Rush Limbaugh was always boorish and offensive. In the late 20th century, he used the medium of radio to build himself up as the feared voice of American conservatism.
In the 21st century, though, Limbaugh may have gotten himself permanently undone by new technology, the Internet and social media, as more than 100 advertisers, many in technology firms, fled after his vulgar verbal assault on a fearless student at Georgetown Law School.
Sandra Fluke testifies before a group of Democratic members of Congress in February.
Sandra Fluke, 30, is nobody's idea of "a slut," or "a prostitute," as Limbaugh, 61, asserted after she testified in favor of health-insurance coverage for contraception before Congress.
To aggravate the matter, Limbaugh, now on his fourth marriage, told his "dittoheads," shorthand for his estimated 13 million daily listeners, that Fluke ought to tape her sexual encounters for public viewing. In the past, el Rushbo's rants would have been lost on the millions who don't listen to him. But now, with millions of replays of his videoed imprecations, plus tweets and groups on Facebook, the whole world has finally gotten the word.
Limbaugh, who has a heavily male audience, immediately lost a chunk of technology advertisers: Carbonite (Nasdaq: CARB), the developer of PC backup systems; software management provider Citrix Systems (Nasdaq: CTXS) and online service provider AOL (NYSE: AOL).
The sponsor hemorrhage grew to more than 100, which could put a dent into Limbaugh's annual ad revenue, estimated by Nielsen Media to be around $360 million.
'Feminazis and Members of the NOW Crowd'
Limbaugh's tone and language isn't new. Years ago, he had an introduction that advised the show wasn't for "feminazis and members of the NOW crowd," a reference to the National Organization for Women.
Back then, Limbaugh had various "updates" he would invoke with a vocal fanfare. One was "the homeless" and another "the poor," a word he would intone with disdain.
Limbaugh doesn't take many calls, preferring to deliver monologues. But he was powerful, amassing the biggest radio audience ever, spending nights in the Lincoln Bedroom as the guest of the first President George Bush. Later he was made an honorary member of the Republican House class elected in 1994, led by Newt Gingrich.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney called into the show during its 20th anniversary year, a neat trick considering the average caller never got in. A dissenting caller would be thrown off during what Limbaugh called "a caller abortion." The second Bush invited him for lunch in the Oval Office.
Limbaugh always lauds products from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). Its products are the exclusive computers for his Excellence in Broadcasting Network. But he wondered aloud why it never advertised.
Could it have been that he disdained "the arts and croissants" crowd that sustained Apple in the years before 2007 and the iPhone? His attacks on gays like Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.? How about saying his full name, Rush Hudson Limbaugh, around the time President Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated, in black dialect?
Did Romney Know?
At least one technology sponsor, LifeLock, a private identity monitoring service, has stood by Limbaugh. One director of the firm is Tom Ridge, the first U.S. secretary of homeland security and former Republican governor of Pennsylvania.
Limbaugh's syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks, is owned by Clear Channel Communications, taken private in a 2008 buyout for $20.6 billion led by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee. Republican presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney is the co-founder of Bain and receives income from it, although no longer participating in management.
It's not as if all these parties didn't know.
Technology also played a major part in Limbaugh's private life. After he went deaf in 2001, he received expensive cochlear implants.
Limbaugh may be down but he's not yet out. This time, he's been wounded by social media, Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Respected Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, decided to retire this year rather than put up with the coarse state of politics shaped by the likes of Limbaugh.
It's not as if the attacks on Limbaugh are attacks on conservatism. Indeed, the founders of the modern movement, such as William F. Buckley Jr. and Russell Kirk, were paragons of civility. Buckley's "Firing Line" TV program endured for years because of the host's respect for his opponents' dignity.
The latest Limbaugh story resembles "The Emperor's New Clothes." If Sandra Fluke is the one who called the emperor naked, more power to her.
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