Obama declines to judge "sincerity" of Limbaugh apology

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama takes questions from reporters at the White House
Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Updated 3:23 p.m. ET

(CBS News) President Obama said Tuesday he called the Georgetown law student maligned by radio host Rush Limbaugh because he wants to make sure his two daughters live in a democracy where different views are expressed without debate becoming vile.

"I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way," Mr Obama told reporters when asked about the controversy at his first formal press conference of the year.

"I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they're being good citizens," Mr. Obama said.

The president said he did not want to judge whether Limbaugh's apology is sincere, nor did he want to say whether advertisers should continue their flight from his radio program after Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute."

"I'm not going to comment on what sponsors decide to do. I'm not going to comment on either the economics or the politics of it," he said. "I don't know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart, so I'm not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology."

"What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don't have any place in the public discourse," he said.

Last Wednesday, Limbaugh slammed Fluke after she appeared at a mock hearing on Capitol Hill to advocate for employers to pay for insurance to cover birth control.

"What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her?" Limbaugh said, "it makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute."

Obama called Fluke last week to offer he words of encouragement for standing strong as she was in Limbaugh's line of fire.

When he was first criticized for his remarks, Limbaugh doubled down on his attack on Fluke and only reversed course Saturday after advertisers began to pull their money from his show. He issued a statement on Saturday which he called an apology. Many have questioned the sincerity of that apology, which began with a history of his decades long career in radio and included the claim that he did not mean a personal attack on Fluke.

"My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices," Limbaugh said in his written statement.

After further criticism of his apology, Limbaugh on Monday sought to stem the tide of defections from his advertising base.

"The apology to her over the weekend was sincere," Limbaugh said on his radio program Monday. "It was simply for using inappropriate words in a way I never do. And in so doing, I became like the people we oppose." On Tuesday, Limbaugh declined to mention Fluke or the controversy.

Fluke, for her part, questioned the sincerity of his apology.

"I don't think that a statement like this, saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything," Fluke said on the The View television program. "And especially when that statement is issued when he's under significant pressure from his sponsors, who have begun to pull their support from the show."

Mr. Obama suggested the controversy could be used as a learning experience.

"We want to send a message to all our young people that being part of democracy involves arguments and disagreements and debate and we want you to be engaged," Mr. Obama told reporters, adding "There is a way to do it that doesn't involving you being demeaned and insulted."

More than twenty advertisers have pulled their support of Limbaugh's program in the wake of the comments.

Below, CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell discusses the key moments from Obama's press conference.


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    CBSNews.com Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.

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