The headlines have it all wrong: “Rush Limbaugh Apologizes to Georgetown Student,” reads Politico, while the Washington Post puts this headline on an Associated Press story: “Limbaugh Apologizes to Student, Says He Did Not ‘Intend a Personal Attack’”.
But if you look at Limbaugh’s statement about his three-day festival of hate speech, on his daily nationally syndicated radio program, against Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke, he doesn’t apologize for much:
For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.
My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.
You’ll recall that Limbaugh’s jihad against Fluke, as we blogged here yesterday, focused on her testimony before a congressional committee in favor of the Obama administration’s mandate that employer-provided health insurance plans include no-co-pay coverage for prescription contraception.
This prompted Limbaugh to label Fluke “a slut” and “a prostitute,” and those are presumably the “word choices” for which he is issuing this highly-qualified apology, which was likely prompted by the exodus of sponsors that followed, under pressure from women’s rights advocates, progressive activists and Democrats. Six advertisers, as of Saturday, had dumped “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” and even Republican politicians — generally a pretty ditto-head lot — felt the need to distance themselves, most of them, gingerly, from Limbaugh’s smears.
But Limbaugh’s use of the words “slut” and “prostitute” to describe Fluke isn’t the worst of what he did. What different words would he chose, one wonders, to suggest that Fluke should post videos of herself having sex on the internet in exchange for contraception, as he did last week?
Upon reflection, what words would he select to less insultingly conjure images of Fluke having sex? Additionally, is there a better way for him to ask where she obtained condoms when she was “in junior high,” as he did on one of his programs? You know, a way that would not constitute a “personal attack”?
Limbaugh not only owes an honest apology to Fluke for the truly reprehensible attack he made on her, which was essentially a verbal rape, but to his listeners and the American people, not least of all for the lie he perpetuated all week that the contraception mandate requires “taxpayers” to foot the bill for the no-co-pay birth control. In reality, that responsibility falls to the insurers, most of which are only too happy to do so, because contraceptives are much cheaper than covering a pregnancy.
Instead, in his non-apologetic statement, Limbaugh doubles down on the lie:
I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level. [Emphasis added]
What we may be witnessing here is the self-destruction of a once-powerful media figure. Fake apologies tend not to play well, according to Tom Jacobs, writing at the Miller McCune site in January. Jacobs also lays out four different categories of non-apologies, citing a 2008 article by Zohar Kampf in the Journal of Pragmatics:
One type of pseudo-apology downplays the transgressor’s degree of responsibility. Kampf identifies five variations on this theme, noting that a wrongdoer can: 1) apologize while undermining the claim that he offended someone; 2) apologize for the outcome but not for the act; 3) apologize for the style but not for the essence; 4) apologize for a specific component of the offense but not for the entire occurrence; and 5) apologize while using syntactic and lexical means to downgrade his responsibility.” The latter category includes referring to an offensive action as a “mistake,” which effectively minimizes guilt.
Limbaugh’s brief statement manages to fall into at least four of the five categories. That’s quite a feat!
Interestingly, one person is in the least liked top three for all three political parties. For Republicans, the three least liked current affairs personalities are Nancy Grace (25%), Rush Limbaugh (24%) and Chris Matthews (18%). For Democrats, the three news personalities that are the least favorite are Rush Limbaugh (66%), Bill O’Reilly (45%), and Sean Hannity (23%) while for Independents it is Rush Limbaugh (49%), Bill O’Reilly (31%) and Nancy Grace (25%).
But wait — there’s more! Limbaugh’s claim of 20 million listeners? Maybe not so much. On The Young Turks on Friday, Current TV host Cenk Uygur suggested that there are no empirical data available to back such a claim of media dominance.