing the most vile words about Sandra Fluke and he thinks 55 words of “I’m sorry” posted on his website are enough?

If Limbaugh had followed my steps to show contrition, he might -- just barely -- be able to win back some of his advertisers (and of course he would have to not spew sexism anymore). But his actions demonstrate that he shows no understanding at all of the situation, and any advertiser, current or potentially future, should look at his behavior and ask themselves if they want to sponsor a person who dehumanizes half the population of the world with his hateful rhetoric? Because while what Limbaugh says is reflective of him, when an advertiser continues to sponsor a program like his, after reviewing this incident, continued sponsorship becomes reflective of the sponsor’s beliefs that dehumanizing women with sexism is acceptable to them.