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Thomas F. Schaller, Published March 12 2012

Money, advertisers forced Limbaugh’s mousy apology

Rush Limbaugh apologized.

Those three words are big news because apologizing ain’t Limbaugh’s thing. The nation’s top conservative radio talker got where he is today by making controversial and crude remarks, not apologizing for them.

In case you didn’t hear the original remarks that forced Limbaugh to apologize _ and yes, he was forced _ he called Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” and “slut” after she testified in front of a congressional panel about health care coverage for contraception. Here’s what he said:

“What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex – 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.”

Limbaugh’s lion-like sermon was followed by a squeaky, mouse-like statement on his website. “My choice of words was not the best, and, in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir,” that statement reads. “I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Before discussing his apology, let’s try to unpack Limbaugh’s puzzling comments.

Because women use contraception on a regular, often daily, basis doesn’t mean they are having sex all the time or even every day, week or month. After all, for birth control pills to function correctly, women have to take them most days regardless of how often they’re having sex.

Limbaugh has been married four times and is childless. Perhaps his four marriages have been sexless – although this seems unlikely, given that Limbaugh was stopped by customs officials during a 2006 trip to the Dominican Republic, a sex tourism destination, with more than two dozen Viagra pills.

It’s possible that Limbaugh is infertile. It’s possible he, his wives and any other girlfriends over the years successfully practiced the withdrawal method, among the riskiest forms of birth control. (The old joke is that there’s a name for men who rely on this method: daddy.)

But the more likely scenario is that Limbaugh and his childless partners over the years have relied on more traditional and effective means of birth control, such as condoms or the pill.

What the talk show host should apologize for is his profound ignorance about contraception. Contraceptive use isn’t just a “women’s” issue: It’s a couples’ issue, and half of the people in those couplings are men.

As for his apology, let’s face it: Limbaugh, who champions the power of markets, learned the hard way what happens when market power is unleashed against him. Within days, three of his sponsors had announced they would no longer advertise on his program. (Many more sponsors have since done the same.)

And so, after trademark tough-guy resistance for three days, Limbaugh apologized. He probably didn’t want to, but in the end he did it for the money – you know, like a prostitute does.


Schaller teaches political science at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Email schaller67@gmail.com. He wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.