In March 2012, Rush Limbaugh issued a circumscribed apology for having called then-Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Here’s the key line from his statement: “I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”
Despite the mea halfa culpa, Limbaugh critics roared. They pressured advertisers on Limbaugh’s show in an effort to get him off the airwaves.
With more than a year-and-a-half of hindsight, Limbaugh now has a new perspective on his Fluke trauma. That perspective came to light yesterday on Limbaugh’s show, when he addressed a chorus of complaints over his critical treatment of Pope Francis, whom the radio host on Nov. 27 accused of spewing “pure Marxism” in his misgivings about capitalism. The allegation has prompted a backlash from Catholic groups, and Limbaugh used his mic to fight back. Here’s what he said:
This is another manufactured controversy. I happen to be a villain in this massive soap opera script. I’ll give you an illustration. Remember there was a woman once who testified before a fake congressional committee who demanded $3,000 worth of birth control pills, paid for by everybody else, and we calculated that you’d have to be having sex, I mean, 25 times a day to run through that much birth control pills? So I used a word to describe it and I actually did not use the word I meant to use but I used the word, and you remember for two weeks that is all anybody was talking about.
Clever revisionism right there. Perhaps hoping that his listeners don’t remember what he said more than a year ago, Limbaugh paints his attack on Fluke as something of a fluke — that he slipped momentarily on word usage. In fact, as the Erik Wemple Blog long ago pointed out, Limbaugh attacked Fluke over and over and over, sometimes using “slut” and “prostitute,” other times using respectful words to mount the same smear. We counted at least 20 different iterations over a few days.
But Limbaugh looks back on things from a different perspective. He said yesterday, “The point is, the writers of the soap opera then hopped on that for as long as they could. I mean, they didn’t let it go, and I was the scum of the earth, and anybody associated with scum was in trouble.”
Limbaugh’s concerted effort notwithstanding, a line between these two incidents is a tough thing to draw. In the Fluke episode, Limbaugh repeatedly called a young woman unspeakable names; in the pope episode, Limbaugh controversially characterized statements by one of the world’s most public figures. We’ll leave the last word to Limbaugh’s strained comparison:
I just don’t like immersing myself in these contrived, phony things with these people acting like they’re so outraged by this. They’re not outraged by it. They’re energized by what they think is another opportunity to take me out. They don’t care what I really said about the pope. That’s not the point of it. The point is, “Oh, wow!” I mean, every day they’re hoping I step in it, as they define stepping in it. So to heck with it.