New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter wrote a column for Wednesday's Business section on the "offensive figure" Rush Limbaugh ("After Apology, National Advertisers Are Still Shunning Limbaugh") on the radio host losing advertisers after his "slut" comment on birth-control activist Sandra Fluke was inflamed by the left.
But the Times has thus far ignored the counterexample raised by conservatives of comedian and HBO "Real Time" host Bill Maher, who used a far more vile word to describe Republican Sarah Palin in March 2011. (The word's very offensiveness makes it unprintable, unlike Limbaugh's "slut," comment, a standard of obscenity that actually shields Maher.)
Not even Tuesday night's news that Obama advisor David Axelrod, who has used the Limbaugh controversy to attack Mitt Romney, was obliged to back out of a scheduled appearance on Maher's show has triggered a Times mention.
The only two mentions of the Maher-Palin controversy turned up by a nytimes.com search were in online columns from opinion writers, and Times academic blogger Stanley Fish actually defended the double standard. In a Wednesday front-page story, "Obama Allies Feel Pressure To Raise Cash," reporters Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo talked to Bill Maher about his $1 million pledge to an Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA," without mentioning the controversy.
In place of paid advertisers, public service announcements now fill some of the time between Rush Limbaugh’s monologues on radio stations, a consequence of an ad boycott against the conservative talk show host that is now nearly two weeks old.
It is, analysts say, the most serious rebellion against “The Rush Limbaugh Show” in the more than 20 years that the show has been broadcast. This week, new evidence emerged that the ad boycott was costing Premiere Radio Networks -- the show’s syndicator -- money, though the total amounts are unclear.
This month, powered by online organizing tools, liberal activist groups and other critics of Mr. Limbaugh have successfully highlighted the host’s repeated attacks on a Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, and persuaded companies to advertise elsewhere, at least temporarily.
Mr. Limbaugh apologized to Ms. Fluke -- a supporter of the Obama administration’s contraception policy -- on March 3, three days after calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” but national advertisers have continued to shun his show. The case is a reminder that associations with offensive figures -- no matter how popular they might be -- carries risks for companies.
It is unclear whether Mr. Limbaugh’s audience has been affected by the uproar. Arbitron, the measurement company that the radio industry relies upon, does not release national ratings the way that Nielsen does for television.
But the tumult has been a boon for liberal broadcasters who love to rail against Mr. Limbaugh. Liberal hosts on the cable news channel MSNBC, in particular, have dedicated segment after segment to the ad boycott. Conservative critics of MSNBC are said to be considering their own boycott campaign, aiming at liberal commentators like the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Stelter doesn't characterize Sharpton as an "offensive figure," even though he has a history of race-baiting which has been long ignored in the Times.
-- Clay Waters is editor of the MRC's TimesWatch page.