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Politico Magazine reports that due to an ongoing advertiser boycott organized in part by Media Matters, the business side of Rush Limbaugh’s long-running radio program “is on shaky ground,” crediting the efforts of “Flush Rush” as “the rare boycott that actually worked."
In a piece for Politico Magazine, Ethan Epstein highlights how in the wake of ongoing fallout over his tirade attacking then-Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut,” Limbaugh has been dumped by “some very powerful” affiliates in major markets like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Epstein explains that even though it’s been four years since Limbaugh’s infamous Fluke comments, “reams of advertisers still won’t touch him” thanks to a successful boycott campaign that Media Matters and independent organizers helped spearhead.
Limbaugh’s broadcast woes follow a 2015 Wall Street Journal report that cited Limbaugh's Fluke comments to explain increasing reluctance from national advertisers to place ads on talk radio programming, causing the rates for these ads to precipitously drop in recent years while damaging stations’ ad revenues.
Epstein quotes a talk radio consultant noting that Limbaugh, whose massive $400 million contract expires this summer, now suffers from a “scarlet letter among national brand advertisers.”
From Politico Magazine:
And yet, there are signs that all is not well in the Limbaugh radio empire. Because even as his influence is sky high and his dominance at the top of talk radio remains unchallenged, as a business proposition, Limbaugh’s show is on shaky ground. In recent years, Limbaugh has been dropped by several of his long-time affiliates, including some very powerful ones: He’s gone from WABC in New York, WRKO in Boston and KFI in Los Angeles, for example, and has in many cases been moved onto smaller stations with much weaker signals that cover smaller areas.
Why? Because four years after Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” on air, spurring a major boycott movement, reams of advertisers still won’t touch him. He suffers from what talk radio consultant Holland Cooke calls a “scarlet letter among national brand advertisers.” And for someone who has said that “confiscatory ad rates” are a key pillar of his business, that spells trouble. (Limbaugh ignored multiple interview requests.)
And most consequentially, David Brock’s liberal watchdog Media Matters for America launched a $100,000 (at least) campaign calling for advertisers to refuse to buy time on Limbaugh’s show and for local affiliates to jettison it. The anti-Limbaugh faction came up with the social media-friendly slogan “Flush Rush.” The group’s efforts met considerable success in the months that followed. Dozens of companies, including Netflix, JCPenney and Sears, announced they would boycott Limbaugh’s show. Most have yet to return. And the increasing popularity of platforms like Twitter, which can be used to stoke outrage and promote boycotts, makes it highly unlikely they ever will.
The Sandra Fluke incident “did a lot of harm to talk radio,” Darryl Parks says. “Thirty-eight percent of revenue disappeared overnight.” And the damage was not limited to Limbaugh; he hurt all of talk radio, including even some liberal hosts. Certain programs—Michael Savage, for example, and in an earlier era, Bob Grant—had always been considered “toxic” by some advertisers, but after the Fluke incident, entire stations—or indeed, the entire format of talk radio—were deemed no-go zones by blue chip brands.
Advertisers continue to leave and stay away thanks to a dedicated group of independent organizers in the Flush Rush and #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a big effect.