Rush Limbaugh has ticked people off before. In fact, much of his approach to his brand of entertainment is to create an us-versus-them atmosphere where liberals are demonized. Therefore, he’s made a lot of enemies.
Most of the time, Limbaugh’s acerbic comments simply bounce around in the echo chamber that is Dittoland. Terms like “feminazi”, “club Gitmo”, and “talent on loan from God” never make it past the fan club barrier. But, sometimes Limbaugh’s foot-in-mouth antics get him mention in mainstream media.
Such was the case when he accused Michael J. Fox of faking his Parkinson’s Disease symptoms in a commercial spot he did about stem cell research.
That was a blow too low, and the public bit back. It was revealed that Fox’s symptoms were a result of his adjusting his medication up, not down, to help control his symptoms. The shaking is a symptom of the medication, not of the disease. But, Limbaugh recovered and plowed right ahead.
His airing of parodies like “Barack the Magic Negro” have raised cries of racism, but he has pressed on unfazed.
His forays into television have been short-lived and ill-conceived. There was his own half-hour show, now long gone. Once, he was a guest host on Pat Sajak’s (also short-lived) talk show. The audience responded so vocally to his usual rhetoric that he had to go to commercial twice to calm things, and finally cleared the room entirely, left speaking to no one.
But, still the Limbaugh machine rolled on.
Now, with the more recent controversy around his comments about Sandra Fluke, Limbaugh finds himself in the muck again. But, this time things seem to be different. Rush Limbaugh may be facing a perfect storm, the likes of which have not occurred before. It’s not so much about the notoriety of this particular scandal itself. He has called people worse. Rather it is a combination of factors that are conspiring to hit him where it hurts.
1) Social Media.
With every year that passes, social media becomes a bigger force in communication between people, driving movements and responses more than ever before. The Sandra Fluke scandal has caught fire on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Limbaugh’s comments are easily reproduced, linked and shared for all to see. A Youtube search for “limbaugh michael j fox” nets 189 results. That happened in 2006. A search for “limbaugh sandra fluke” gets you 663 results. That happened last month. It is becoming easier every day for people to pass along what Limbaugh says, to pass along what they think about it, and to pass along what they intend to do about it.
2) Focus of Opposition.
In the past, people concentrated their efforts on shaming Limbaugh. That had no effect. they debated and emailed their friends. But, Limbaugh fans are largely unmoved. They’ve been told for 24 years that the mainstream media will lie about their hero. He has their full attention to spin the story however he wants, and even to erase it when he sees fit.
Some try to stop Limbaugh through litigation or prosecution, or by appealing to the FCC. This is a wasted effort that only strengthens the resolve of Limbaugh and his fans. It becomes a free speech issue then, rather than an issue of simple decency and shame.
Sometimes, people have tried aiming their ire at the local radio stations that carry Limbaugh’s program, calling the stations, sending emails. That has had little or no effect. A station is not about to drop the most popular program they have when advertisers are paying handsomely for it. It’s all about commercial sales.
But now, the focus has shifted. Now, the opposition is going after the advertisers. They are following the money all the way back to the wallet. They are boycotting those advertisers, naming and shaming them if they support Limbaugh’s speech. Apparently, this is working.
Up to this point, there has been no alternative to Limbaugh No one is stepping up to fill that noon-to-three time slot that he has held since 1988. No conservative option for those people who might be tiring of the controversy and divisiveness has come forward. Until now.
Mike Huckabee has made himself a familiar, respected name since his failed presidential bid four years ago. He has been a regular on Fox News and a commentator that many on both sides of the proverbial aisle are willing to engage with. He is launching a new radio show in Limbaugh’s time slot. His motto is: Less Confrontation. More Conversation.
Some argue that Huckabee is no match for Limbaugh. They say he would never appeal to Limbaugh’s base the same way. But, perhaps that is exactly why he has a shot. He appeals to those who are not Dittoheads. He is a conservative voice, but a reasonable one. He spends far less time alienating and more time engaging in civil discourse. And, he hasn’t called anyone a slut, doesn’t have an advertiser boycott raging against him, and isn’t being pilloried in every form of social media.
Limbaugh’s syndicator has already made the unprecedented move of pulling their barter spots from radio. And his affiliate stations can’t keep up the war of attrition in their local markets.
With an alternative like Huckabee, a focused boycott aiming at the wallet, and social media connections to facilitate it all, Limbaugh may not be able to weather this storm.