Rush Limbaugh made the right-wing talk-radio industry, and he just might break it.
Because now the fallout from the “slut” slurs against Sandra Fluke is extending to the entire political shock-jock genre.
Premiere Networks, which distributes Limbaugh as well as a host of other right-wing talkers, sent an email out to its affiliates early Friday listing 98 large corporations that have requested their ads appear only on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).”
This is big. According to the radio-industry website Radio-Info.com, which first posted excerpts of the Premiere memo, among the 98 companies that have decided to no longer sponsor these programs are “carmakers (Ford, GM, Toyota), insurance companies (Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm), and restaurants (McDonald’s, Subway).” Together, these talk-radio advertising staples represent millions of dollars in revenue. ...
And make no mistake, money is the only barometer of success the industry ultimately cares about.
Right-wing talk radio got its start when the Federal Communication Commission eliminated its Fairness Doctrine in 1987. No longer were broadcasters required to be fair and balanced (to use the laughably inappropriate motto of Fox "News").
It's not a coincidence that Rush Limbaugh got his start in 1988. Fox News was a little later to take advantage of this, in 1996. But both started making money hand over fist.
According to this article, it's a difficult time for right-wing talk radio, anyway:
But this latest controversy comes at a particularly difficult time for right-wing talk radio. They are playing to a (sometimes literally) dying demographic. Rush & Co. rate best among old, white males. They have been steadily losing women and young listeners, who are alienated by the angry, negative, obsessive approach to political conservations [sic]. Add to that the fact that women ages 24–55 are the prize advertising demographic, and you have a perfect storm emerging after Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke comments. ...
But the irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.
Yes, consumers are starting to take a stand. But before we get to that, let's note that this could be a two-edged sword. I thought it was interesting that Bill Maher supported Rush Limbaugh, but then, they both make a living trying to be shocking. Maybe advertisers getting cold feet could give Maher the chills, too.
And certainly, when corporations avoid controversy, it's not all good. All it takes is a bus company rejecting a one-word advertisement as too "controversial" for us to see that. Nevertheless, those kinds of things are going to happen, anyway. The least we can do is fight back.
And these days, we can do that far more effectively than ever before:
An additional irony: just as the technology-driven fragmentation of the landscape allowed partisan media to proliferate, a new technological development is providing the tools to take it down. Social media is making it possible to create a grassroots movement very quickly, voicing grievances very quickly and getting heard at the top of corporate headquarters.
“In the past, a letter, petition, or phone campaign took a few days to put together and longer to execute,” says Valerie Geller. “But now customers [listeners] can instantly rally using Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging to make their displeasure with a client, product, or service known immediately. These movements can happen fast.”
Is it the end of Rush Limbaugh and those like him? I doubt it. But it could be the beginning of the end. Or it could just be the start of a new time when such hate-filled extremists lose power, when they become only a pathetic remnant of what they've been in America.
When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing. Let’s hope that what emerges is an evolution of the industry, away from stupid, predictable, and sometimes hateful hyperpartisanship and toward something a little smarter and more civil.
I don't know. I'd say that what we need is less hope and more action. We have the tools these days to pressure advertisers. You know that the right-wing will use them, even if we don't.
And we're the majority here. Don't let the right-wing fool you about that, with their talk about the "moral majority" or the "silent majority." No, they're the minority, and as time goes by, they'll continue to shrink as we continue to grow. We've got the power, if we'll use it.