Will Limbaugh's show outlast firestorm?

Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh show

It's been a week since Rush Limbaugh first called a Georgetown University law student a "slut" and "prostitute" on his popular talk show.

Now, advertisers continue to drop out, President Obama has weighed in, and the uproar over Limbaugh's remarks may be threatening the future of the radio giant's show.

Limbaugh has apologized, but he's not backing down -- not when criticism comes from his favorite target, Mr. Obama, who said, "The remarks that were made don't have any place in the public discourse."

The radio talk show kingpin made his remarks last week about Sandra Fluke, who advocated before a congressional panel for insurance coverage for contraceptives for college students.

"It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute -- she wants to be paid to have sex," Limbaugh said.

The president condemned Limbaugh's language, as the father of two young girls. "I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way," Mr. Obama said, "and I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they're being good citizens."

Limbaugh reacted angrily, saying, "All of this is trumped up for political purposes, pure and simple. ... Everybody knows what I do here. Everybody knows how I do it."

Both Limbaugh's comments and apology are the subject of public debate.

Some politicians have been sympathetic - politicians such as Sarah Palin, who said on CNN, "I think the definition of hypocrisy is for Rush Limbaugh to have been called out, forced to apologize and to retract what it is that he said in exercising his First Amendment rights."

Some late-night comics have been unforgiving. On "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central, Jon Stewart cracked, "It's Rush Limbaugh. Is it particularly vile Rush Limbaugh? Of course. That's like saying, 'Ehh, this is a particularly pungent bucket of raw sewage mixed with rotting cow guts."

Twice since Saturday, Limbaugh has apologized to Fluke.

But the backlash now buffets the bottom line of his talk radio empire, which envelops more than 15 million weekly listeners on nearly 600 stations.

Nearly 30 corporate sponsors have now pulled advertising from Limbaugh's show. At least two radio stations have dropped his program altogether.

On Monday, Limbaugh remarked to his audience, "They've decided they don't want you or your business anymore. So be it."

The backlash has been driven by social media, such as a Facebook campaign urging a boycott of Limbaugh's sponsors.

Limbaugh has faced backlashes and boycotts before. But not like this.

The question is whether his show can survive the firestorm.

"By using this kind of insulting language against a young woman who no one had heard of," observes Howard Kurtz of Newsweek and CNN, "in a lot of people's eyes, he crossed the line, and that's why you see this huge backlash, including the advertisers who are now deserting his program."

Last year, liberal commentator Ed Schultz used language identical to Limbaugh's referring to a conservative female commentator when he said, "Like this rightwing slut, what's her name - Laura Ingraham. She's a talk-slut." Schultz apologized the next night on his show on MSNBC, saying, "On my radio show yesterday, I used vile and inappropriate language."

But no other pundit has the audience -- or the power -- of Limbaugh.

"Limbaugh is such a big moneymaker for so many radio stations," Kurtz points out, "that I don't think he's gonna be brought down by this, by any means."

And if his audience of self-described "ditto-heads" continues tuning in, Limbaugh should survive this latest controversy.

To see Mark Strassmann's full report, click on the video in the player above. Also, "CBS This Morning" business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis told co-hosts Charlie Rose and Erica Hill the impact of Limbaugh's advertisers jumping ship will ultimately be determined by whether they stay away and whether they simply switch their ads to other shows on the network that carries Limbaugh's program. To see that discussion, click on the video below:

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.