There is an old, old joke about a teacher who tells a mother her son is a monster and that she doesn’t know what to do with him. The mother shrugs, “Hit the kid next to him. It will scare him straight.”
When it started I hoped that the uproar over sluts, Rush, and video tapes would have an impact beyond Rush Limbaugh and his ugly hatred. Whether it actually ended his career or only temporarily curtailed his income, I hoped it might serve to scare all the kids around him into some vestige of civility.
So far it hasn’t even scared Rush, at least not much. His second apology was even less contrite than his first. He was sorry for “using inappropriate words in a way I never do,” (roll the tape library and get out the popcorn) and that he had unfortunately descended to the level of the left “who say
these things all the time and never apologize.”
In one sense Limbaugh is right. He isn’t the only one spewing crap over the airwaves and the Internet. Shock jocks, pundits, and entertainers from both the right and the left display poor taste and intemperance in remarks based on the gender, physical appearance, or even the religion of their targets. And Limbaugh was not the only one bashing a person outside of the public domain. Many crass remarks (Worst Person in the World anyone?) are hurled at persons who accidentally or temporarily stumble into the realm of celebrity. Fluke was attacked while being courageous. I’m not sure it is any more forgivable to humiliate someone for being transiently clumsy, unthinking, or stupid.
People who have the privilege of the airwaves should be expected to fulfill the accompanying responsibilities. If those with the megaphones won’t police themselves it is our job to enforce some standards and we have totally abrogated that duty. When one particular group is offended – gays, fat people, the mentally challenged – there is a flurry of protests but Shakespeare had it right – sound and fury signifying nothing. This does not refer to the insults, it describes the response. We let the slime slide right over us. We didn’t call out crummy remarks from the left during the Bush Administration and now they have escalated beyond crummy to ugly and even dangerous.
Does the current brouhaha mean the public has awakened to that fact or are they just exhausted by the vitriol or fed up to the eyeballs with Rush?
Doesn’t matter. Now that we have finally taken action it is critical that we don’t stop until everyone gets in line. So far they haven’t. Rush followed his “apology” by doubling down and going after Fluke’s campus activism as justification for his “two words.” Now he is claiming none of this has hurt him and some real journalists are speculating that he is enjoying and possibly even profiting from the frenzy.
Quite the opposite of being scared straight, the other kids in the classroom are giving Limbaugh a thumbs up. Fox News, of course, has his back, GOP politicians have pretty much patted him on it, and Bill Maher, perhaps the worst offender on our side, said the left was embarrassing itself by not accepting his apology. Bill, (a) it wasn’t an apology, it was an excuse for two words he used during three solid days of Fluke-centered rants and (b) it wasn’t our apology to accept and Miss Fluke quite rightly declined to do so.
This column has had a chance, along with its author, to sit and stew for a week, and it has become more relevant and its author more angry than before. The furor is already dying down, people are starting to say, “aw shucks maybe Maher is right,” and another bright shiny object has flashed across the cable screen (Who is telling the truth, Game Change or Sarah?). We have seen this movie before. The right never runs out of steam. They are still angry enough about health care to be planning primaries against wayward members of their own party two years later. But let a bell ring to end the round and the left always retreats to its corner. Rush knows this and is already back to stirring the pot. He figures the danger has passed.
This time it must not happen. We must pursue Limbaugh to a point where he pays an actual price and everyone else in the business knows it. Costing him the Armed Forces Network gig would be one crack across the knuckle, going after some of the Clear Channel licenses would cost him even more. We must make it clear to Rush and to the kids sitting next to him, as well as the politicians who kow-tow to them all, that some free speech is simply out of bounds. If we quit now, nothing will have been accomplished by the sound and fury of the last four days and, believe it or not, it will only get worse.
We need to keep the pressure on congresspersons to pressure both the FCC and Armed Forces Network and we must make it clear to new and/or returning sponsors that advertising on Rush’s show is a long term liability. Yes, I am talking vendetta and I don’t apologize for doing so.
Also, while we are chasing Rush around the classroom with a ruler or better yet a big role of masking tape, it wouldn’t hurt to look back over our shoulders to make sure Megan, Karl, Dylan, Keith and the rest are paying attention and taking notes.