NATCHITOCHES, La., March 3, 2012—Rush Limbaugh managed the surprising feat of uniting Americans across partisan boundaries when he called Sandra Fluke “a slut.” Everyone from Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney registered some level of disapproval, though Santorum’s characterization of Limbaugh’s comments as “absurd” was less harsh than most Democrats would like.
Limbaugh’s subsequent apology is unusual for the man whose ego makes him impervious to self-doubt. His admission of error is extraordinary. Even so, it won’t stop liberal demands for his head on a pike.
He’s far too important a conservative icon and far too influential a media star to let off with his extremities intact.
While joining in the general condemnation of Limbaugh’s insensitivity and deploring insensitivity in general (wouldn’t we all prefer that our sons be thieves and liars to being insensitive?), we might want to pause to enjoy the hypocrisy.
A couple of years ago, David Letterman called Sarah Palin “slutty” in his nightly monologue, and joked about her daughter getting “knocked up” by Alex Rodriguez at a baseball game. Media pundits then, as now, were dismayed. James Hibberd of The Hollywood Reporter called Palin’s outrage “an opportunistic overreaction.”
Howard Stern opined that Palin was “dumb” and deserved the insult.
MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer found nothing wrong with calling Palin “slutty,” treating it as no big deal. It was just comedy, after all, and she had herself been called a slut with no negative effects. “I’m fine, I’m still here.” (For Limbaugh’s comment on that, click here.)
The Today Show’s Matt Lauer concluded that Letterman had surely suffered enough for his bad joke.
David Bauder of the AP suggested hopefully that the incident would make Letterman “relevant” again. “Letterman did not court last week’s battle with Palin,” he wrote, adding, “Palin rebuffed his invitations to appear on the show, but that might not matter. The story had the effect of turning the attention to Letterman at a critical time, during the second week of his new competition with Leno’s replacement, Conan O’Brien.”
There are significant differences between the situations of Letterman and Limbaugh, of course. Media outrage in the former case was at first directed at Palin, the target of Letterman’s humor, while in this case it’s aimed at Limbaugh.
Women’s groups have demanded that Limbaugh apologize to all women, not just Fluke, while no such demands were made of Letterman. Palin was a public figure while Fluke is not, though she voluntarily put herself in the public eye (attempting to testify before Congress isn’t done in private), while Palin’s daughter was well and truly a private and minor young lady. And to be fair to Letterman, he thought he was insulting Palin’s older daughter, Bristol, and not the 14-year-old Willow.
Letterman expressed “regret” for his comments. The Palins, of course, found that not entirely sincere and remained on the warpath (which the press generally found in miserable, opportunistic bad taste of them), and eventually they convinced enough other people that Letterman had behaved badly to force him into a more convincing apology. And there it seems to have ended.
It won’t end there for Rush, of course. The conservative gut reaction would be, “that’s because he’s conservative, Letterman is liberal; MSNBC commentators think that Palin deserved to be called a “slut,” and Fluke did not.”
That all matters, but more significantly, Limbaugh is enormously influential, Letterman wasn’t. Were Limbaugh as inconsequential as Letterman, the left would probably let the issue die.
The fact is that Limbaugh deserves the grief he’s taking for his comments. They were crude, unnecessary, and indicative of a public discourse that’s entirely unhealthy. But left-wing outrage is still wonderfully hypocritical. Just as some paranoid people really do have enemies, so can hypocrites be exercised about behaviors that really are disgusting. It’s just that it’s hard to take seriously the moral outrage of a whore monger.
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. Twenty years ago he made an obnoxious faculty colleague’s ears spurt blood by saying he liked Limbaugh, and for that memory he’ll always have some affection for Limbaugh. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at pichtblog.blogspot.com.
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