Typical of our current decrepit state of media that pundits would resort to the “But, he was doing it, too!” defense of Rush Limbaugh’s vile, misogynistic rant against Sarah Fluke. If it was wrong for someone else in the past but they were never called on it, then it’s still wrong for Rush now. I thought we learned that early on in elementary school.
Besides, there’s a big difference between Louis C.K. cracking wise on Twitter and Rush Limbaugh pontificating for hours a day on the radio. Because one is a comedian who spares no one from his raw style of humor (love it or hate it), and the other is the voice of a political party.
The reality is that people are going to say a bunch of shit that could offend us. Fine. Good. Free speech. So, if you’re going to defend Limbaugh, you shouldn’t be blasting others for having made the same infraction as justification for Limbaugh. That makes no sense. If anything, Van Susteren should be praising C.K. for being free to say what he wants and demanding the same respect of the first amendment from people who are angry at Limbaugh.
But, the real issue is that Limbaugh isn’t seen as the shock jock radio personality just-out-to-say-whatever-to-get-ratings that he is. He’s seen as a conservative prophet who, until this recent episode, was untouchable by Republican politicians, even when he said extremely inflammatory, racially-charged or misogynistic statements in the past (of which there are plenty).
The less influence Rush Limbaugh has on the political establishment, the more the defense that he’s just an entertainer can be realized. Until then, it’s different when Rush calls someone a “slut” (and he went far beyond just that) than when any number of comedians do so. Context matters. Of course, he’s still free to say whatever he wants but the reason that C.K. didn’t catch as much flak is because he’s understood to be an entertainer, not someone with massive political influence. No one thinks that C.K. speaks for an entire political party when he spouts off his crass humor. The same can’t be said for Limbaugh.
At first I was on the side of the people who were calling for boycotts of Limbaugh’s advertisers in order to put pressure on him to apologize, or just to punish him for being a flat out dick. I can’t say I blame people. But I end up on the same side as Andrew Sullivan and Bill Maher with saying that it’s never good to suppress free speech, even when we vehemently disagree with it.
The better course of action is to call out the reason why Limbaugh’s statements were considered to be so inflammatory, to question the relationship between Rush Limbaugh and the Republican Party establishment, and to continue to raise our own voices, to use our own free speech to bring attention to this and encourage a positive change. All of that will be better than simply attempting to quiet someone’s voice. I wouldn’t want that to happen to me. Surely I shouldn’t then ask that for someone else, especially when I completely disagree. What better defense you can give to someone if instead of arguing back you simply do everything you can to stop them from speaking?
Even if it means more voices that disgust us, it’s better in the long run to win the battle of ideas. Because when the cacophony is against you, you become the dissenter. Would you want to be argued against or simply silenced?
Photo courtesy of Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office via Wikimedia Commons