THE ISSUE: After 30-year-old Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke testified before Congress on whether insurance companies should cover contraception, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" and "prostitute," among other comments.
Should radio stations and advertisers drop Rush Limbaugh?
Pia Lopez: Yes
Rush Limbaugh has a First Amendment right to attack and mock people, short of slander. And radio stations and advertisers have a First Amendment right not to sponsor or run his radio program. They should exercise that right and discontinue ads and his program.
Limbaugh crossed a line in his three-day tirade against a private citizen, going far beyond one-time name-calling.
On the first day, Limbaugh dispensed degrading, disgusting comments: "What does it say about the college coed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."
The next day, he got worse: "So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."
And he kept on: "I want to know: Ms. Fluke, who bought your condoms in junior high? Who bought your condoms in the sixth grade, or your contraception? Who bought your contraceptive pills in high school?"
All Fluke did was to exercise her constitutional right as a private citizen to testify about health insurance, not anybody's sex life or about government paying for contraception. Her Catholic-affiliated university includes contraception in its employee health insurance plans, but not for law students. That's her issue. Limbaugh leaped into attack mode.
It's bad enough when radio and television hosts use vile language to attack public figures where the First Amendment gives the most leeway in criticizing and mocking celebrities and politicians.
For example, MSNBC's Ed Schultz last year called talk radio host Laura Ingraham a "right-wing slut" and "talk slut" and MSNBC rightly suspended him for a week without pay.
It's bad enough when broadcasters use the First Amendment to attack public figures in this foul way. But it is far worse when radio and television hosts use their position of power to engage in baseless attacks on private individuals.
At least when radio host Don Imus in 2007 referred to a women's college basketball team as "nappy-headed hos," CBS fired him.
Clear Channel Communications hasn't fired Limbaugh, as it certainly could and should, but at least some advertisers and radio stations are jettisoning him. That's how the marketplace should work.
Limbaugh has a right to dispense vitriol against public figures and he does. He has crossed a line, however, in his multiple personal attacks on a private individual and should pay for it.
Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.
Ben Boychuk: No
Rush Limbaugh crossed a line. But he's paid plenty for calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute." He lost long-time advertisers in AOL, Capital One and ProFlowers, among others. That's some serious money.
Let's assume Limbaugh was sincere when he said of Fluke, "I do not think she is either of those two words. I did not think last week that she is either of those two words."
Truth is, for some of Limbaugh's leftist critics, nothing he could say or do short of self-immolation would be good enough.
Double standards will always be with us, but they still bother me. And if Limbaugh's critics have any sense of self-awareness, the double standard should bother them, too.
Consider Carbonite, the online computer backup service and a ubiquitous presence on talk radio over the past few years.
"Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show," Carbonite CEO David Friend announced over the weekend. "We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse."
Interesting choice of words, considering Carbonite also advertises with Ed Schultz and Randi Rhodes, left-wing talkers who have at best a casual acquaintance with "civilized public discourse."
Earlier, Carbonite took a more principled stand, saying it advertises on different shows to reach as many customers as possible and doesn't necessarily endorse the viewpoints of the hosts.
But, hey, it's Carbonite's money, right?
Coincidentally, Carbonite's shares on the NASDAQ have dropped 12 percent since Monday. It's been a bad week for the stock market, but that's roughly triple the index's overall decline during the same period.
Just as Rush has paid for his offensive remarks, Carbonite is paying for its advertising choices your free market at work.
The worst part of the Limbaugh hullabaloo isn't the degradation of "civilized discourse" (gimme a break!), but rather the diversion of the public's attention from the discussion Pia and I had here last week.
Should the federal government compel religious institutions to provide goods and services that violate their most basic beliefs? That's the question.
Fluke testified before Congress that the lack of contraception among women who attend an elite, private, religiously affiliated school by choice requires the federal government to undermine the First Amendment's free exercise clause.
Feminists used to say, "Keep your laws off my body." Nowadays, they add, "but pay for my birth control." Good grief.
That entitlement mentality, not Limbaugh's on-air vulgarity, is the real danger here.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's "City Journal." (www.city-journal.org/california)