What Rush Limbaugh Failed to Learn from Don Imus

Posted on March 6, 2012


Remember this guy? He got in trouble once too.

I finally saw an article about the maelstrom surrounding Rush Limbaugh today that said something I’d been thinking all along; this issue reminds me of when Don Imus got into so much trouble.

For anyone not following the saga of advertisers jumping ship as hordes of do-gooders call for El Rushbo’s head here’s the story in a nutshell: Limbaugh decided to assassinate the character of Sandra Fluke, a law student who testified in front of congress about the contraception debate. Amongst other things Limbaugh called her a slut and demanded that if he — and other taxpayers — had to fund Fluke’s promiscuous lifestyle that she should have to post videos of the encounters on the Web (a suggestion that strikes me as equally creepy and offensive).

But Limbaugh has said far more outrageous things than that so why the uproar?

It’s not what he said it’s who he said it about. This is just like when Don Imus got himself into trouble because he referred to the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team as, “a bunch of nappy-headed ho’s.” That remark caused a storm similar to, but so far much stronger than, what Limbaugh is facing.

But look, the lesson here isn’t that hosts shouldn’t say outrageous things. Love it or hate it, bold statements drive ratings.

The important thing is to be aware of who you are talking about. Public figures like politicians and movie stars put themselves into the public eye and therefore are acceptable targets. Private citizens like the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team or Sandra Fluke aren’t afforded the same protection, especially in the mind of the average consumer. Picking on them doesn’t seem fair and that’s why it causes hosts so many problems.

Now you could easily argue that Sandra Fluke put herself into the public eye when she testified and that may be why this storm hasn’t been as swift or fiery as the one that surrounded Imus. On the other hand, Imus made one off-the-cuff remark while Limbaugh proceeded to attack Fluke several times across multiple days which goes to show you can’t ever completely predict what the public will or won’t be offended by.

But I would suggest you improve your odds of not getting fired by being smart about what you say and, even more importantly, who you say it about.