Thursday, January 30, 2003

Well Well Well. It would appear that one of the keys on the wurlitzer is coming loose.

Though still in its infancy, a letter-writing campaign aimed at advertisers on "The Rush Limbaugh Show," has already claimed a few choice scalps -- and hopes to soon have other marketers saying "ditto."

Kicked off last week on the website of a group called Take Back The Media, the effort is generating a growing buzz among online progressives (or, if you prefer, "liberals") -- along with hundreds of angry e-mails to companies that sponsor what it calls Limbaugh's "hateful chortling and guffawing."

Micheal Stinson, a Vietnam-era veteran, is co-founder of Take Back The Media. Obviously never a Rush fan, Stinson and his cohorts were content to largely ignore the king of reactionary talk radio -- until he weighed in on the recent anti-war protests, calling participants "anti-American," "anti-capitalist" and "communists," among other terms.

"He just went too far," said Stinson. "Don't call me anti-American. I served this country."

When he decided to go after Limbaugh, Stinson said "we were told we would have to nip at his heels, to start by contacting local advertisers." He ignored that advice, however, and posted a list, complete with contact information, of top sponsors.

"Within 18 hours, RadioShack (RSH: news, chart, profile) had folded. Within 36 hours, Amtrak was gone and Bose told us they were no longer advertising on the show," Stinson said.
To be fair, at least one of these sponsors didn't actually know that they were backing Limbaugh, and pulled out because they (in the case of Amtrak) "do not sponsor political shows and ''in the future...will communicate [that] practice to' other partners.". On the other hand, Radio Shack was more explicit, saying that RS "strictly adheres to a policy of not intentionally buying advertising space on programs that might be political or socially controversial or that promote any one individual's agenda or point of view." Fits Limbaugh to a tee.

The article points out that this doesn't remove the vast listenership that said demagogue enjoys, but it may not matter:

So, can a few scrappy liberals really hurt him?

Depends. A lot of radio time is bought pretty much on a commodity basis, with advertisers looking for dayparts and regions rather than specific programming. Many may not even know where their ads appeared until after the fact. And, unless they have given their buyers up-front marching orders to avoid him (already not uncommon), Limbaugh's powerful ratings guarantee a piece of that action. Of course, there are plenty of other options that can deliver similar numbers.

Whether or not the boycott works to any meaningful degree is going to depend on how many more advertisers decide it is easier to switch than fight. According to radio buyers, some companies cave almost instantly in the face of even a little negative feedback while others need to experience a truly sustained and widespread level of complaints before they listen.

Still, they don't have to get them all to make a difference: If enough advertisers put out the word that the show is a forbidden zone -- and they are not rapidly replaced -- the program will lose much of its economic value to local stations and station groups regardless of how well its audience numbers are doing. Of course, the already-loaded Limbaugh is never going to have trouble putting food on the table, but he and his fans could end up in less desirable timeslots or on fewer outlets.
To be honest, I wouldn't want this to evolve into a situation where all political material is considered taboo and therefore ends up even more marginalized than it already is. I'd prefer balance to absense. Still, in an environment where the "agendas or points of view" (as RS put it) are all of the wingnut variety, anything that gives them pause is good, and framing these boycotts with the language of fairness as opposed to censorship would go a long way. Might even help Clear Channel see fit to actually syndicate a non-winger, which would be a nice change.

(Thankee to Atrios for the link.)

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