In Begrudging Support of Rush

Here’s what I think:  it’s awfully hard not to have a blind spot about people you don’t like.

And it’s awfully hard not to have a blind spot about people who make your skin crawl.

Nevertheless.  We can’t be all “Woo hoo, advertisers are pulling support from Rush Limbaugh’s program!” and all “Boooo! Paypal threatens to pull support from Smashwords for publishing erotica!” at the same time without being hypocrites.

But wait, we say!  The circumstances are this: Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke all kinds of nasty names just because she’s pro-birth control (and because he’s a sexist pig), but PayPal is censoring books!  That’s totally different, right?

The circumstances are always different.  That’s why we have principals, to guide us through the various circumstances that might occur.

Those advertisers who are pulling out of supporting the show…first spent a lot of money supporting the show (whether directly or indirectly).  They don’t get off “clean” by dropping him now, just because he crossed a line–Rush Limbaugh crosses all kinds of lines; that’s what they paid him for.  The advertisers paid him to say things that were just short of what he said about Sandra Fluke, all the time, because that’s what got the listeners to hear the ads.

To pull out now?  That’s just because they’re getting pressured by people to pull out because people who mostly don’t listen to the show and aren’t the show’s intended audience are offended by the show.  Not because they had any real philosophical problem with Rush Limbaugh.  Sound familiar?

But that’s just part of business, right?  To be able to chose where and how you spend your advertising dollars, or who you hire, or yadda yadda yadda.

Is it?  Is it really just part of business when Focus on the Family calls for its members to boycott Spongebob Squarepants?  It is really just part of business when advertisers pull support on a show if you find out one of the characters is gay?  Is it really just part of business when PayPal says, “Cut the porn”?  Is it really just business when Catholic hospitals refuse to perform abortions?  Is it really just business when you’re not hired or promoted based on your perceived differences from the ideal?

Either it’s part of business or it isn’t.  But you can’t have it both ways.

I say it’s reprehensible for people to pressure someone to stop speaking.  You cannot make Rush or the attitudes he espouses disappear by getting him fired.  Again, the advertisers already crawled in bed with Rush.  They already indicated their support.  If there had not been a public outcry, they wouldn’t have changed their money.  All you can do is lash out at him and widen the political divide.  I think Rush is a bully and a brainwasher: and I feel ashamed of being so pleased at first that he was being bullied right back.  But, really, it just makes him stronger, because he is an entertainer*, and because part of his entertainment value is the fact that he pisses people off.  Despite the loss of advertising dollars, he performed his function very well.

So stop doing the happy dance that Rush’s advertisers are spineless and leaving him high and dry; they’ll be back, or others will, because people listen to him.  And you’re just supporting the same thing that happened when the Smashwords porn got pulled:  it’s just a them instead of an us that it’s happening to, and it’s mostly just likely to garner him more support.  Mock him.  Mr. Viagra deserves to be mocked.  But don’t make him a martyr, don’t increase his “value” as an entertainer, don’t ennoble him by bullying him back.

*Also, I don’t get the debate about whether he’s an entertainer or not.  Apparently, he’s too powerful to be “just” an entertainer.  Please.  As though entertainment had no meaning or resonance, as though being an entertainer meant he could have no real influence.  If that were the case, why do we care what’s being suppressed on Smashwords?  If entertainment meant nothing, why would we care when books were censored at all?


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  1. 1. We only have principals to “guide us through the various circumstances that might occur” when we’re in elementary school. After that, we have to rely on our principles. Ahem.

    2. I see your point … though I approach it from the other perspective, in that I didn’t have as much of a “OMG CENSORSHIP!” thing over PayPal/Smashwords.

    I see the companies doing the advertising in relatively impersonal terms. While there may be conscientious folks working there and deciding that they do (or don’t) support Rush’s message on any given day, generally speaking it’s a simple monetary transaction — “IF we put our money here THEN we will increase sales.” Informing a vendor that the calculus has changed, even if you are not a follower of Rush’s shows, is legitimate. It was similarly legitimate, I think, for the FRC (or whomever it was) to threaten to boycott Lowe’s for advertising on “An American Muslim”, and for folks who thought that was a sign of bigotry to tell Lowe’s that they’d make an extra effort to shop there.

    I understand the concern over addressing someone’s speech by means other than either choosing not to listen or offering a spoken counterpoint (be it reason, mockery, or whatever). I don’t think that telling an advertiser that their continued financial support of that speech will cost them your custom goes over the line into bullying, or censorship, but it does start to uncomfortably wander into over toward it. But if spending money (or not) is to be considered expression in any sense, it would certainly seem to apply here.

    3. A good thought on the “Entertainer” bit. Certainly a great entertainer can sway and influence. I think the concern comes from Rush himself using it as a shield — “I’m just an entertainer.” But he’s an entertainer who can cow politicians into apologizing for thing they said in criticism of him or his positions, which strikes me as something should lead to another term to describe him.

    Thoughtful, respectful ideas here, De, even where I don’t agree with you (and I’m not certain how strongly I don’t in some of those areas). Thanks.

  2. De

    1. Blah. I reversed that two or three times. Don’t edit tired.

    2. My main problem is that these protests don’t come from the audience, but from people outside the audience: people from outside the main audience of both the Smashwords porn and Rush’s talk show are the ones trying to force the change. If the main audience goes, “Look, you’ve gone too far” or if some law has actually been broken, I could see it. But it’s people who were never meant to read/view/hear this stuff that are like, “Make it go away, or I’ll hurt you financially.”

    Ironically for me, I can understand the position of the companies. It’s the human beings, the people on the street, that are the problem here. The ultimate chain of “make it go away because I don’t want to deal with it in any kind of fair or constructive way” ends with individuals…sometimes individuals running companies, but individuals.

    3. Yeah, I agree it’s disingenuous for Rush to play that card. Oh, reeeeeeally.

    4. Another good point I ran into…I forget where and have lost the link, sadly…that it’s almost scary that *this* is what people freak out at Rush over. People are hurrying to be offended that he called Sandra Fluke a slut, and you know that *some* woman have to have hormones.

    All this defending birth control as being all about the hormones? It makes it sound like taking birth control AS birth control is a bad thing…that only sluts do that. Which really only proves Rush right to a certain extent. A lot of people do think that women who don’t act like their entire sexual lives belong to their (future) husbands are sluts, and a lot of the rest of us think we have to justify ourselves to them.

  3. De

    And, well, here it comes:

    That which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. It’s that which ignores you as a worthless hate-junkie that drains your power.

  4. 2. But as you note, the entertainer has an impact beyond his actual target audience. Rush isn’t sending out a private newsletter on paper that bursts into flames 30 second after being exposed to oxygen (or even a book full of racy bits that is ordered by an individual for, one presumes, their private home and/or e-reader). His message goes out to and is heard by people beyond his X million.

    And his influence on those X million — which include either politicians or people who have the ears thereof — impacts people beyond those listeners, too. Again, all you have to do is look at the track record of GOP politicians over the last decade daring to criticize or disagree with Rush, and then the next day fall all over themselves apologizing, to see that he has an impact on the nation.

    So if there are folks in the nation who aren’t part of his “target audience,” they still have a vested interest what he says and his having as broad of an audience as he does.

    4. A very good point, and one I’ve also mentioned at as inspired by Tom Tomorrow’s tweet

  5. De

    2. A valid point that what we do has a ripple effect.

    But I still question the idea that it’s a good idea to suppress anyone’s speech; that doesn’t change my mind. *Any* action may have a ripple effect…so does it make it valid for someone against birth control to suppress my speech, because I might influence people they don’t want it to influence?

  6. Suppress your speech? I think it depends on what sort of suppression is sought, in what sorts of forums, with what sort of recourse.

    A public hearing where everyone supposedly has the right to speak? Of course not.

    My privately-owned radio show where I get to choose who to have on? It’s not suppression for me not to invite you on.

    If a business is funding you being on the air, based on an investment (in advertising dollars) providing a return on that investment (added business), it seems perfectly legit to raise the question with that business whether that equation is tilted by consumers annoyed by your opinion.

    On the other hand, if you want to blog about it, post about it on Twitter, send out an email letter, or create a mailing list for folks who want to hear what you have to say, then more power to you.

  7. De

    Again, I sympathize with the businesses here, because they’re getting pressure from individuals. BUT to say that people who aren’t the audience get a say in what gets said on the radio–a bigger say than the companies who are funding the show (they paid for the advertising in the first place; their actions indicate they support the show) or the people who run the show–is ridiculous, and that’s what people are trying to do with Rush, and I can’t support that.

  8. If those companies choose to continue to support Rush because they believe in what he says, that is their prerogative and more power to them; if their support of his statements hurts their business more than it helps, and they stick with it, then they’ve shown ethical gumption that is admirable, even if I disagree with its object.

    I believe most companies advertising on Rush, though, are doing it as a commercial transaction — that the only folks who will know they are advertising there are the listeners, who will increase their custom with them. They invest in advertising, they get increased business, and it makes little difference whether it’s Rush or Olbermann or Joe Bloggs as long as the audience is tuned in.

    For those businesses, it’s not ridiculous or unfair for them to learn that their _tacit_ support of Rush’s bully pulpit is not simply a pay-for-customers, but also runs the risk of losing them customers as well.

  9. De

    And there’s the crux of it: customers have the power to shop where they will, but they’re using their power to act unethically.

    Is it unethical for people to vote with their pocket? Not per se. But I believe that people voting with their pocket in order to suppress speech won’t benefit anyone in the long run. –I think we’ve discussed the difference between morals and ethics here, but I’m using it in the sense of “more good than harm in the long run.”

  10. So if Walmart says, “We don’t cover childhood immunizations for our employees because we’re cheap,” then it’s okay to not go to Walmart.

    But if Walmart says, “We don’t cover childhood immunizations for our employees because our our deep-seated philosophical and political objection to the obligations of employers to provide insurance of any kind to employees,” then to not continue to go to Walmart is an attempt to suppress their corporate speech, and so not okay?

    If the President of Big Media Combine that distributes his programs were to say, “Y’know, I think Rush has really turned into a jerk, and since in this hypothetical he has no contract with us, I’m going to fire him,” would that be suppression of speech?

    Interestingly, I was reminded of this thread by someone crowing over a Bloomberg survey showing 53% of American voters think Rush should be fired. Which I *do* object to, because directly firing him *is* (for that group) a suppression of speech (vs his employer firing him, maybe, or vs those same “voters” altering the business model for folks who advertise on Rush’s show).

  11. De

    *Is* it suppressing speech to not shop at Walmart because of their immunization policy, no matter how they phrase it? Are all actions by a corporation corporate speech? What constitutes corporate speech?

    I don’t think the Walmart example applies: it’s Walmart’s direct customers who are responding, and Walmart is not being pressured to change their message. I would also say that if Walmart were being pressured to stop selling birth control at their pharmacies, that would also be repugnant, but not suppressing their speech, either.

    Big Media example: there are legal ramifications to firing people, and I don’t know all of them. And there’s always a contract; I don’t think you can throw that out, because it might say things like, “In case of removal from radio due to crossing osme line, I get _____.” Or “Unless a successful slander judgment is made against me, _____.” If I were Rush, I’d make sure I never worked without a parachute.

    But let’s say that the contract is up and it’s not a situaion of being fired but an option to renew the contract: I think that’s a sturdier leg to stand on.

    Or let’s say it’s for someone who isn’t an entertainer, and who hasn’t been employed to say questionable things in the first place, like an engineer. Can an engineer be fired for saying something offensive but not actually illegal? Or might they successfully sue for wrongful termination? I think the rules for firing people is relatively well tested in the law, enough so that employers will think twice before firing someone on the basis of something they said, if it’s not something covered by their contract.

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