Rush Limbaugh: The Shaming of the Slut-Shamer

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 2 2012 4:29 PM

Rush Limbaugh: The Shaming of the Slut-Shamer

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LAS VEGAS - JANUARY 27: Radio talk show host and conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, one of the judges for the 2010 Miss America Pageant, speaks during a news conference for judges at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino January 27, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The pageant will be held at the resort on January 30, 2010. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The most popular story at Slate right now is J. Bryan Lowder's look at what Rush Limbaugh said on February 29. It was classic Limbaugh, sort of. The host often reads clips of short, arguably newsy stories that touch on some culture war flashpoint or another. The story on February 29 concerned Sandra Fluke (pronounced like "look"), a Georgetown Law student whom Democrats wanted to testify at the original conscience exemption hearing, but who had to settle for another, Dems-only hearing.

"What does it say about the college co-ed," said Limbaugh, "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. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex."

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The Democratic media complex, which never turns down treats like this, chomped down. There is plenty of precedent for a war-on-Limbaugh. In 2009, when the host said he hoped Obama "failed" -- meaning that he assumed his policies were rotten, and didn't want them to pass -- Media Matters and ThinkProgress led the way in asking Republicans if they agreed. Media Matters was first on the scene this time, too. By today, a series of petition campaigns on sites like Daily Kos had succeeded in pulling a few advertisers, like SleepNumber beds, off of Limbaugh's show. The White House joined in. It confirmed to Sam Stein that the president had called Fluke to offer sympathy. That turned this into the sort of thing reporters are comfortable asking Republicans about. They got results, pulling Limbaugh rebukes out of Rick Santorum, Scott Brown, and John Boehner's spokesman.

But let's be clear about what this is. Limbaugh is a private citizen who has not endorsed any Republican candidate. (The closest he's come is praise for Santorum, which the candidate quotes on his campaign lit.) There is not a pressing public interest here. There's only the advantage that Democrats have carved out, by moving the discussion on birth control from the conscience exemption to the existential reasons why conservatives might want to limit birth control. The complex is winning this one.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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