On Weak Apologies

Finally, after three days of verbal attacks on the character of Sandra Fluke, Rush Limbaugh has issued a public apology. You can decide for yourself whether it might be genuine, or a response to pressure from advertisers or the network.

I don’t normally quote such a long passage, but I wanted to include the entire text of Limbaugh’s apology, on the chance that he may decide to edit or delete his post, and so that it’s clear that I am not using his words out of context. As of now, it is also available on his site.

A Statement from Rush
March 03, 2012
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.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

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.

To me, it would have sounded somewhat more sincere if he had not included that middle paragraph. I have trouble accepting that he meant his remarks to be taken in a purely humorous way. There is humor that is intended to make a point, and it is clear that Limbaugh had a point to this particular tirade, as he implied within the apology. Apart from whether the point is valid, and apart from whether the commentary is funny, is the question of whether it is within the bounds of propriety or common human decency.

Good humor often pushes the envelope of decency and propriety. That, by itself, is not a bad thing, and comedy that crosses the line tends to be self-correcting. Audiences like edgy stuff, but they tend to not enjoy mean-spirited material. It depends on the crowd, of course. At a KKK convention, you could do well with material that denigrates minority groups, but if it’s going to be televised, there will be backlash.

In this case, we aren’t discussing good humor. Limbaugh’s regular listeners may be entertained by his commentary, and some of it actually does have an intellectual component, but, by and large, he relies on an appeal to the baser instincts — greed, and fear and hatred of that which is different. As the economy got worse, his rhetoric got more extreme, particularly against immigrants and “inner city” residents, and against liberals who tend to defend those groups. And I don’t think he has ever been sympathetic to women’s rights.

Women can do OK with a comedy routine that makes fun of women and gender issues, and it is safer for people to make fun of their own ethnic group than someone else’s. It is usually easier to make fun of any issue if you can include yourself in the ribbing. It makes it more of an  humorous observation, and less likely to be perceived as an attack. Some people make a career of the attack. Limbaugh’s audience may be amused by that, but it really is an attack, rather than genuine humor.

Although I have had the opportunity to make use of birth control funded by insurance, It isn’t my place to accept or reject Limbaugh’s apology. That is up to Sandra Fluke, the object of his vitriol. I will just say that, for what it’s worth, this is probably the best we can expect from him.

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