Rush Limbaugh Revels in Crossfire After "Slut" Comment
Talk-radio host has been raising hackles for more than 25 years (CNN)
Once again, Rush Limbaugh -- the conservative provocateur with the self-described "talent on loan from God" -- is in hot water. Limbaugh, who has been the leading talk-radio host for more than two decades, ignited this most recent controversy when he made comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who had testified as an advocate for contraception at a Capitol Hill hearing.
"What does it say about the college co-ed Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says she must be paid to have sex?" Limbaugh asked on his show last Wednesday. "What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex, she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex."
His remarks set off a major outcry, prompting top Republicans and Democrats alike to denounce the famed talk show host.
Limbaugh apologized Saturday, saying his "choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir."
He added, "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
The damage, however, has been done. Eight companies, including AOL, Quicken Loans and ProFlowers, have announced they will pull ads from Limbaugh's show, the No. 1 radio show in America.
What effect this will have on Limbaugh -- and the 600-plus radio stations his show airs on -- is anyone's guess.
Limbaugh's situation is complicated by the politics of his show, said Michael Harrison, founder and publisher of Talkers magazine, which covers the talk industry.
Talk radio "has such a high profile and so much buzz factor, people tend to give these big-time talk-show hosts" far more sway than they actually have, Harrison said. "People who see things through the political lens only see things politically."
But politics is only part of the story, he said.
"The fact is, he's primarily an entertainer."
The Fluke controversy is far from the first time Rush Hudson Limbaugh III has made controversial statements -- or backtracked.
In 2006, Limbaugh mocked Parkinson's-afflicted actor Michael J. Fox after Fox appeared in a political commercial for Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. He later offered a conditional apology: "I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."
Three years earlier, Limbaugh resigned from ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" after igniting a controversy with statements about African-American quarterback Donovan McNabb. "My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated. I offered an opinion," Limbaugh said. "This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret."
Limbaugh has also mocked presidential children Amy Carter ("the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country") and Chelsea Clinton (comparing her to a dog). Both times, he apologized, though some critics questioned the spirit of his regret.
His words still carry weight within the Republican Party, and just as often raise the hackles of his ideological opponents.
Limbaugh often glories in their fury, letting fly with such terms as "feminazis" ("Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society," he once said), "caller abortions" (disconnecting unwanted callers), "banking queen" (for the openly gay congressman and House Financial Services Committee member Barney Frank) and "state-run media" (mainstream media).
Indeed, before a number of advertisers had announced their intent, Limbaugh doubled down on the Fluke controversy. After President Obama called the student, Limbaugh mocked the story on his show.