What a Rush

by Brian Clarey

Is it too late to pile on Rush Limbaugh, America’s most reviled and celebrated talk-radio host?

I think not. Limbaugh — or, rather, his greasy-lipped and Oxycontin-dried mouth — made the news a couple weeks ago after referring to a Georgetown University Law Center student Sandra Fluke as both a “prostitute” and a “slut.”

There’s a difference, you know, between a prostitute and a slut. A prostitute charges money for sex.

A slut gives it away. That’s how the old joke goes, anyway.

But Sandra Fluke is neither — she’s just a 30-yearold law student at a prestigious university who wants to have her birth control pills covered by the student health plan.

The student health plan at Georgetown, incidentally, is about $1,900 per semester — more than $5,500 for a student and a spouse together, which makes absolutely no sense to me, but little in our nation’s healthcare system does. The $1,900 is in addition to the $23,000 and change that Georgetown charges for a semester of law school.

A little quick math reveals that Fluke’s education, including healthcare but not housing, textbooks and the parade of fees that universities love to foist upon their students, runs more than $50,000 a year — a good bit higher than the median income for a household in the US.

I don’t want to talk about income inequality today, but I do want to talk about money. Limbaugh — or, as he sometimes refers to himself, el Rushbo — has plenty of it. Guy’s been on the radio forever. His show went national in 1988, and became interstellar during the Clinton years, when he prodded on the impeachment and galvanized the modern conservative movement.

He’s a big deal among the GOP and its faithful adherents, who tune in for talking points and instructions on who to back — and who to spurn. His listeners call themselves “dittoheads” without a trace of irony or shame.

And over the years they’ve heard el Rushbo say things way more offensive than his diatribe against Sandra Fluke. He accused actor Michael J. Fox of “exaggerating” the effects of his Parkinson’s disease. He coined the term “feminazis” to describe women with the audacity to demand equal rights, and applies the phrase “phony soldiers” to any who have served in our military but disagree with our nation’s eagerness to go to war. He called the president of the United States a “negro” in a song parody sung to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” He said that slavery “had its merits.” And while he enjoyed a short-lived stint as a commentator for “NFL Sunday Countdown” on ESPN — the guy does know his football, I’ll give him that — he “resigned” after suggesting that quarterback Donovan McNabb got credit for his team’s wins because of his race. Which is black, by the way.

Guy’s a huge jackass and has been for decades. But this time is different.

I stopped counting after 45 national and local advertisers to his radio program backed off last week in the wake of his Sandra Fluke comments, an unprecedented development. Rush has never before been held financially accountable for the sick jokes, racist comments and outright lies he’s floated on the public airwaves.

It’s because of the internet, of course. Back in the day radio guys could always get away with outrageous bon mots — more so than newspaper guys, because what we write exists in print, able to be passed around or read over and over until the rage turns red. But what you say on the radio lives only in the moment and then disappears into the ether.

It used to, anyway. Most of the people offended by Limbaugh’s comments this go-round likely never heard them uttered on the air.

“I think most people that are the angriest didn’t hear it the first time,” says Jeff Cushman, operations manager for 94.5 Rush Radio, which airs the program in the Triad. “He plays to his audience, but since [his comments] don’t disappear anymore, the folks who get the most angry about this stuff heard about it, and now they’re trying to do something about it.”

Cushman declines to comment as to whether his station lost any local advertisers, though he says he has gotten “a few” calls and e-mails from upset listeners. He also notes that ratings ticked upwards in the days after the scandal broke.

“It’s like in that Howard Stern movie,” he says. “Half of the listeners hate him, but they’ll stick around to see what he’s going to say next.

“I know it has to do with sponsorship, what people are associated with,” he continues, “but it’s interesting to see if clients feel with their pocketbook either way. We had a few saying they wanted to be on [during Rush’s show] because they thought the audience would get bigger.”

I admit I’m part of the problem. I haven’t listened to Rush in years and years and years — I figure if I wanted to hear a junkie bloviate and lie, I would have never left the bar business. But I tuned in for just a bit last week, just to see if the sweaty bastard had lost a step.

Did I hear a bit of resignation in his voice, more wheeze than haughtiness? Did he hesitate on his hit points, second-guess his demeaning stereotypes, doubt, even for a split second, the erroneous surety that has defined him since Reagan was president?

No. It’s business as usual for el Rushbo. And in the end, I think that is what will be his undoing.

“The Rush Limbaugh Show” can be heard live weekdays from noon-3 p.m. on 94.5 Rush Radio.