Thanks, Rush. It’s not as if I didn’t have enough to do last week, with a west coast business trip and five radio commercials to write. I had to stop to help clean up the mess you left in our little corner of the universe because you decided to call a Georgetown law student a “slut.”
For those of you who somehow slept through this craziness, the fun began when 30-year old Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke testified before a Congressional hearing in favor of insurance coverage for contraception. El Rushbo performed an on-air, serpentine stream of consciousness that twisted Ms. Fluke’s call for insurance coverage for contraception to a mandate for the American people to pay for her to have sex. And since paying for sex is also known as prostitution Limbaugh decided that makes Ms. Fluke a “slut.”
Wow. From there, the real fun and games began, as five, then 10, then 49 companies pulled their ads from Limbaugh’s show, many motivated by consumer backlash to issue press releases announcing their withdrawal of their support of Limbaugh’s show and denouncing his denigration of women. Even The American Heart Association reportedly asked that their free public service announcements be stopped.
Limbaugh downplayed the loss, citing some 18,000 local and national advertisers and calling the pullout the equivalent of losing a couple of French fries when they hand you your tray at a fast food, drive-thru window.
Late-night TV comedy writers had a field day with the story. But it was less than a laff riot here at The Radio Agency. We were dragged into the role of detective, as a handful of clients suffered a barrage of outraged emails from customers and media watchdog groups lambasting their choice to support Limbaugh when they heard our clients’ ads on his show, even though they were not buying time ON The Rush Limbaugh Show.
Their commercials ended up there when local radio stations, fulfilling their obligations to network programming providers to air commercial inventory during prime time programming, inserted the ads there during Limbaugh’s show. We acted swiftly to remove those placements and any connection with Rush, at our clients’ requests.
Negative fallout spread far and wide. Within days of the actual tirade, heard by an estimated audience of 15 million, recording artists Peter Gabriel and Rush asked that Limbaugh stop playing their music in his program. Politicians clamored to remove his show from the radio line-up of the Armed Forces Network, as well as block placement of a Rush Limbaugh bust in the Missouri state Capitol and called for a public denouncement of his “cruel tirade against women.”
And while Limbaugh advertisers jumped ship and ad agencies frantically swabbed the decks, life went on as Limbaugh issued a half-hearted apology and continued to exercise his First Amendment rights. Insiders at his radio network report that those sponsors who stayed with the program have been seeing fantastic results. Some speculate that’s because they’re getting free “Thank you” minutes on the program to fill in the blanks of those who pulled out.
Either way, many former advertisers are now finding ways to buy around The Rush Limbaugh Show, just as you can buy around any program, station or radio network. After all, there are plenty of options on the menu that don’t include French fries falling off the tray or Rush’s double-beef menu of propaganda. Bottom line? The Rush Limbaugh Show will survive, just as it’s weathered previous turbulence over racial comments made about quarterback Donovan McNabb and airing the song parody “Barack, the Magic Negro.”
Rush’s listeners are his fans. And using his show to market products and services is about reaching those fans who tune in for his unique point of view.
The question is whether you can – or want to – stand the heat of being in the spotlight, center court, in the court of public opinion.