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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Deflating a Gasbag
by Michelangelo Signorile

This article shared 3812 times since Wed Feb 5, 2003
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Is it possible to take some of the gas out of right-wing gasbag Rush Limbaugh by taking aim at his radio program's sponsors? The perennial question arose again when CBS MarketWatch reported on a Web site group called Take Back the Media ( ) , which has launched a campaign targeting Limbaugh's advertisers. Limbaugh has said many nasty things about people over the years, but for the backers of the Web site, and many others, his comments about the antiwar protesters who marched on Washington recently ( and who included such benign, Middle American groups as Mothers Against War ) , crossed a line. And advertisers may now think the same as well.

'It is beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything than what they are: anti-American, anti-capitalist pro-Marxists and communists,' bellowed Limbaugh—the same Rush Limbaugh the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, only a few weeks ago, decided is now policy-oriented and 'mainstream' and had dropped the attacks of the past. ( Surely Kurtz doesn't believe that McCarthyism is acceptable political discourse now, does he? )

Asking people to contact advertisers, Take Back the Media says they've already gotten Radio Shack, Amtrak and Bose to pull ads. ( In perhaps a sign of their running for cover, all three companies say their ads weren't supposed to run on the show anyway. ) Kraig Kitchin, of Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates Limbaugh's show, scoffed at the boycott, and the reporter himself, Willam Spain, said that boycotts have had a mixed record, only noting as a successful example a little-known ( at least to me ) boycott by victims' rights advocates against VH1 that got the Viacom-owned cable station to pull a series that focused on prison inmates' jailhouse jams.

How quickly we forget. It was just about three years ago that one small constituency on the left organized one of the most successful advertiser boycotts ever. Gay activists not only dealt a fatal blow to the television career of Laura Schlessinger, whipping up a campaign that focused on her vicious homophobia, but they got 200-plus advertisers to pull out of both her radio program and her short-lived TV show ( and pulled out as the primary advertiser on her Web site ) , severely debilitating her. Soon enough, the faux-doc was confronted with cancellations of her radio show by some stations—including every station in Canada—and buried in one of the biggest markets, New York City. She's still feeling the fallout.

Like Limbaugh, Schlessinger was thought to be unstoppable. She was syndicated to hundreds of radio stations, had produced several bestselling books and was launching a television career on a major network. Like Limbaugh, she was carried on radio by Premier Radio Networks to markets from coast to coast. And as in the case of Limbaugh, PRN executive Kraig Kitchin had sloughed off the boycott initially—only to eventually admit at a talk radio seminar in Los Angeles that PRN lost $30 million in revenue because of the boycott, and 'should have addressed the matter as soon as it became clear there was public interest.'

Like Take Back the Media, gay activists used the Internet to spawn their campaign, creating the Web site ( ) .

Schlessinger's radio show and its advertisers weren't even the primary target of the campaign. The Web site launched in March 2000 to target CBS and Paramount Television for developing the antigay Schlessinger's TV talk show.

The site caught fire, logging 300,000 unique visitors per month over a period of 10 months. When Procter & Gamble became the first highly regarded, old-guard advertiser to pull out of the TV show ( and then the radio program ) , the ball began rolling. The activists slapped up one of Schlessinger's radio or TV advertisers on the site almost every day. Right after company executives' contact information was put on, the executives' telephones began ringing off the hook, their e-mail accounts became filled to capacity and their fax machines began churning like mad. Some advertisers pulled out literally within a matter of hours after being targeted, and many sent correspondence back to the site.

'Sears supports both diversity and culture throughout our customer base and within our own associate networks,' wrote an executive from the retailing giant. 'We will no longer advertise on the Dr. Laura show as a result of recent comments.'

Some advertisers even begged for mercy.

Toyota: 'Since we are taking all steps possible to insure that our commercials do not appear in Dr Laura, we are requesting that our phone number be removed from the Web site.'

Coca-Cola: 'We have instructed the local television stations where we advertise to adhere strictly to our media plan. I hope you can take down the link to our Web site asap!'

John Aravosis, the Washington, D.C., Internet consultant and gay activist who created and managed, believes that a boycott against Limbaugh could now be just as successful. Limbaugh has always made vile remarks, but Aravosis believes his latest comments are the kind of statements that make advertisers skittish, just as advertisers didn't like being associated with Schlessinger after she'd called gays a 'biological error.'

'Calling someone un-American—unless they are, say, a terrorist—is unacceptable,' Aravosis observes. 'Schlessinger was questioning gays' humanity. Limbaugh is questioning the protesters' patriotism, their being American. It's very similar, questioning a group's core existence. I think both are things advertisers would be concerned about.'

Take Back the Media could be a bit more focused, like Stop . Maybe even launching a wouldn't be a bad idea. The organizers will also have to remain resilient against the inevitable charges, particularly within the ranks of the left itself, that this kind of thing amounts to 'censorship' or 'blackmail.' Criticism of the anti-Shlessinger activists' tactics came from Salon and even the staunchly pro-gay New York Times columnist Frank Rich, among others. The activists, however, remained committed, arguing that their campaign was about companies' corporate responsibility and what kind of hate speech they wanted to be associated with.

Despite his not having recognized the success of the Schlessenger boycott, MarketWatch reporter Spain nonetheless also noted that a boycott of Limbaugh's sponsors could work. '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,' he noted. '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.'

Which is exactly what happened to Laura Schlessinger.

This article shared 3812 times since Wed Feb 5, 2003
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