|Radio Host Rush Limbaugh|
Rush Limbaugh's program is three hours a day, five days a week. Think about how hard it must actually be to come up with enough quality, well thought out and researched content for three hours worth of discussion every single day. As a blogger, I know something of the difficulties in this. Additionally, because of his market, Rush is always trying to push the line to the far outside edge of what is acceptable and is thus constantly playing with fire. Three hours a day trying to talk on the edge almost guarantees that every once in a while he will go over the edge.
I don't mean to suggest this was just a mistake or a gaffe; quite the opposite, he loves the attention. After his initial remarks sparked media attention, the next day he goes on to say that women who want government provided contraception should have to post videos of them having sex online in order; he does this to prolong the attention. With this little bit of publicity, Rush has gotten more national attention (up to an including the President tacitly weighing in) than most radio hosts could ever dream of. It will help to drive awareness of his brand and while it is largely negative attention, any attention is usually good.
Too much negative attention, however, can backfire. Rush's apology was almost certainly because of the advertisers who pulled away from his campaign (incidentally, a company like Carbonite, one of the advertisers, probably is only doing this to get a large amount of national attention themselves). Rush needs to toe that line but not cross it too egregiously to become like Glenn Beck, the infamous Fox News show host, who got kicked off the air after advertisers pulled back and his shows ratings plummeted.
On Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show, she speculated that Rush simply did not know what contraception was. The reason was that he kept implying that people who couldn't afford the birth control pill were having an enormous amount of sex when the pill costs the same if someone has sex one a month or three times a day. This is specious. Surely the implication is stupid, but I would be very surprised if Rush genuinely didn't know how it worked. It is meant to be a degrading smear job that paints a picture of sexually promiscuous co-eds needing free government handouts for birth control to continue having all that sex. It's accuracy is entirely irrelevant.
When Obama announced the inability for religious employers to exempt themselves from the birth control requirement and the reactions from the right started to come in, I predicted that one of the real dangers was a shift to the right that put birth control (long a settled or at least background topic) into the forefront of political debate the same way gay marriage or abortion is. If there is any lesson to take away from this Rush Limbaugh silliness it is that contraception very much is on the table in the public debate.
As a final note, I sometimes feel bad commenting on stories like this. They are a sideshow, a distraction, an embarrassment even; surely our attention is better devoid elsewhere. It is just that when it gets so much attention, and when the coverage and commentary is just so bad, that I think there is a bit of worth talking about the various factors involved. If talking about Rush is going to be the thing to do for a few days, let us at least try to get it right.
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