So much for being "impotent and powerless."
That's how Rush Limbaugh taunted his critics early last week during an interview on NBC's Today. By the end of the week, after his attempt to purchase the NFL's St. Louis Rams had crashed and burned in spectacular fashion -- after Limbaugh had been thrown under the bus by his fellow investors -- the talker was railing that his critics, no longer so impotent, had morphed into all-powerful players who tricked the gullible NFL into opposing the talk show host's ownership bid.
Of course it wasn't liberals or Democrats or preachers who derailed Limbaugh. It was Limbaugh himself, and his well-documented history of divisive, hateful, and often race-baiting commentary. (e.g. "[I]n Obama's America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering.")
Limbaugh last week learned the overdue lesson that there are real-world consequences for trafficking in hate speech. That there are free-market penalties, including the fact that the NFL decided for itself that it can't, and won't, be connected with Limbaugh.
It's the same lesson Glenn Beck learned this year when he discovered that his niche, on-air rants (Obama is a communist-racist-fascist-Nazi) don't speak to the masses. Instead, they freaked out nearly 100 former Glenn Beck advertisers who have gone on record as refusing to be associated with his show. These are blue-chip, small-"c" conservative advertisers who've dropped Beck quicker than a wobbly JaMarcus Russell pass.
For both Limbaugh and Beck, the awkward realization in recent weeks and months is that viewed outside of the dark, paranoid confines of right-wing talk, both men are seen as toxic by the business elite they likely admire the most. It's like at a teen party in the basement when the lights suddenly get turned back on. Nobody in corporate America, and certainly nobody within the mighty NFL, wants to be seen holding hands with Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.
Of course, a hysterical right-wing media treated the Limbaugh rejection as some kind of clarion call to action, trumpeting his failed NFL vanity deal as a turning point in American history and being "dangerous to the property and free speech rights of all Americans." Limbaugh, of course, was in heated agreement, exclaiming, "This is about the future of the United States of America and what kind of country we're going to have."
In truth, Limbaugh's humiliating face plant was entirely predictable, because every few years Rush Limbaugh tries to leave the protected bubble of right-wing radio and venture out into everyday American culture ("tiptoeing into the mainstream," Limbaugh calls it), and every few years the reaction is swift and unambiguous -- get lost!
A Wall Street Journal editorial last week whined that "the left" had tried "to drive Rush Limbaugh and others out of American political life." Not true. This was the NFL's doing, not "the left." The billion-dollar league couldn't care less about Limbaugh's role in America's "political life" and did nothing to try to impede it. All the NFL owners did (i.e. those super-exclusive Republican, country club multi-millionaires) was reject Limbaugh's attempted entry into their mainstream entertainment and pop culture pursuit. The NFL owners know branding better than perhaps any other group of sports professionals, and they knew instinctively that Limbaugh's presence would be poisonous for the sport and for their business.
Of course, this isn't the first time the NFL sent Limbaugh that message. The talker tried to sidle up to pro football as a pre-game analyst with ESPN in 2003. It took the talker just a few weeks before he said something insulting about black athletes (as well as the press) and was summarily fired.
The ESPN fiasco represented a classic case of Limbaugh trying to export his race-baiting commentary from the ugly confines of AM talk radio and dump it into the American mainstream; in this case into the sports world. To this day, I doubt Limbaugh thinks there was anything wrong with his claim that the press was giving Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb too much credit for the team's success simply because they wanted to see a black quarterback do well. Limbaugh thought it was a perfectly reasonable comment, and Dittoheads nationwide likely nodded their heads in agreement. (The liberal media love to root for blacks!) But the sports world's collective jaws hit the ground, and once again the gaping divide between the world of the radical right and the rest of us opened up for everyone to see.
Same with last week's humiliation, which represented a full-throated rejection of Limbaugh, his career, and the hate movement he leads. The NFL's unambiguous bottom line? Limbaugh's bad for business.
The fact that it was the NFL, the quintessential all-American, hard-hitting macho game, that summarily rejected Rush is what probably caused such an unhinged, foot-stomping response from the talker and his legion of Dittoheads. Being rejected by the urban-centered NBA could have easily been explained away by the right wing. But the heartland-loving NFL? Only losing out to NASCAR would have stung Limbaugh more.
His apostles just didn't want to believe that their radical hate politics was being rejected out of hand. They didn't want to believe that outside their cloistered world of partisan politics virtually nobody came to Limbaugh's side in the NFL debate.
Instead, the far right -- and certainly the GOP media -- remains under some grand illusion that they speak for the masses; that corporate America is quietly down with their all-consuming Obama Derangement Syndrome antics. The right-wing pretends the 1 percent of Americans who watch Fox News somehow reflect Main Street America. But the NFL fiasco and the sweeping Glenn Beck ad boycott tell us a very different story.
Why the disconnect? Because the far-right media and their partisan followers have a completely twisted sense of reality and their own self-importance. They think they have juice because they spend their days and nights locked inside a right-wing echo chamber listening to Limbaugh, watching Beck, and reading Michelle Malkin online. (They're the same people who saw 2 million people marching in the streets against Obama in Washington, D.C., on September 12, and were off by 1.9 million people.)
They're hermetically sealed. But when they're forced out into the daylight that is American society, the rest of us send them a pretty clear message: Go away!
For the NFL, the rejection of Limbaugh was a no-brainer. As former ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith noted while appearing on CNN last week:
And at the end of the day, the NFL is a multibillion dollar business. And [Limbaugh's] clearly a polarizing figure. And there's nothing broke about the NFL. They have replaced baseball as America's pasttime and you don't want to upset the apple cart and he was definitely going to do that.
The NFL leadership was keenly aware that the next time Limbaugh suggested that Americans were being encouraged to bend over and grab their ankles and root for Obama to succeed because his father was black (or something equally demented), that a few hundred, if not thousand, protesters would be marching outside the home of the Rams in St. Louis the next day. That was just a given. And there was simply no way that the controversy-adverse NFL suits, who pride themselves on longstanding commitments to the community, would want that kind of constant political firefight surrounding the team or the league. (Ironically, by turning his failed ownership bid into a partisan pie fight, Limbaugh precisely proved the point of owners who didn't want Limbaugh's incessant, and divisive, self-promotion around.)
From a pop culture marketing and public relations perspective, Limbaugh is positively toxic. Of course, Limbaugh's free to push his AM brand of loathing, and within that world he sells lots of ads. But why on earth would sane businessmen who have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a mainstream entertainment franchise want to be associated with Limbaugh's paranoia and divisiveness? Guess what? They don't want anything to do with the guy.
The same is true with Beck, who unleashes his own type of hateful insanity on Fox News. Beck's show has become as unappealing as a virus, and more than 80 advertisers have fled since Beck called Obama a "racist."
The stunningly successful ad boycott, led by ColorofChange.org, is reportedly costing the Glenn Beck show $600,000 in lost revenue each week, as Madison Avenue's who's who of clients bolt the show: Applebee's, AT&T, Bank of America, Best Buy, Campbell's Soup, Capital One, ConAgra, Clorox, ConAgra, CVS, Ditech, Farmers Insurance Group, GEICO, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Lowe's, Men's Wearhouse, Mercedes-Benz, NutriSystem, Procter & Gamble, Progressive Insurance, RadioShack, Sprint, State Farm Insurance, Traveler's Insurance, Subaru, Toyota-Lexus ,Travelocity, The UPS Store, Travelers Insurance, Verizon Wireless, Verizon, Vonage, and Wal-Mart, among others.
- "We will not be airing on that show [Glenn Beck] any longer." [Subaru of America]
- "Lexus ads are not appearing on the Glenn Beck show."
- "You will not see our ads on the Glenn Beck TV program." [UPS Store]
- "You will not see Flexitol commercials on the Glenn Beck show. Period."
- "We hear your concerns and are no longer advertising on the Glenn Beck show." [Ditech]
- "Ashley Furniture HomeStore pulled its advertising from Glenn Beck."
- "We have taken steps to make sure that [Sprint] will not be advertising on the Glenn Beck show."
As part of his elaborate on-air pity party last week, Limbaugh whined that criticism of his NFL bid was "all about smearing mainstream, traditional conservatism." In truth, Limbaugh and Beck have done more to smear "mainstream, traditional conservatism" this year than any liberal ever could have dreamed of.
Both the NFL, which violently stiff-armed Limbaugh, and the nearly 100 big-time advertisers that have run away form Glenn Beck, helped illustrate that point.