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“Even If He Wins, He Loses”: For Rush Limbaugh, The Damage Is Already Done

One week after it was first reported that talk radio giant Cumulus Media might cut ties with Rush Limbaugh and pull his show from 40 of its stations nationwide, the end result of the contractual showdown remains unclear. But we do know this: The damage has been done to Limbaugh and his reputation inside the world of AM radio as an untouchable star.

By opting to publicly negotiate its contract and making it clear the broadcast company is willing to walk away from his program, Cumulus has delivered a once unthinkable blow to Limbaugh’s industry prestige. (Cumulus is also threatening to drop Sean Hannity’s syndicated radio show.)

Even if Limbaugh wins in the end, he loses. Even if Limbaugh manages to stay on Cumulus’ enviable rosters of major market talk stations, Limbaugh comes out of the tussle tarnished and somewhat diminished.

Recall that one year after Limbaugh ignited the most severe crisis of his career by insulting law student Sandra Fluke for three days on the air, attacking her as a “slut,” the talker’s team announced the host was unhappy with Cumulus. Angry that its CEO had been noting in the press how many advertisers Limbaugh had lost over the Fluke firestorm (losses that continue to accumulate), an anonymous Limbaugh source told Politico the host was so angry he might walk away from Cumulus when his contract expired at the end of the year.

Well, last week Cumulus called Limbaugh’s bluff, plain and simple. And now the talker’s side appears to be scrambling to make sure his show remains with Cumulus. But again, the damage is done. If Limbaugh really were an all-powerful source in AM radio, he would walk away from Cumulus. But he’s not, and he can’t.

Cumulus is reportedly driving a hard bargain and wants to reduce the costs associated with carrying Limbaugh’s show, especially since he’s unable to attract the same advertisers he used to. If in the end a deal is struck and Limbaugh stays with Cumulus for a reduced rate, what happens when the talker’s contract expires with another large AM station group? Of course they’re going to demand the same deal Cumulus got in exchange for keeping Limbaugh’s show, or they’ll threaten to drop the talker, too. And then on and on the process will repeat itself as broadcasters realize that maybe they can get Limbaugh on the cheap.

By the way, this is the exact opposite of how Limbaugh renewals used to be handled. Years ago, owners and general managers at Limbaugh’s host stations lived in fear of getting a phone call from Limbaugh’s syndicator, Clear Channel-owned Premier Networks, informing them the host was moving across town to a competitor when his contract was up. But today, Cumulus negotiates its Limbaugh contract via the press, apparently without the slightest concern about ending its association with him.

Of course, Limbaugh and Clear Channel could hold their ground, refuse to budge on Cumulus’ demands and walk away from the radio giant with AM stations from coast to coast. That is an option, but it’s also an unpleasant one in terms of what it would mean to Limbaugh’s once-unvarnished reputation as the AM talk gold standard.

Just look at what would likely happen to Limbaugh in New York City, the largest radio market in America. He’s currently heard on WABC-AM, which has broadcast Limbaugh for decades and has served as his unofficial flagship station in America. But Cumulus owns the station and it’s one that Limbaugh would get yanked off if the two sides can’t come to an agreement. Where would Limbaugh likely end up in New York? On WOR-AM, a talk station that Clear Channel purchased last year, many observers believed, as a way to make sure Limbaugh would have a New York home if his deal ended at WABC-AM.

So what’s wrong with Limbaugh moving to WOR-AM? Only the fact that the station is currently a ratings doormat, ranked 25th in that market with less than half the audience of WABC-AM. Yes, it’s likely Limbaugh would improve that station’s ratings if he moved over there. But at this stage in his career for Limbaugh to have to start over in the most important radio market in the country and do it on such a low-rated station? If you don’t think that kind of demotion would sting, you don’t understand the oversized egos that fuel talk radio in America.

The move to lowly WOR-AM would also call into question why debt-ridden Clear Channel opted to boost Limbaugh’s salary by an astounding 40 percent in 2009, assuring him a $400 million payday over a ten-year contract.

Then again, Limbaugh is no stranger to sagging ratings, especially in New York City. Back in his prime a decade ago, Limbaugh helped power WABC-AM to become the number five-rated station in all of New York. Today, with Limbaugh still its marquee draw, the station has fallen to number 15 in the ratings, which may explain why Cumulus is willing to negotiate his departure.

Other cities would also pose a post-Cumulus problem. In Chicago for instance, Limbaugh would get dropped from WLS (which has also seen declining ratings in recent months), and without a Clear Channel-owned talk station in the market to pick him up, Limbaugh would have to find a new AM home. But based on the current radio landscape in Chicago, there would appear to be very few logical takers. (The city’s top-rated AM information stations lean heavy on news and local talk; less on right-wing syndicated hosts like Limbaugh.)

Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, Talkers editor Michael Harrison insisted, “Rush is going to be around as long as he wants.” He added, “He’ll be 90 years old and still have a show.” Harrison may be right. But last week’s public shaming by Cumulus will likely be remembered for years as a turning point in Limbaugh’s broadcast trajectory.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, August 5, 2013

August 7, 2013 Posted by | Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hands-Off Policy”: Did Clear Channel Muzzle Mitt Romney Who Won’t Criticize Rush Limbaugh

Fourteen directors of Clear Channel, the company that hosts the Rush Limbaugh show, have contributed $726,400 to Mitt Romney since 1994, most of it in the current presidential campaign. Romney has come under attack for refusing to criticize Limbaugh’s comments about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, other than to say that calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute” was “not the language I would have used.”

Romney’s former company, Bain Capital, acquired Clear Channel in 2008 with another Boston-based investment firm, Thomas H. Lee Partners (THL), so five of the entertainment company’s directors that have given to Romney come from Bain, while three are affiliated with the Lee firm. Three other directors are members of the Mays family that founded the company and continued to run it until 2011, when CEO Mark Mays stepped down. The remaining three donor directors come from other investment firms.

The $26 billion merger, which was launched simultaneously with Romney’s first presidential candidacy in late 2006 and placed Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and much of the talk-show right under Bain/Lee control, also involved Romney’s longtime law firm, Ropes & Gray, whose managing partner is the trustee of the family’s blind trust. David C. Chapin, a lead Ropes lawyer on the merger, has also given $12,700 to Romney, and five other partners who worked on it added another $10,400.

While Bain partners, employees and family members, including the Clear Channel directors, have given a combined $4.7 million to Romney’s two presidential campaigns, THL also has a long history of Romney support, with some donations dating back to Romney’s first, unsuccessful run against Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994. THL tallies $180,300 including its Putnam affiliate and led by its co-chairs, Scott Schoen, Anthony Dinovi, and Scott Sperling. With Sperling’s wife and son contributing as well, Sperling has donated $25,100 to Romney, starting in 1994. In The Real Romney, the recent biography written by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, Sperling is credited with spearheading “the biggest investment of Romney’s career,” the highly lucrative purchase and quick sale of a credit company named Experian. Sperling is a Clear Channel director, and THL and Bain are deeply invested in the company, one of the largest deals ever done by either equity firm.

Clear Channel director Steven D. Barnes and his wife, Deborah, have given $346,200 to Romney, also starting in 1994. John Connaughton, also a Bain partner on the Clear Channel board, and wife Stephanie have contributed $296,300 since 2002, when Romney was elected governor in Massachusetts. Other directors with Bain ties who donated to Romney include Ian Loring (with Isabelle, $10,600), Edward Han ($4,800), and Blair Hendrix ($4,800). In addition to Sperling, THL partners on the Clear Channel board include Charles Brizius (with Kathleen, $8,200) and Kent Weldon ($2,600).

The three Mays directors and their families that gave were Lester Lowry Mays, the founder, and Mark and Randall, all of whom combined for $18,800. The other directors that gave were David Abrams of Abrams Capital ($4,500), Jonathan Jacobson of Highfields Capital ($2,500), and Thomas Shepherd of T.S.G. Equity Partners, who is only a director of Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, the advertising affiliate of the company. Like so many others on the Clear Channel board, Abrams and Shepherd began giving to Romney in the 1990s.

The timing and size of these donations demonstrate Romney’s continuing close ties to those at the helm of this media giant, which has so far taken a hands-off policy about Limbaugh. “We respect the rights of Mr. Limbaugh, as we respect the rights of those who disagree with him,” Clear Channel’s Premiere Networks said in a statement. While media companies, including Clear Channel, have terminated or suspended hosts for over-the-top comments, the company appears as unwilling to take on Limbaugh as Romney has. Clear Channel awarded Limbaugh an eight-year, $400 million contract when the Bain/Lee acquisition closed.

 

By: Wayne Barrett, The Daily Beast, March 3, 2012

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Campaign Financing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Price Of A Woman’s Reputation”: Why Hasn’t Clear Channel Punished Rush Limbaugh?

Rush Limbaugh’s been facing a wave of protest since his ugly attacks on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke: he called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she testified before Congress about the importance of employer coverage of contraception. In response, advertisers have begun to pull out of the show. And in a near-unprecedented move, Limbaugh issued an apologyfor his choice of words, though not for the sentiments behind them. But Limbaugh’s efforts to save his show seem unlikely to stop advertisers from fleeing the show or to stem the tide of criticism from figures ranging from Sen. John McCain, to New York’s Cardinal Dolan—to one of Limbaugh’s colleagues in the shock jock game, former CBS radio host Don Imus.

“So were it me, and I ran a radio station or whatever, I would make him go down there and apologize to her face-to-face. He owns a Gulfstream 4, get on it, go to Washington, take her lunch, tell her, ‘look, I’m sorry I said this stuff and I’ll never do it again,” Imus said. He recalled that when he made offensive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, referring to them as “nappy headed hoes,” “Look at what I did. It was a lame attempt to be funny, and it was three words. And I went and met with these people after I’d been fired…If he was on my radio station, he wouldn’t be on it.”

Imus’s criticism also illustrates that Limbaugh is held to different standards than his fellow commentators on radio and television. Here are some of the punishments Limbaugh’s counterparts have faced for ugly sexual remarks about women:

-In 2009, after Imus made his remarks about the Rutgers basketball team, CBS Radio suspended him for two weeks without pay, MSNBC stopped simulcasting the program on television, and CBS eventually fired him even though his program netted $15 million in annual revenue. Imus apologized at the time and publicly acknowledged his comments were “really stupid.”

-Last May, MSNBC suspended host Ed Schultz for a week after he used language similar to Limbaugh’s during his radio show. Talking about Laura Ingrahm, a staple of right-wing radio, he described her as “this right-wing slut, what’s her name? Laura Ingraham? Yeah, she’s a talk slut.” He apologized to Ingraham on television, calling his language “vile and inappropriate,” and saying “It was wrong, uncalled for, and I recognize the severity of what I said. I apologize to you, Laura, and ask for your forgiveness.”

-In February, Clear Channel suspended California radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou for two days after a segment about Whitney Houston’s death in which Kobylt imagined what it must have been like to be Houston’s friends, saying: “It’s like, ‘ah Jesus, here comes the crack ho again. What’s she gonna do? Oh, look at that, she’s doing handstands next to the pool. Very good, crack ho. nice.’ After a while, everybody’s exhausted. And then you find out she’s dead.” The hosts agreed to attend sensitivity training and bring on guests to discuss why their remarks were so ugly.

Fluke was asked today whether she thought Limbaugh should be fired. She said that was a choice for Clear Channel and Limbaugh’s advertisers. But we’ll ask for her: what makes Limbaugh immune—thus far—from punishment by his employer for an ugly, extended personal attack on a woman performing her civic responsibilities? Maybe it’s that, given the profits Limbaugh rakes in, Clear Channel’s established the price of a woman’s reputation.

 

By: Alyssa Rosenberg, Think Progress, March 5, 2012

March 6, 2012 Posted by | Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Non-Apology” Apology: Limbaugh Sorry For Attack On Student In Birth Control Furor

In an about-face, the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said Saturday that he was sorry for denouncing as a “prostitute” a Georgetown University law student who had spoken publicly in favor of the Obama administration’s birth control policy.

On Saturday, a day after President Obama telephoned the student, Sandra Fluke, to say he stood by her in the face of personal attacks on right-wing radio, Mr. Limbaugh published the apology on his Web site.

“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” Mr. Limbaugh wrote. He then reiterated his opposition to the Obama administration policy, which requires health insurance plans to cover contraceptives for women.

On the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday editions of his talk show, Mr. Limbaugh attacked Ms. Fluke as sexually promiscuous and politically motivated — “an anti-Catholic plant,” he said at one point.

On Wednesday, he called her a “slut” who “wants to be paid to have sex”; on Thursday, he said she was “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk”; and on Friday, after Senate Democrats beat back a Republican challenge to the new policy, he said Ms. Fluke had testified that she was “having sex so frequently that she can’t afford all the birth-control pills that she needs.”

In television interviews, Ms. Fluke said she was stunned and outraged by Mr. Limbaugh’s comments.

In his call on Friday, Mr. Obama thanked Ms. Fluke for publicly backing his regulations mandating contraception coverage.

Mr. Limbaugh’s comments added fuel to a rancorous dispute on Capitol Hill over whether employers should have to provide insurance coverage for contraception. Democrats have said Republican opposition to such coverage amounts to a “war on women.”

Some Republicans also criticized Mr. Limbaugh, including the House speaker, John A. Boehner, who called his comments “inappropriate.”

As the issue gained national attention, liberal activists and other longtime critics of Mr. Limbaugh started to contact his advertisers and ask them to withdraw their ads from his show. By Saturday, six advertisers, including Quicken Loans, said they had done so.

Mr. Limbaugh did not directly address the advertiser pressure in his statement Saturday, but he said, “My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

After the statement was published online on Saturday, the company that distributes “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” Premiere Radio Networks, also sent it to reporters in an e-mail. Premiere, a unit of Clear Channel, declined to comment.

It was immediately dismissed as a nonapology by some of the groups that have mobilized against Mr. Limbaugh. “I think this attempt at damage control labeled as an apology actually makes things worse,” stated a Twitter account called “Stop Rush,” which wants people to pressure to companies to stop advertising on “The Rush Limbaugh Show.”

The account then added, “You know what Rush’s so-called apology means? Your efforts at delivering real accountability are working! Keep at it! Onward!”

Think Progress, a blog run by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, noted in a post that “Limbaugh often sparks controversy, but it is exceedingly rare for him to apologize.” Lawrence O’Donnell, the MSNBC anchor, was blunt in his interpretation: “Lawyers wrote that apology,” he stated on Twitter.

Reached by telephone, Kit Carson, the chief of staff for Mr. Limbaugh, declined to comment on why the statement was issued. Mr. Carson added, if Mr. Limbaugh has more to say, he would likely do so on his radio show on Monday.

At least one conservative commentator, Dana Loesch, appeared to back Mr. Limbaugh’s original sentiments, writing on Twitter on Saturday, “If you expect me to pay higher insurance premiums to cover your ‘free’ birth control, I can call you whatever I want.”

Despite Mr. Limbaugh’s statement, one company that was planning to pull its ads, Carbonite, said it would still do so. On Facebook on Saturday evening, the company’s chief executive, David Friend, wrote, “We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”

By: Brian Stelter, The New York Times,The Caucus, March 3, 2012

March 4, 2012 Posted by | Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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