Thursday, March 15, 2012

The untold story of the Rush Limbaugh advertiser boycott

As Rush would say, folks, what's really going on here is a culture war in America. It's a battle for the soul of our country. There are signs everywhere, perhaps the most notable being the political logjam and overheated rhetoric in Washington DC. Rush Limbaugh's advertisers have become pawns in this culture war.

The war is between those who believe in the America of our founding fathers and those who believe traditional American values and beliefs are old-fashioned, unrealistic, and out of step with "today's world". They believe our culture is in need of a radical transformation.

Rush Limbaugh is a relentless, articulate, persuasive, and influential voice for traditional American values and beliefs. He is the inspiration and model for the cultural force that is conservative political talk radio. He was an inspiration for the creation of the Fox News Channel. He is a regular contributor to its programming. FNC's primary appeal is its traditional American worldview. FNC has considerably more viewers than all the other cable news channels combined. It's no wonder Rush has long been a target of those who want to dramatically change American culture.

Last week, Rush served up the perfect opportunity for his cultural opponents to attack. Rush loves to illustrate absurdity by being absurd. Rush believes it's absurd for the government to mandate that all health insurance plans in America provide free birth control pills for women. You all know the story. He compared the mandate and women who take advantage of it to prostitution and likened mandate advocate Sandra Fluke to a "slut" and "prostitute".

Most agree Rush accomplished his goal of being absurd. Many, including Rush, feel he went too far with his choice of labels for Sandra Fluke. Rush publicly apologized to Ms. Fluke. I don't want to defend Rush's illustration and choice of words or debate the sincerity of his apology or the propriety of the birth control pill mandate. I want to talk about the protests and threat to boycott Rush's advertisers that ensued.

Some of the protests were organic and sincere. Why wouldn't people be upset when they hear about Rush likening an attractive young single woman he doesn't know to a "slut" and "prostitute"? However, most people would not take the next step and demand that he be fired or taken off the air permanently and threaten to boycott his advertisers. Make no mistake, this level of protest was well planned and organized by Rush's opponents in the culture war. They want his voice silenced. They want him gone. They'll do whatever it takes to accomplish their goals. Unfortunately, Rush gave them some wonderful tools.

The words "slut" and "prostitute" Rush attached to Sandra Fluke taken out of context by his culture war opponents made it easy to paint Rush as a despicable villain in e-mails, Facebook posts, and Tweets. Many of these digital arrows were aimed at Rush's advertisers and threatened a boycott of their products and services if they continued to be advertised on the Rush Limbaugh Show. This was no accident

Rush's opponents in the cultural war understood exactly what they were doing. They know most advertisers will do anything to avoid controversy. They knew Rush's words were all they needed to create a "viral" firestorm of protest on social media that would generate high-level news media attention and scare the hell out of Rush's advertisers. They recognized a prime opportunity to deal a lethal blow to Rush and his show. So far, it appears they've inflicted some significant pain on Rush with collateral damage on all talk radio and free speech.

Social media and the Internet are wonderful tools for spreading information and ideas. They're also great tools for intimidation, spreading misinformation, and making vocal well organized minorities look like majorities. Most people don't want to silence Rush Limbaugh or anyone else exercising his right to free speech. The vast majority of people aren't going to stop purchasing products and services they need and happily use because they're advertised on the Rush Limbaugh program, certainly not his listeners.

There is lots of research on boycotts like the one promoted by Rush's opponents in the culture war. They seldom, if ever, affect the sale of products and services because the boycott isn't about the advertiser and his products or services. If carried out, these boycotts actually punish the very people who are doing the boycotting if they are truly regular satisfied users of the products and services.

Sadly, Rush's advertisers have become pawns in America's culture war. They succumbed to a false threat created by a small vocal minority with a hidden agenda.  The irony here is that this is probably the best time in years to advertise on the Rush Limbaugh program . I suspect his ratings have increased markedly as a result of this controversy. The attacks on Rush have likely galvanized his fans and supporters and motivated them to support his advertisers.


Anonymous said...

Rush and his fans, (with lots of financial help from those who sponsor him) and his "culture war" on all who have view points different then his, seem to have no problem dishing it out, But when it comes back to bite them, they circle the wagons and point fingers in every direction, but the cause, Mr Limbaugh.

In a country that was founded on compromise, you have groups (on both sides) who beat their chest on a daily basis, and say our way or else......

Sorry, to me, both Right & Left wing radio (and TV) is bad for America, and I am sure glad that the Canadian government (and a majority of the Canadian people) had the good sense to keep the noise out.

Lies, fabrications and half-truths was not what the founding fathers meant by "Freedom of Speech".

A American in Canada.

Tom Betz said...

Bill, when you describe it as a "boycott" you are demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the current Stop Rush effort. THe most effective participants in this effort are not threatening a boycott; they are simply drawing attention to /quoting Rush's words and asking advertisers, "Is this sort of vile language compatible with your business' mission statement, your business principles? If you had an employee who persisted day after day in talking to customers and co-workers in this manner, how long would that emplyee last at your company?" it is the consciences of the corporate managers, not threats of boycott, that is motivating advertisers to dump Rush Limbaugh.