Rush Limbaugh and Freedom of SpeechBy: Mike Tuttle - March 12, 2012
After Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut, the Internet exploded with comments from people taking one side or another. And, while Limbaugh’s faithful “mega-dittoes” crowd could be counted upon to defend their champion, it was the “strange bedfellows” that were made that confounded many.
Bill Maher came out in open support of Limbaugh’s free speech rights. And, he came out as opposed to the advertiser boycott that Limbaugh is currently under. These two points have been found at the crux of much of the arguments that people are filling comments sections about (including our own). In fact, the main things we hear here are:
1) Limbaugh was right. That girl is a slut.
2) Limbaugh’s statements degrade public debate on an important issue to the level of juvenile name-calling.
3) Limbaugh has First Amendment free speech rights.
3) An ad boycott violates Limabugh’s free speech rights.
4) If someone advertises on Limbaugh, I will not do business with them.
5) If an advertiser leaves Limbaugh, I will not to business with them.
Personal opinions are going to swing all over the map. Let’s set those aside for a moment and deal with the ad boycott as it relates to free speech rights.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, First Amendment. That, of course, does not indemnify a person against civil suits for slander, libel, defamation of character, etc. Free speech does have limits and consequences. Other than a handful of misguided folks who think that Limbaugh should be “banned”, no one is suggesting a legislative removal of the talk show host, not even his much-hated opponents on the left.
When given the opportunity to comment on Limbaugh’s statements, even President Obama did not suggest that he be “banned”. Limbaugh has long been a fan of and believer in free market forces, the dollar vote. An advertiser boycott is a pure expression of those very forces. Someone does not like your product. They get the word out that your product is poisonous. People abandon your product.
Some people like to draw distinctions between advertisers and listeners. They say that it would only be an expression of pure market forces if listeners were abandoning Limbaugh, not if advertisers were abandoning him due to listener pressure. But, many conservatives are putting that same principle into play in response to the boycott: If you pull you ads from Limbaugh, I will drop my business with you. How is that not the same kind of “intimidation”? Now a business can’t decide to drop its ads, whatever the reason, lest they face a backlash? Fair is fair. If Netflix or Regal Assets decides to drop Limbaugh, and they lose business because of it, how is that any different from LifeLock staying with Limbaugh and losing business because of it?
Rush Limbaugh is losing advertisers. At least one has said they are leaving because they can’t support his statements anymore. Business will be gained, business will be lost, opportunists will take advantage of the whole thing. But, no one is stifling Limbaugh’s speech on the basis of law. Therefore, debate over free speech rights has no place in the argument. He has them, he has never lost them.
That doesn’t mean that he, nor anyone else, anyone else, does not have to face market consequences.
And guess who knows that all too well? Bill Maher.
Maher lost his former television show, “Politically Incorrect” in the wake of a scandal resulting from something he said on the air after 9/11, even after he apologized. In that fracas, advertisers also pulled out. Perhaps Maher is skittish about ad boycotts because of his own painful memories. But, one cannot feed from the free market teat and smile, then complain when the milk goes sour because of your own actions. It has nothing to do with “free speech”. It’s simply what happens when you tick off enough people. Maher should know that. And so should Limbaugh.