WASHINGTON — Radio host Rush Limbaugh said his apology to the Georgetown law student he called a “slut” was sincere but also joked that he, too, got a busy signal Monday when he called the show to join the growing roster of advertisers abandoning it.
The student, Sandra Fluke, said Limbaugh’s apology did nothing to change the corrosive tone of the debate over health care coverage and that Americans have to decide whether they want to support companies that continue to advertise on his program. AOL and Tax Resolution Services Co. on Monday became the eighth and ninth advertisers to leave Limbaugh’s three-hour show and at least one radio station dropped the program as he sought to stem the exodus of advertisers and fellow conservatives declined to offer him support.
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“I should not have used the language I did, and it was wrong,” a rarely contrite Limbaugh told listeners.
But callers to the show urged him not to give in to critics, which now include Republican leaders in Congress and those seeking the GOP presidential nomination. He blamed the media for the pressure.
“Talk about a double standard,” Limbaugh said. “Rappers can say anything they want about women. It’s called art. And they win awards.”
Fluke, who testified to congressional Democrats in support of their national health care policy that would compel her Jesuit college’s health plan to cover her birth control, said she had not heard from Limbaugh directly but signaled she had little interest in speaking with him. She said his criticism of her beliefs was an attack on women’s health.
“I think any woman who has ever been called these types of names is (shocked) at first,” Fluke told ABC’s “The View.”
“But then I tried to see this for what it is, and I believe that what it is, is an attempt to silence me, to silence the millions of women and the men who support them who have been speaking out about this issue and conveying that contraception is an important health care need that they need to have met in an affordable, accessible way.”
Fluke had been invited to testify to a House committee about her school’s health care plan, which does not include contraception. Republican lawmakers barred her from testifying during that hearing, but Democrats invited her back and she spoke to the Democratic lawmakers at an unofficial session.
The issue has been much debated in the presidential race, with Republican candidates particularly criticizing President Barack Obama‘s requirements on such employers as Catholic hospitals. Democrats – and many Republican leaders, too – have suggested the issue could energize women to vote for Obama and other Democrats in November.
Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, told CBS News on Monday that Limbaugh’s statements were unacceptable “in every way” and “should be condemned” by people across the political spectrum. Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said it is “silly” to suggest that Limbaugh speaks for the party.
Limbaugh, even as he retreated from his earlier characterization of Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute,” insisted the 30-year-old was trying to “force a religious institution to abandon its principles to meet hers.”
“Those two words were inappropriate. They were uncalled for,” he said of his initial comments that roiled his critics. “They distracted from the point that I was actually trying to make.”
Even so, eight companies now have stopped advertising on Limbaugh’s program on Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Networks Inc. The parent company is supporting Limbaugh, whose on-air contract with Premiere runs through 2016.
A Hawaii radio station on Monday announced it would no longer air Limbaugh’s show.
“Regardless of one’s political views on the issue being discussed, we feel the delivery was degrading and the continued comments over several days to be egregious. As a result, we are discontinuing the Rush Limbaugh program on KPUA effective immediately,” New West president and general manager Chris Leonard said in a statement.
AOL said Monday that Limbaugh’s messages “are not in line with our values.”
ProFlowers, mortgage lender Quicken Loans, mattress retailers Sleep Train and Sleep Number, software maker Citrix Systems Inc., online data backup service provider Carbonite and the online legal document services company LegalZoom also left Limbaugh’s roster of advertisers. Allstate Insurance said on its Facebook page that it didn’t even know it was advertising on Limbaugh’s show and that it was correcting a media buy error by discontinuing its advertising there.
At the Pentagon, spokesman George Little said the military’s network will continue to air Limbaugh’s radio program and that he is unaware of any plans to review that decision.
The American Forces Network has consistently defended its inclusion of Limbaugh saying its programming reflects what the audience could hear at home, and that it doesn’t try to protect listeners from views with which they may disagree.
A 100,000-member veterans group, VoteVets.org, said it will be launching a petition Tuesday, calling on the Pentagon to take Limbaugh off the military’s network.
In Missouri, the state where Limbaugh was born, state House Speaker Steven Tilley defended a decision he made months ago to add the radio host to the Hall of Famous Missourians in the Capitol. Tilley said the hall honors famous Missourians, not “universally loved Missourians.”
Limbaugh sought to find some humor in the situation.
“I called myself to cancel my advertising. I got a busy signal,” he deadpanned at the start of Monday’s program.
Yet, he appeared defiant and suggested he’d have little trouble finding new sponsors.
“I reject millions of dollars of advertisers a year much to the chagrin of my hard-working sales staff,” Limbaugh said.
The tumult began last week when Limbaugh discounted Fluke’s appearance on Capitol Hill.
He said last Wednesday: “What does it say about the college coed … who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.”
He dug in a day later, refusing to give ground.
“If we’re going to have to pay for this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke,” Limbaugh said. “And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we’re getting for our money.”
On Friday, still defiant even after Democrats beat back Republican challenges to the new health care requirement, Limbaugh scoffed at the Democrats’ talk of a conservative “war on women.”
Obama, aware of the political advantages of branding all conservatives as supporters of Limbaugh’s views, telephoned Fluke from the Oval Office on Friday to offer his support.
A day later, Limbaugh apologized in writing to Fluke.
Yet even on Monday, Limbaugh didn’t back away from his criticism of Fluke’s appearance on Capitol Hill. He questioned why she was invited testify.
“She doesn’t have any expertise,” Limbaugh said during the second hour of his radio show.