Conservative radio titan Rush Limbaugh was so incensed by a Democratic group’s fundraising appeals that quoted some of his on-air comments that he took an unusual step: He threatened to sue the group for defamation.
With a high-powered lawyer in his corner, Limbaugh demanded that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington apologize and retract its characterization of his comments — or else.
“Mr. Limbaugh has authorized this firm to promptly commence litigation against the DCCC if it refuses to retract its defamatory statements,” wrote Limbaugh’s attorney, Patricia L. Glaser , in a Nov. 6 letter to the organization .
But exactly two months later, there has been no apology and no retraction. And no lawsuit. Limbaugh and his attorney have said nothing more about the matter, suggesting that their legal threats may have been more talk than action.
Limbaugh’s camp claims the DCCC’s fundraising e-mails took comments he made on his nationally syndicated program on Sept. 15 out of context, twisting them to make them sound as if Limbaugh was advocating for tolerance of rape.
During the broadcast, Limbaugh criticized a new student sexual-consent policy implemented by Ohio State, suggesting it micromanaged relationships between consenting adults. Quoting the new policy, he said, “‘Consent must be freely given, and can be withdrawn anytime, and the absence of ‘no’ does not mean ‘yes.’ ”
He then commented, “How many of you guys, in your own experience with women, have learned that ‘no’ means ‘yes’ if you know how to spot it? . . . Let me tell you something, in this modern [world], that is simply, that’s not tolerated. People aren’t even going to try to understand that one. It used to be said as a cliche, it used to be part of the advice young boys were given.”
The DCCC highlighted one sentence in a series of blast e-mails — “How many of you guys . . . have learned that ‘no’ means ‘yes’ if you know how to spot it?” It claimed that Limbaugh was endorsing sexual violence against women.
“We knew we had to take action after Limbaugh’s reprehensible rant excusing rape on college campuses,” one e-mail said. “In case you missed it, Limbaugh actually said, ‘no’ means ‘yes’ if you know how to spot it.”
Glaser — who represented Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in his unsuccessful defamation suit against the Washington City Paper in 2011 — contended that the DCCC “knowingly and intentionally” mischaracterized Limbaugh’s statements. She said Limbaugh was speaking “facetiously” and that he explicitly said during the broadcast that “no-means-yes” is “not tolerated.”
In addition to an apology, she demanded that the DCCC “immediately, unconditionally, absolutely and publicly” retract its statements.
And that appears to have been the end of that from Limbaugh.
DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said Monday his organization has not heard from Limbaugh in weeks. “We have not been notified that he sued,” he said. “We haven’t retracted [or] apologized. You’d need to ask [Limbaugh] what to make of” his inaction.
Limbaugh’s spokesman, Brian Glicklich, said the Democratic organization still had not accounted for its actions. “The DCCC’s deliberate lies for fundraising purposes have been unanswered by them, and our future communications will be through counsel rather than in public.”
Glicklich offered no timetable for any action on Limbaugh’s behalf. He added, “It would be a mistake” to assume that Limbaugh wasn’t serious about filing a lawsuit.
Limbaugh’s threat to sue the DCCC briefly generated widespread media attention to an issue that few had been aware of before. Limbaugh has generated many controversies during his long career and has been widely criticized for them, but he is not known for using legal threats to force an opponent to withdraw a comment.
In a written response to Glaser on Nov. 19, the DCCC’s attorney, Marc Erik Elias, said Glaser’s assertion that Limbaugh was speaking facetiously during his Sept. 15 broadcast was “absurd.” He wrote, “There is no merit whatsoever [in] your claim that the DCCC defamed Limbaugh, and the DCCC is prepared to defend itself in court.”
Glaser and Elias did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
Legal experts have said Limbaugh would face a high bar to win a defamation lawsuit. As a public figure, he would be required to show that DCCC officials acted with reckless disregard for the truth and that they knew the fundraising appeals were false. Limbaugh would also have to prove that he lost sponsors or listeners as a result of the group’s e-mails.