March 6, 2012

Picture this: a female student at Georgetown Law School, already highly a highly accomplished advocate for women’s rights, speaks out in favor of mandated private insurance coverage for birth control, even by religious institutions. Sandra Fluke was testifying before congressional Democrats – not waving protest signs, not making a spectacle of herself, just speaking her mind, as our First Amendment allows her to do.

Enter one ultra conservative, controversial, and thin-line-walking  radio talk show host. Ignoring the basic facts, Rush Limbaugh proceeds with an angry, highly charged, personal attack on Fluke – calling her “slut” and “prostitute” among other names. All because she spoke out in favor of a particular policy supporting a woman’s reproductive choices.

Within minutes, news of Limbuaugh’s rant was all over Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. As they had in the in other recent situations where women’s rights were under attack, feminists, activists, and others of both genders who felt compelled to get involved, blasted Limbaugh for his offensive and highly inappropriate comments. Protesters not only targeted him and urged that his show be shut down , but also targeted the advertisers – big names like AOL, ProFlowers, and Quicken Loans, among others.

fb-landing-pageIt worked. As of Monday, 12 advertisers had pulled their spots and two radio stations had dumped the show.  Several more said they planned to do the same.

This almost instant response via social media to real or perceived threats to women’s rights should not be a surprise – not after the swift action taken against the Susan G. Koman Foundation when they pulled funding from Planned Parenthood  just a couple of months ago. Did Rush or his producers miss this story? Although Limbaugh did eventually apologize for his remarks, the damage has been done.. Maybe this controversial figure will pause before he spouts such distasteful comments and or puts his foot in it again. One can only hope it’s a lesson learned.

Love him or hate him, Rush Limbaugh has the same First Amendment right to speak his mind as Sandra Fluke, or you, or I do. However, there is a very clear line between expressing an opposing point of view, especially as a public figure, and calling a 30 year-old woman vile names for respectfully stating her opinion.

The world now moves in nanoseconds. No sooner had the comment been made then hashtags started appearing on the Twitter timeline, and petitions started making the rounds on Facebook. There are those out there that may still think social media is a passing phase. They underestimate its power at their own risk.