Emboldened by Rush Limbaugh’s public apology over the weekend to a law school student whom he had called a “slut” and a “prostitute,” critics of the radio talk show host are intensifying their online campaign against his advertisers.
The apology, they said, was a signal that the campaign was working. On Sunday, a seventh company, ProFlowers, said that it was suspending all of its advertising on “The Rush Limbaugh Show” despite his apologetic statement a day earlier.
For now, the ad boycott is uncomfortable but not crippling for Mr. Limbaugh, who is estimated to make $50 million a year and whose program is a profit center for Premiere Radio Networks, the company that syndicates it. The program makes money both through ads and through fees paid by local radio stations, and while it often has sparked outrage during more than two decades on the air, efforts at ad boycotts in the past have had no measurable effect. Liberal groups and activists, however, hope that this time is different.
Mr. Limbaugh has been roundly criticized for talking at length about the sex life of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who testified in support of the Obama administration’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptives for women. For three straight days he lambasted her, before saying in a statement Saturday afternoon that he did not intend to attack her personally. “I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation,” he said.
By the time he apologized, online protesters had been organizing for days on social networking Web sites and liberal hubs like Daily Kos. They called on companies like ProFlowers to remove their ads from “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and appeared to be having some success, as companies like Sleep Train said they had suspended advertising.
One such company that had been a longtime sponsor of Mr. Limbaugh’s, Carbonite, said it would reconsider its ad spending; after the apology was issued, it announced that it would suspend its ads anyway. “We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse,” the company’s chief executive, David Friend, said.
Mr. Limbaugh’s critics dismissed his apology as having been forced by the advertiser pressure. Reflecting those feelings on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, said, “I know he apologized, but forgive me, I doubt his sincerity, given that he lost at least six advertisers.”
Eric Boehlert of the liberal media monitoring group Media Matters for America predicted on Sunday that the apology would not “stop the pressure that’s being applied to his advertisers.”
“His comments were so egregious, naturally advertisers will have doubts about being associated with Limbaugh’s brand of hate,” Mr. Boehlert said in an e-mail message.
Premiere’s parent company, Clear Channel, deferred questions to Premiere, which declined to answer questions about the effect of the ad boycott or the widespread anger at Mr. Limbaugh.
In a statement, Premiere — best known for conservative talk shows — said it was committed to giving listeners access to a broad range of opinion and commentary. “The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue,” the company said. “We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions.”
It has not been easy for Mr. Limbaugh’s opponents to figure out all of his show’s sponsors: several lists, some inaccurate, are floating around the Web. Mr. Limbaugh’s own Web site appeared to have no actual advertisers on Sunday, only ads for its own online store of products.
Limbaugh’s noon to 3 p.m. show is the single most popular conservative talk show in the country.