Could Conservatives Have Stopped Rush Limbaugh?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Right when Rush Limbaugh started digging a very deep hole last week by insulting Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as a "slut" and a "prostitute" following her public testimony about access to contraception, the talker's startling comments made news. By day's end House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) had condemned Limbaugh's sexist attacks and urged their Republican colleagues to do the same. Online, the topic lit up the blogosphere.

On Thursday, March 1, Limbaugh returned to the topic of Fluke and for the next day days he talked obsessively about what he claimed her sex life was like and did it in the most invasive and derogatory way possible, suggesting she has trouble walking because of all the excessive intercourse she was having, and that her parents must be humiliated by her behavior.

Now, thanks in part to his subsequent botched apologies, Limbaugh's radio career is in peril. Aside from becoming a national punch line this week, Limbaugh faces the worst crisis of his two-decade career, as A-list advertisers continue to flee his show, and with no end to the defections in sight. Pressured by activists and offended by Limbaugh's stunning, three-day rundown of Fluke and her family, advertisers are yanking their brands away from Limbaugh's tainted purview.

Unable to alter the dynamics of the story and the larger electronic movement behind it, Limbaugh remains in professional free fall.

Looking back though, there was a key moment when conservative voices could have helped Limbaugh avoid this crisis. There was a moment last week when they could have weighed in on the budding scandal and tried to alert Limbaugh that he was wading into dangerous territory by acknowledging, however timidly, that his sexist comments about Fluke's sex life were uncalled for and disrespectful.

Maybe if just one or two prominent conservative voices had spoken up online, on the radio, or on TV up last week on Wednesday when the "slut" story was making waves, Limbaugh wouldn't have returned to the story on Thursday and then again on Friday. Yes, his initial slurs were awful and crass and worthy of condemnation. But it was the gushing stream of invective that followed on the second and third days that turned the Fluke story into the raging firestorm that it is today.

I concede Limbaugh is known for his oversized ego and it's possible he doesn't take counsel from anyone about his program or what he discusses on it. And we know from his show last Thursday that he was delighted in the way liberals and Democrats responded to his "slut" and "prostitute" attack from the day before, saying it was "absolutely hilarious" how the left had been "thrown into an outright conniption fit!" Limbaugh seemed anxious to pile on the misogynistic insults for his listeners, which he proceeded to do without the slightest concern for fair play.

So maybe nobody could have stopped Limbaugh from his colossal self-implosion. But as conservatives now bemoan the talker's fate and whine about how he's being picked on, I'm guessing they wish they could have steered him a away from the disastrous Fluke story last week.

But again, nobody did. (In fact, some even cheered Limbaugh's initial "slut" insult, in real time, while adding their own Flukeslurs.)

And that's what this still-unfolding media scandal has highlighted; that the conservative movement holds its leader, Rush Limbaugh, to no visible standards of conduct. Just like the movement holds itself to none.

For decades now, conservatives have cheered Limbaugh's endless litany of insults and denigrations because they loved how he dehumanized their political opponents. There's been virtually no constructive criticism or even gentle pushback on the mighty right-wing Limbaugh, just mindless enabling and a collective bowing down to his purposefully offensive and hateful rhetoric.

Even today, clear and articulate conservative media condemnations of Limbaugh's vicious attacks on Fluke have been very few and very far between. You can probably count them on one hand.

Incredibly, lots of conservatives today won't even concede the AM talker did anything wrong. So if they can't acknowledge that now, then it's not surprising conservatives didn't raise a cautionary flag last week when Limbaugh first began his descent into Fluke madness.

If they had though, and if they had been able to convince Limbaugh to drop his misogynistic attacks after the first day, he wouldn't now be at the center of a career-altering controversy.

The Rush Limbaugh Show
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.