Joe Gandelman: Limbaugh, Kurtz and the bum’s rush
Big news for those who think there aren’t consequences in our media when professional talkers cross the line, or when famous reporters mess up and don’t fix their mistakes without qualification, or do so begrudgingly. We now see proof of the law of consequences.
Conservative talk show titan and de facto Republican Party strategist Rush Limbaugh is considering leaving his show syndicator Cumulus Media. The Politico reports he’s irked by corporation CEO Lew Dickey’s blaming Limbaugh’s comments last year calling law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" for a sharp drop in company revenues as national advertisers flee Limbaugh like Dracula fleeing a cross. The website Mediaite says it confirmed that a "majority" of national advertisers won’t let their ads run on Limbaugh show.
Meanwhile, the up-and-coming The Daily Beast (which owns Newsweek) has "parted" ways with (i.e. dumped) former Washington Post media critic and Beast Washington Bureau chief Howard Kurtz due to his erroneous report on NBA star Jason Collins’ announcement that he was gay. Kurtz had wrongly said that Collins’ hid a previous engagement to a woman — an error compounded by an initial qualified retraction. Plus, reports say, it didn’t help that Kurtz was pouring energy into helping another site’s content. The consensus is that the highly respected Kurtz, who hosts CNN’s "Reliable Sources," got sloppy due to being overextended.
How Limbaugh and Kurtz responded is instructive, indeed.
The New York Daily News quoted a "source close to Limbaugh" (which could mean a source or Limbaugh himself) as blasting Dickey: "Lew needs someone to blame, (so) he’s pointing fingers instead of fixing his own sales problem." Some believe this could be a Limbaugh contract negotiation ploy, but the intent seems to be part of a pattern where Limbaugh critics get blasted and are forced to apologize and renounce their heresy. Will Dickey’s name be added to the list?
Why is this worth watching? Because Limbaugh’s show is the Mount Sinai of the 21st century GOP far right, and his listeners echo his arguments. If he leaves Cumulus and its stations, it’ll be a major shakeup in talk radio even if other stations use him. Limbaugh’s verbal bombs also attract mainstream media attention, and people who don’t agree with him are driven to distraction — and their coverage helps promote his hyper-partisan, hyper-ideologist message.
How did Kurtz respond? He issued a detailed, unqualified apology on CNN using words such as "I was in fact the one who was wrong... I didn’t give him [Collins] a chance to respond to my account... my first correction was not as complete and as full as it should have been..." and ended with: "I apologize to readers and viewers and most importantly to Jason Collins and to his ex-fiance. I hope this very candid response will earn your trust back over time. It is something that I am committed to doing."
It was a serious, gracious mea culpa, a statement of fact — in contrast to Limbaugh trying to squelch the reality that his show is bleeding national advertisers.
Writes blogger John Aravosis, who backed a boycott of Limbaugh: "It’s interesting to note that Glenn Beck reportedly left Fox for the same reasons, because his ad revenue was faltering (though he denies it). I’d be curious whether we’ve gotten better at going after these guys, or whether America is finally truly getting fed up with the shock jocks of the right."
Audiences and advertisers may indeed be tiring of Baby Boomer talk show hosts peddling 1960s-rooted polarization hubris, but Limbaugh is likely to thrive in somewhat diminished form. And audiences and readers are likely to give Kurtz another chance, even though on the Collins story he was not the most reliable of sources. The reality: both must make course adjustments.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.