Rush Limbaugh's ratings get a reality check

Since they rose spectacularly during the Sandra Fluke controversy, Rush Limbaugh's ratings have dropped, even in right-leaning areas. Why?

FLORIDA, May 22, 2012 — In the dystopian world of contemporary talk radio, politics makes fodder like no other for entertainment laced with a most addictive drug; seething, unadulterated anger.

During the days and weeks following his now-infamous branding of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute” due to her advocacy for publicly funded contraceptives, Rush Limbaugh’s weekday show experienced a meteoric rise in ratings. Many of his sponsors nonetheless chose to pull their advertising, which led to a public apology that was patently transparent.

Making matters worse for El Rushbo, as his fans often call him, is that throughout April, his ratings took a serious nosedive. 

According to a new set of data released by media research giant Arbitron, within the ever-influential New York City market’s highly sought after 25-54 age demographic, Limbaugh fell by no less than 27 points. Surprisingly, among the far more right-leaning constituencies of Houston and Galveston, he sloped an even steeper 31 percent. 

Jacksonville, the only major urban center to favor John McCain in 2008, saw his losses total out at no less than 35 percent. All of these, though, were dwarfed by the Seattle and Tacoma market, where Limbaugh faced a hit of 40 percent.

Dylan Byers, a journalist writing for Politico, one of America’s foremost e-newsmagazines for public affairs, reported that an unnamed radio industry official believes “Sandra Fluke isn’t the only one who didn’t like Rush calling her a ‘slut’ given how many viewers that comment incinerated.” Byers also noted that Limbaugh’s supporters attribute his listenership decline to a natural balancing act of sorts. 

“On the range of all 600 radio stations, our ratings are up anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent, depending on the station,” Limbaugh boasted during the end of March. 

“The most likely reason for these shifts is that Limbaugh talked about Sandra Fluke at the beginning of March, so it brought in a lot of non-regular listeners,” another industry insider said. “Now that the issue has more or less passed, those people aren’t listening anymore.” 

Exactly.

Limbaugh, and for the most part individuals of any political persuasion in the talk radio field, from my standpoint, say as much as they can for the greatest amount of attention possible. That attention then translates into higher advertising rates, and the revenue generated from this never fails to be the end goal. Of course, if what is being said causes a damaging stigma for the advertisers in question, the entire plan is put at serious risk.

Fortunately for broadcasters, such unpleasantness can usually be averted by methods along the lines of the convenient apology issued to Fluke.

There we have the almost universal operating plan of shock jocks from San Diego to Boston. The truly sad thing is that untold millions still turn to these shameless profiteers of discord for guidance during times of social unrest and upheaval. However, this is the result of trying to find a news outlet that not only oversimplifies fundamentally complex stories, but adds a spin that reinforces the worldview of its patrons.

Surprisingly often, people get exactly what they bargain for. It would seem that, during a brief time after demonizing Fluke, Limbaugh saw a remarkable number place their bets on his distinct brand of infotainment.

Good thing they figured out what a colossal waste that truly was.  


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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