Everyone’s well within their rights


This is the testimony of 30 year old law student Sandra Fluke before the Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Women’s Health and Contraception . The most important part is that oral contraception, “the pill”, has a variety of uses that improve the quality of life for women regardless of their sexual activity. In addition to allowing women to have more control over their reproductive health birth control is prescribed to treat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Endometriosis andPremenstrual dysphoric disorder. Under Georgetown’s Insurance plan, these are not covered. Here is the opening statement to Fluke’s testimony:

The full hearing can be watched at CSPAN here.

To start: Limbaugh did not just insult Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke and women who use contraception in passing. He repeatedly asserted any woman whose contraception is covered by insurance through Georgetown University’s insurance program is a poly-amorous freeloading sex addicted slut by way of prostitution that should be required to star in pornography freely available to tax payers as fair exchange for adequate reproductive health coverage. He directly defamed Fluke repeatedly over three days by making all of the same claims about her directly and mis-representing her testimony to his audience. ThinkProgress compiled the bad choices of words:

His apology was a lesson in how not to say “i’m sorry”. He has every right to say these things under the 1st amendment. He really does. He also has a right to attempt to profit from what he says. He doesn’t have a right to be profitable. That’s why this defense of Limbaugh mounted by Bill Maher on his HBO show Real Time With Bill Maher under the auspices of free speech is off base.

Limbaugh hosts a radio show for a syndicated radio network. Advertisers want to sell products to Limbaugh’s listeners and other consumers so they buy ad space from Limbaugh’s syndicate. If consumers find out that an advertiser has business relationships or business practices they don’t like, they can ask that advertiser to choose between their consumer buying power and whatever gain they seek through existing business relationships or practices. Limbaugh and his attacks on Fluke and women are indeed free speech, but to advertisers Limbaugh’s shows are a guaranteed audience for their sales pitch. He trades listeners attentions for his speech, and then he sells a share of his listeners attention to advertisers. That has a finite value to advertisers. The groups petitioning Limbaugh’s advertisers are giving them a simple choice: choose between access to their dollars or Limbaugh’s audience’s dollars. Advertisers made a shrewd business decision to not run afoul of the sensibilities of millions of men and women (the lead consumers in most households) who support contraception coverage, find President Obama’s compromise proposal reasonable and don’t take kindly to Limbaugh’s bullying of Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh isn’t getting bullied out of free speech. He’s just losing commercial subsidy for that speech.

No one has attacked Limbaugh’s rights. He can still say whatever he likes. He can still (and he will) attempt to profit from that speech. He can search for willing advertisers or switch to other business models to generate his income. He can go to a subscription/pay per view online model or just broadcast his show for free. He doesn’t have a right to keep advertisers if those folks feel like ad buys on Limbaugh’s show would erode their brand. In fact, withholding economic support is exactly Bill Maher’s reasoning for not staying at Trump hotels:

“I used to stay at the Trump [hotels] and I just wouldn’t now. The people were great, but I wouldn’t stay at a ‘birther’ hotel.” -Bill Maher

Trump talks about Obama on his YouTube channel or to ticket holders at wig nut conferences, and Maher feels the need to boycott Trumps hotel product as a kind of personal protest. So Maher won’t stay at a “birther” hotel because of what Donald Trump says about Obama’s heritage, but thinks people shouldn’t demand that their hard earned money not support sexist Limbaugh. Maher also quotes the ACLU regarding free speech but ignores the fact that the ACLU supports boycotts.

I think Maher still smarts from being pushed off of ABC’s Politically Incorrect (P.I.) by a boycott led by people who were upset Maher insisted that 9/11 attackers were evil but they were not cowards. However wrong headed, those people had a right to organize a petition and pressure his advertisers. ABC had a right to cancel P.I.. (In my personal opinion ABC should have stood up for P.I., as Maher was making a nuanced point about ascribing stereotypes to real life villains, but it is their right to say they didn’t want to take up that ideological battle on Maher’s behalf . Their job is to drive ratings up to make ad space more valuable. Maher’s show was part of their advertisement sponsored entertainment business that could no longer command the same ad buys.

Maher still was able to say whatever he wanted to, it’s just that ABC wasn’t willing to sell ad buys associated with Maher’s speech to advertisers anymore. Limbaugh and Maher’s rights were/are fully intact. What Maher is speaking out against is the same leverage that civil rights activists used during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts or the Delano Grape strike, he’s on the wrong side of free expression. Yes, it’s the same leverage right wingers used against Maher and Greta Van Susteren used against Louis C.K.. But, boycotts are not without consequences (often contrary to the organizers intents). Maher secured a more insulated post at HBO and quite frankly, I think like Imus, Limbaugh will find a way to insulate his profits going forward finding advertisers who are happy to focus their marketing towards his and other syndicated right wing talkers audiences. I think those boycotting Limbaugh simply want to immediately prevent their money from directly helping Limbaugh profit from his free speech. Everyone’s well within their rights.