The Real Power of The New Social Age.

Limbaugh Advertisers Flee Show Amid Storm

Emboldened by Rush Limbaugh’s public apology over the weekend to a law school student whom he had called a “slut” and a “prostitute,” critics of the radio talk show host are intensifying their online campaign against his advertisers.

The apology, they said, was a signal that the campaign was working. On Sunday, a seventh company, ProFlowers, said that it was suspending all of its advertising on “The Rush Limbaugh Show” despite his apologetic statement a day earlier.

For now, the ad boycott is uncomfortable but not crippling for Mr. Limbaugh, who is estimated to make $50 million a year and whose program is a profit center for Premiere Radio Networks, the company that syndicates it. The program makes money both through ads and through fees paid by local radio stations, and while it often has sparked outrage during more than two decades on the air, efforts at ad boycotts in the past have had no measurable effect. That was before Twitter and the new Social Age. Liberal groups and activists, however, are going to insure that this time will be different.

Mr. Limbaugh has been roundly criticized for talking at length about the sex life of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified in support of the Obama administration’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptives for women. For three straight days he lambasted her, before saying in a statement Saturday afternoon that he did not intend to attack her personally. “I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation,” he said.

By the time he apologized, online protesters had been organizing for days on social networking Web sites and liberal hubs like Daily Kos. They called on companies like ProFlowers to remove their ads from “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and appeared to be having some success, as companies like Sleep Train said they had suspended advertising.

One such company that had been a longtime sponsor of Mr. Limbaugh’s, Carbonite, said it would reconsider its ad spending; after the apology was issued, it announced that it would suspend its ads anyway. “We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse,” the company’s chief executive, David Friend, said. He’s kidding, right? Rush Limbaugh has NEVER been interested in civilized public discourse. EVER.

Mr. Limbaugh’s critics dismissed his apology as having been forced by the advertiser pressure. Reflecting those feelings on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said, “I know he apologized, but forgive me, I doubt his sincerity, given that he lost at least six advertisers.”

“I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress,” Limbaugh’s apology continues. If that were true, Limbaugh would have annihilated not Sandra Fluke, but Darrell Issa, who convened a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in which five men representing various religions were caught “discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress.”

After claiming, “I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” which — clearly — he did, Limbaugh says, “I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.” That’s how Limbaugh’s “apology” ends. Note, it doesn’t say, for “my” insulting word choices. It doesn’t say “I apologize for using her as a target.” It doesn’t say, “I apologize for attacking all women.” It doesn’t say, “I apologize for my ignorance, I will explore the issue more in depth and consult with women in order to gain a better understanding of this issue that literally affects every person in America, directly or indirectly.”

No.

“I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation.”

“I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Not enough, Rush.

Finally, let’s beclear: Rush Limbaugh did not apologize out of sincerity. Limbaugh did not apologize after wrestling with his inner demons, or after soul-searching, or after consulting with his better angels. Limbaugh apologized after losing a half-dozen advertisers — and after knowing more were about to jump ship. In short, Limbaugh apologized because he finally realized that the new Social Age is here, and his comments all week had not only weakened the nation, not only weakened the Republican Party, not only weakened his bank account, but had weakened his brand. And that, folks, is the only reason Rush Limbaugh offered his three-paragraph apology.

Eric Boehlert of the liberal media monitoring group Media Matters for America predicted on Sunday that the apology would not “stop the pressure that’s being applied to his advertisers.”

“His comments were so egregious, naturally advertisers will have doubts about being associated with Limbaugh’s brand of hate,” Mr. Boehlert said in an e-mail message.

Premiere’s parent company, Clear Channel, deferred questions to Premiere, which declined to answer questions about the effect of the ad boycott or the widespread anger at Mr. Limbaugh.

In a statement, Premiere — best known for conservative talk shows — said it was committed to giving listeners access to a broad range of opinion and commentary. “The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue,” the company said. “We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions.”

It has not been easy for Mr. Limbaugh’s opponents to figure out all of his show’s sponsors: several lists, some inaccurate, are floating around the Web. Mr. Limbaugh’s own Web site appeared to have no actual advertisers on Sunday, only ads for its own online store of products.

Limbaugh’s noon to 3 p.m. show is the single most popular conservative talk show in the country.

Monday’s show will be Mr. Limbaugh’s first chance to address the advertiser dust-up, since they were just beginning to withdraw when his show was in progress on Friday. The complaints are coming from some of the same liberal activists who persuaded advertisers to boycott Glenn Beck’s television show on Fox News in 2009 after Mr. Beck called President Obama a racist. Hundreds of companies eventually asked Fox to keep their ads off Mr. Beck’s show, and the show ended last year.

The company that withdrew on Sunday, ProFlowers, had been inundated with angry Twitter messages from opponents of Mr. Limbaugh. In a statement, it said, “We do not base our advertising decisions to align with any particular political view or opinion, as our employees and customers are as diverse as the U.S.A. Mr. Limbaugh’s recent comments went beyond political discourse to a personal attack and do not reflect our values as a company.”

For the most part, the other advertisers involved have also stuck to scripts that distance themselves from Mr. Limbaugh’s comments — betting, it would appear, that short statements will suffice.

Quicken Loans and Citrix, a maker of Internet software, are among the companies that have announced, on Facebook and Twitter, the removal of ads from Mr. Limbaugh’s show.

When another company, LegalZoom, a seller of online legal document services, was asked for further comment on Sunday, a spokesman sent along a statement that read, “LegalZoom has decided to terminate all current and future advertising with ‘The Rush Limbaugh Show,’ effective immediately. Our company does not in any way support or endorse the recent comments of Mr. Limbaugh.” Except old Rush has been saying stuff like this for years. Where was the outraged LegalZoom last year and the year before that? Where were ProFlowers, and QuickenLoan and Citrix and Carbonite then?

Later that day, a LegalZoom executive accidentally copied a reporter on an e-mail to her colleagues. It read, “We may need to prepare additional Q.& A.’s if this situation does not settle down soon.” I am sure you will, guys, cause this ain’t over yet.

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About Steve King

iPeopleFINANCE™ Chief Operating Officer. Former CEO of Endymion Systems, Inc. a $36m Information Systems Services company. Co-founder of the Cambridge Systems Group, the creator of ACF2, the leading IBM Mainframe Data Center Security product; acquired by Computer Associates. IBM, seeCommerce, marchFIRST, Connectandsell alumni. UC Berkeley alumni. View all posts by Steve King

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