The Washington Post

Sleep Train ‘currently’ bags Limbaugh after long run

Rush Limbaugh, governed by “advertising and audience.” (AP Photo/Las Vegas News Bureau, Brian Jones) (Brian Jones/AP)

“As a diverse company, Sleep Train does not condone such negative comments directed toward any person. We have currently pulled our ads with Rush Limbaugh.”

Not so sure you need to be a diverse company to scorn Limbaugh’s comments, but the move appears to mark a significant departure from the company’s business practices.

This afternoon I posed the following question to Jennifer K. Ritchie, a spokesperson for Sleep Train: How long has Sleep Train been an advertiser on the Limbaugh program? Her answer: “More than 25 years.”

Which is to say that the Limbaugh show could be termed a founding advertiser of Sleep Train. From the company’s website: “Founded in 1985 by Dale Carlsen, Sleep Train is an employee owned company and is ranked the #1 mattress retailer on the West Coast, with more than 90 California locations that span from Northern California to San Diego.”

A 2006 story in the Sacramento Bee tells how Sleep Train and Limbaugh linked up:

Not long after opening his store, a radio ad salesman with a Sacramento station convinced [Dale Carlsen] to let a local talk show host be Sleep Train’s spokesman.

“The ad guy said, ‘Now he’s a little bit controversial, but he needs a bed, would you take care of him?’” Carlsen said in a 2005 interview. “I needed every sale that I could get at that time, so I said, ‘Yeah, bring him in and I’ll take care of him.’ “

Now, 20 years later, Rush Limbaugh still does Sleep Train spots, as do a host of other radio personalities up and down the dial.

Another story in the Bee noted that when Limbaugh moved to New York, he reserved a spot for Sleep Train on his priority list. “When he left town he said, ‘The people you meet on the way up are the people you meet on the way down. I’ll always take care of you,’“ Carlsen told the Bee.

That history may explain the fine print in Sleep Train’s statement. Take a good look — the company doesn’t say it’s done for good with Limbaugh; it says only that it has “currently” suspended its advertising.

As a veteran supporter of the Limbaugh product, Sleep Train may have developed an understanding of how these Limbaugh outrage plumes have a way of collapsing after a news cycle or two. The Limbaugh brand, after all, has marched onward despite and/or because of his ability to offend again and again. Last year, according to the Associated Press, a California lawmaker “rallied civil rights groups in a boycott of companies like Pro Flowers, Sleep Train and Domino’s Pizza” after Limbaugh went on an offensive rant mimicking Chinese President Hu Jintao, who Limbaugh said “was just going ching chong, ching chong cha.”

I asked Sleep Train for more information on how it has reacted to other Limbaugh indiscretions and haven’t heard back just yet.

It’s tempting to lash out at a company that has come this far with Limbaugh. To still be doing business with a guy who mocked Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s disease and smeared the spectrum of minority groups and honorable individuals (think Donovan McNabb) speaks to a certain tolerance for envelope pushing.

Yet doing the right thing, even belatedly, is an act worth crediting. Well-crafted expressions of outrage from the usual organs, after all, won’t stop Rush Limbaugh. But Sleep Train, in its own way, has more power. As the radio host told Marc Fisher for his 2007 book, “Something in the Air“: “I am governed by advertising and audience.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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