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The end of hatred on (our) airwaves?

Novelist, Essayist, (Recovering) Journalist

The end of hatred on (our) airwaves?

(Or: Rush Limbaugh should just STFU.)

I believe we are witnessing the death of hatred on the public’s airwaves.

Let me start by saying that I will defend, to the death, the right of anyone to say anything they damned well please, so long as they do not represent a public threat (the classic “shouting fire” rule).  When Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves on his nationally syndicated talk radio program and verbally attacked a Georgetown student because she wants her insurance to pay for birth control, he inadvertently taught us a valuable lesson.

This is America, where every citizen has a right to say whatever vile, hate-filled and disgusting things they can think of. Thank the Founding Fathers and the First Amendment for that right. Rush is absolutely protected from prosecution from the government for calling the student a slut, a whore, and several other equally unflattering and, frankly, misogynistic names.

But that doesn’t mean Rush is free from the effect of his words.

Today, national advertiser “The Sleep Train” pulled its ads from Limbaugh’s show, citing intense blowback from the mattress manufacturer’s customer base, which took to the interwebs to defend the young woman against Rush’s fury. The advertiser made what it believes to be the prudent decision to cease a voluntary affiliation with someone who spouts hatred and venom, as Rush did in his attack on the Georgetown student. This will cost Rush and his investors precious revenue and will cut, however insignificantly, into that $20 million he makes a year. To his credit, Rush has yet to call out The Sleep Train on their withdrawal from his program.

But Rush and his somewhat-smaller bank book is not where the real story lay. For that, one has to understand how syndicated radio works.

Talk radio operates on advertising revenues. Rush makes money because Sleep Train pays him to run its ads during his program. Affiliates pay Rush for the right to broadcast his show, in which Rush has a certain number of advertising minutes reserved for The Sleep Train and other show sponsors. The show comes down with gaps in Rush’s programming, which the individual affiliates hope to fill with advertising of their own — enough to pay the affiliate fee and to produce a profit  justify carrying his program.  Pay attention, because this is where it gets a little tricky.

Radio stations sell those ads to local businesses. Some stations also take part in regional or national advertising networks that ship them ads to fill space. So, without having any real input, Molly Mabry Realty and Joe’s Seafood Emporium are advertising on the Rush Limbaugh Show, whether they realize it or not.  So are some national companies, like Century 21.

And lest you think Century 21 is unconcerned about this dilemma, they took to Twitter today to confirm that they are in point of fact not a sponsor of the Rush Limbaugh Program, in direct response to the Georgetown Birth Control flap.

Now the affiliates are involved in revenue loss, perhaps they will start paying attention to what goes on their airwaves. Just maybe, they’ll take notice of Rush’s antics and rein in the Big Guy. Or, maybe, they’ll find out he can’t be reined in and they’ll just remove him from the airwaves all together. Either way, this is the start of something very different, very exciting and quite new. And Rush doesn’t get to complain about this. It’s simply the effect of the free market.

God bless the United States of America.

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