All the current hubbub over conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh and his inflammatory words concerns me, not so much over what he said about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke– which was indeed a stretch– but more so for the resulting behavior of his critics, the media and even the public at large.
Granted, Rush was out there on one of his typical audience-feeding rants, being his usual shocking, outlandish, offensive self, while perhaps using a less-than-accurate choice of words to describe Fluke. After all, maybe her sex life is monogamous, and who’s to know if she charges? Rush knew not what he was saying, as if this particular instance were unusual.
But guess what: That’s Rush. He’s a “media entertainer” of his own brand, catering to his distinct and loyal audience, shocking, outlandish, offensive– and in this case inappropriate– as he may be. None of these traits is illegal. I’ve listened to his program on occasion, and while a time or two I’ve grabbed onto a thread of his logic with which to agree, more often than not I’ve found him to be, for lack of a better term, crazy, his train heading straight for derailment. Not once, however, have I wished to see him stricken from the airwaves, nor in any way edited or silenced. If I tire of him, or find his topic du jour too unpalatable, I’ll change the station. Rush is who he is, and he has every right to be so, apology or not. What concerns me is how so many people believe otherwise. Why is this?
While all this is going on, I learned while in Los Angeles last week that the often-insensitive though widely popular “John & Ken” had been suspended from the air for speaking callously— if not accurately God forbid– of the late Whitney Houston. A situation unrelated to that of Rush, it stands in the same camp, that of punishing often-intentionally offensive media personalities for speaking their unedited minds. John & Ken, like Rush, enjoy a dedicated following of fans unlikely to be offended by anything they have to say. The irony here– and with Rush– is that all the uproar, protest, boycotts and calls for their heads come from those who wouldn’t want to listen to them anyway! Still, Rush pays the price, just as John & Ken do.
My concern remains. Silencing voices deemed too inappropriate, while calling for the type of “civil discourse” that some might say turns us into milquetoasts, not only undercuts media diversity, broadcast entertainment, range of thought and free speech, but more than all this furthers that slippery slope of punishing anything “offensive” or outside of the so-called mainstream. Insensitive speech, in whatever crude though legal form it might present itself, should not be shunned, but rather welcomed and used to further that much-desired discourse. If not this, then perhaps it can just be laughed at, shrugged off, and not taken so damn seriously!
Isn’t freedom of expression, offensive or not, what this country is all about?