After fiery conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh leveled "vitriolic and misogynistic" comments at Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, dozens of companies pulled their ads from his show. Rush controversially claimed that Fluke was a "slut" and a "prostitute" for arguing that health-care coverage of contraception should be mandatory, and ThinkProgress reports that at least 34 advertisers have ditched Rush amid the public outcry. But is an advertiser exodus really the right response? Here, three reasons it's not:
1. This hurts advertisers more than Rush
The old maxim "principle above profit" is nice in theory, says John S. Wilson at Mediaite. But the companies abandoning Limbaugh's show are losing a platform that connects them to 15 million to 20 million listeners each day. These companies didn't do anything wrong — instead, they're losing out because of something Limbaugh stupidly said. Research shows that consumers eventually abandon their boycotts, while a company's decision to yank ads does little to impress actual customers. Once the dust settles, companies may realize that pulling ads was a mistake.
2. It could have a chilling effect on speech
One company that pulled ads from Limbaugh's show, Tax Resolution Services, said it encountered a similar backlash 14 years ago when it advertised on The Howard Stern Show, but that the backlash wasn't nearly as bad because "social media was nowhere near where it is today," says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. The "speed and immediacy" with which Americans have turned on Limbaugh is alarming, and takes us to dangerous, uncharted territory. "It's a free country, but I get queasy with boycotts" that target free speech. Remember: Revolting speech is still free speech.
3. An ad boycott isn't nearly enough
When Don Imus called Rutgers women's basketball players "nappy headed hos" in 2009, CBS fired him — despite the $15 million in annual revenue his program netted, says Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress. Limbaugh should be held to the same standard and fired by Clear Channel. Only then will his critics be satisfied.
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