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January 17, 2021

Easy rush to judgment on Limbaugh’s crass assault

Powerful conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh’s three-day verbal assault on Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke is outrageous for many reasons. Limbaugh’s choice of words – the subject of his narrow, half-hearted apology – is just the beginning.
Limbaugh lied about the content of Fluke’s testimony at a House of Representatives hearing: “[Fluke] testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills.” Fluke actually testified about fellow students who couldn’t afford contraceptive drugs to treat medical problems because the insurance they purchased through Georgetown wouldn’t cover it. Fluke focused on a lesbian student who lost an ovary and possibly her fertility because she couldn’t afford the pill that would prevent ovarian cysts. Fluke did not testify about her own sex life or contraceptive usage.
Limbaugh used those lies to characterize Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute.” It was offensive language, but typical for Limbaugh. My outrage extends to his dangerous lies and to the abuse that the influential Limbaugh, possessor (for now) of a bully pulpit and millions of “Dittohead” fans, heaped on Fluke because she advocated a position he doesn’t like.
If I were Fluke, I’d seriously consider slander and defamation lawsuits. If I were head of Clear Channel, which has a $400-million, eight-year contract with Limbaugh, I’d have my lawyers looking for ways to avoid financial liability for Limbaugh’s comments.
But that’s not all: Limbaugh falsely asserted that contraceptive coverage is tantamount to paying people to have sex: “$3,000 for birth control in three years? That’s a thousand dollars a year of sex — and, she wants us to pay for it.”
Who is this “us” that Limbaugh invoked? Limbaugh used this lie to justify his creepy demand for sex videos from “feminazis” (contraceptive users). This lie was repeated by the right-wing echo chamber, which parroted: Yeah, Limbaugh made regrettable word choices, but he’s right, we shouldn’t have to pay for anyone to have sex.
This is utter baloney.
First, unless he’s paying their premiums, Limbaugh has no financial stake in anyone’s insurance coverage, including Fluke’s. Second, Fluke’s medical insurance is not subsidized by Georgetown University. These facts make Limbaugh’s attacks on her particularly stupid.
Third, for employees, insurance is part of their compensation package, just like wages. Employees earn their insurance coverage, just like they earn wages. Employers can’t tell employees how to spend their wages, so why should employers get to tell employees which medical practices are morally acceptable? But there’s a simple way to avoid these problems: Single-payer health insurance. I’d love to have you join me on that one, conservatives.
Here’s another outrage catalyst: If preventing pregnancies is paying for people to have sex, as Limbaugh claims, (note: it’s not), so is paying for the consequences of unprotected sex.
Why aren’t Limbaugh and Dittoheads lobbying to end coverage for pregnancy, childbirth, and dependent children? These are the direct result of sex. By Limbaugh’s logic (and I use that term loosely), they should be lobbying to end coverage for erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra. Their silence on non-contraceptive, sex-related medical coverage reveals their gross hypocrisy.
And fiscal conservatives, remind your math-challenged social conservative buddies that contraception is vastly cheaper than prenatal, childbirth, and dependent medical care.
Need more outrage? Try Limbaugh’s idiocy about the pill. (Limbaugh: “The women in her law school program are having so much sex that they’re going broke. … Did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have?”) Limbaugh apparently doesn’t know that you take the same number of birth control pills whether you have no sex or lots of sex. Maybe he’s confusing the pill with Viagra?
Limbaugh’s advertisers were overwhelmed with requests to end their sponsorship. Predictably, Limbaugh’s defenders cried “First Amendment!” and “Free speech!” They also defended Limbaugh as a satirist highlighting absurdity.
Let’s review: The First Amendment prevents most government censorship. It does not – and should not – prevent the marketplace from influencing speech. If you spout abuse and lies, expect consequences. It’s the free market that conservatives supposedly cherish in action.
And I’ll let the late, great Molly Ivins explain satire: “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel – it’s vulgar.”
Let’s remember: Along with our justifiable outrage about Limbaugh’s vulgar treatment of Fluke, we must also expose his lies about health insurance coverage and contraception. If allowed to stand, those lies could negatively affect health care policy for years to come.

Lisa Pampuch is a technical editor. She lives in Morgan Hill with her husband and two children. Reach her at [email protected]

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