Psychic Prediction: Rush Limbaugh’s Advertisers Will Be Back

I just want to get this psychic prediction on record, so James Randi can award me the million dollars.

In the wake of yet another outpouring of popular furor over Rush Limbaugh’s offensive comments, advertisers including AOL, Sleep Number, The Sleep Train, Citrix, LegalZoom, QuickenLoans, and Carbonite, have pulled their advertising from his show. My psychic prediction is that within a month or two, they’ll all be back. Quote me on this.

It does not really require psychic powers. My job is to be skeptical of things, and among those things I’m skeptical about are media press releases. Their purpose is to garner attention, not to act in the public interest. These companies announced that they’re dropping their advertising because they want to be seen in a positive light. I’ll grant that the people at those companies may well be genuinely offended and want to do the right thing, but that’s not why decisions get made the entertainment industry when there is a lot of money at stake. I don’t know how Rush’s comments (which, by my understanding of his show, are scarcely more offensive or shocking than many of his shows) first made headlines, but my bet is that the show’s own people promoted them to get the attention.

Show business thrives on such attention — not on good will or happy thoughts. The old saying that there’s no such thing as bad PR is proven right far more often than it’s proven wrong.  I don’t have the numbers on hand, but I’ll bet you anything you want that Rush Limbaugh’s listenership has been up this week. His tone is the reason that his regular listeners tune in, and anytime he’s on the front page of every newspaper and news website in the country (like this week) he’s going to have a rash of new listeners tuning in to see what all the hubbub is about.

The Rush Limbaugh show is, by a strong margin, the #1 radio show in the country. Advertisers do not let a property like that go to waste. They’ll be back after everyone’s forgotten this week’s offense.

Take this whole episode as a lesson in why sensationalism sells. Media loves sensationalism. It’s what made Oprah so popular, it’s what makes Rush Limbaugh / Glenn Beck / Bill O’Reilly / Sean Hannity popular, it’s what makes Ghost Hunters popular, it’s the reason the 2012 apocalypse myth became popular. These things are sensational. You can’t fight them by adding to the clamor and making them even more sensational; you’re just illustrating the old cliche of throwing fuel on the fire. Your disgust is exactly what keeps them popular.

Calling for sensationalism — no more how loud and ugly — to be banned from the airwaves is absurdly naive. Do you really expect the Rush Limbaugh show or any significant number of its stations to say “We’re getting too many listeners and too much attention this week; we’d better cancel our show”?

To all of those who, like myself, are working hard to spread a positive message and promote the value of reality, I suggest a different tact. Learn from the experience instead of contributing to it. Analyze sensational programs and see what they’re doing well, and see what methods they employ that would be appropriate for us to leverage in our own media. Sensationalism can be done well. It can be done ethically, it can be done positively, and it can be used to spread the message of critical thinking. That’s a hard nut to crack, but it’s a worthy goal.

And once we do it, our advertisers will keep coming back as well.

About Brian Dunning

Science writer Brian Dunning is the host and producer of Skeptoid.
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34 Responses to Psychic Prediction: Rush Limbaugh’s Advertisers Will Be Back

  1. Might be a bit of post hoc thinking, but days after the next generation of conservative punditry dropped dead, Rush managed to reclaim his place in the drivers seat of the news cycle.

  2. Slashthedragon says:

    Occasionally a giant will fall with a flick of a small stone. Dr. Laura is one that I can think of. Two companies come to mind. Schlitz beer was the second leading beer in the USA next to Budweiser. When Schlitz changed its processing there were tiny harmless specks in some of the bottles. The company did not respond quick enough to recover. Circuit City’s CEO thought that they could save money by letting the higher paid employees go and keep the newer ones. When customers started going elsewhere because the inexperienced employees couldn’t answer their questions then Circuit City could not recover. People have known Rush Limbaugh as a hate monger. Others paid no mind to him. What we are seeing today is more then discuss, we are seeing anger. Anger is a much stronger motivator than discuss. I am not convinced that the anger will fade. The anger toward the Dixie Chicks has not gone away. Some radio stations still will not play their songs.

  3. Brandon says:

    Well at least when a bore like Rush says something so vile it sparks discussion of the actual issue. I know the main point of this blog post isn’t what Rush actually said, but it’s an important discussion.

    Just some of the examples.
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/04/1070884/-Rush-s-52-Smears-Against-Sandra-Fluke

    It’s basically all ad-hom and lies about what Fluke testified about, about Fluke herself, and is best summed up as, ‘misogynistic slut-shamming’. However, Fluke compiled a lot of research and with her time at Georgetown, she successfully changed the policy there regarding religions objections to providing contraception. She’s essentially an expert on the subject. This is why she was testifying, not because she’s a student and a woman, and not because of her personal sex life.

    It is nice that Rush’s idiocy is bringing much more attention to her actual arguments than they would have received otherwise.

  4. Matt Madison says:

    Thanks, Brian. This whole “Boycott Rush” thing that’s been going around has been bugging me for precisely the reasons you outline here. Now I don’t have to write this up myself.

  5. Derek says:

    Brian, can you say more about what you mean by positive sensationalism? To me, sensationalism is by definition a focus on the trivial, exaggeration, and/or dishonest reporting. At least one dictionary definition supports this. You’ve got something else in mind, and I’d like to understand what it is.

    • The first shuttle launch was sensational. The first moon walk was sensational. Very little in science gets that kind of attention anymore, but if we can find some way to build that kind of hype, then we succeed in getting the public’s attention. Like I say, it’s a hard nut to crack, but not impossible.

      • Kristen says:

        Brian, wouldn’t you concede there’s definitely ways sensationalism of legitimate science can be tainted by a myriad of other interests? Obviously the space race had Cold War and commie-phobia hanging over it and, as Niel Degrasse Tyson (hope I spelled that right) pointed out, as soon as the Soviet Union faded as a threat so did the importance of space and “space-age” technology. My concern is that sensationalism produces a kind of community “high” that preceeds a potential crash, and it’s probably wise to anticipate that and adjust to the evanescent public zeitgeist.

        Taking Limbaugh’s approach, engineers need to produce even more results and techonology offensive to pseudo-scientific establishments and/or beliefs! I happily take up this task as an engineering student! Granted, it’s gonna be hard to top birth control. My plan is “age-related mortality prevention.”

      • nichole says:

        I think those things were sensational because of big expectations for the future that got built up around these events. I constantly hear people asking where are the flying cars “they promised us” by now. It’s a favorite saying of a guy I work with. He’s the guy I can’t convince there’s no Bigfoot… because science doesn’t know everything. They promised us flying cars by now, do you see any flying cars? -_-

        tl;dr is beware the backlash I suppose.

  6. John says:

    Nothing Rush has said is as offensive as his public opposition to the American Left. How dare he speak his mind in public! How dare he insult a women! No person on the American Left HAS EVER IN HISTORY insulted a women! There is no double-standard here — especially in the use of the word “slut” which has been entirely co-opted. Anyone remember the “Slutwalks?” I thought “slut” was now a great word, and shouldn’t we all use great words?

    I think the only rational approach here is to let Sandra Fluke cook and eat one (1) limb belonging to Rush.

    • nichole says:

      I remember SlutWalk. I don’t see how a protest against misogynist victim-blaming made you think misogynism was a good thing.

    • Kristen says:

      He can speak his mind all he wants. When the public reacts with “Gee, you’re a hateful old bastard and I find myself wishing your existence will end soon by means of painful and embarrassing death,” he’s just gotta deal with it because free speech is a two-way street. I don’t care if it’s Rush or our illustrious forefathers, when they say something entirely incorrect and degrading to women, I call them out on it. Historical precedent only provides context and a potential framework for understanding their viewpoint, not a smokescreen of “well Aristotle said it first so you can’t attack me for saying it.” Gold star for the one who names the logical fallacy!

      Comments in the public sphere will be scrutenized. That’s why Rush says things so worthy of intense scrutiny — more attention = more money in his business. Public speech exists for the purpose, in my mind, of evaluating any and all ideas and producing ever-more sophisticated systems of thought. I ignore Rush because I find he has nothing worthwhile to contribute, but i’d never presume to arm a secret police force to take him off the air. Though I would fantasize about it sometimes.

      As for the word “slut,” there is no double-standard, just two different uses produced by an attempt at reclaiming a word for non-hurtful uses and those who obviously are using it hurtfully. Context is everything, and it isn’t because Rush is a older white gentleman that he somehow isn’t allowed to use “slut” positively. Denotation is the same, but the connotation differs in perjorative or complimentary light.

      • Kelly Norman says:

        I listen to Rush regularly. He laughs when people are offended, and uses their offense to create more humor for his show. He doesn’t mind it.

  7. Barry says:

    2007′s Made to Stick (by Chip and Dan Heath) provides some excellent insight into this. I commend it to anyone who needs to communicate effectively, especially those who promise only to use their superpowers for good. Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat, Sticky Idiot.

    • LordOfTime says:

      Rush may be, as you so eloquently stated, a Big, Fat, Sticky Idiot, but he is a Big, Fat, Sticky Idiot with 15 million listeners. Brian hit the nail on the head, advertisers would be less than bright to give up 15 million potential clients.

      Bottom line here is that Rush Limbaugh’s job is to generate ratings. Ratings equals listeners which equates into ad revenue. Simple math really. Howard Stern had it right too. Paraphrasing his movie, “The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes. The average Howard Stern fan listens for – are you ready for this? – an hour and twenty minutes to see what he’ll say next. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day to see what he’ll say next.. ” It’s all about ratings.

  8. Nobody runs ads to support the show on which they run. They run ads to support themselves. This should not be news to anyone who lives and breathes in the United States.

  9. Maria says:

    Loss of advertisers because of insane commentary got Glenn Beck off the MSM. I think it would work for Limbaugh, too.

    The worst thing we can do when someone is so outrageously offensive and spouts hate and misinformation to a gullible audience is to do nothing.

    • From Professor Google:

      Forbes has an interesting article about the sources of Glenn Beck’s income. Interestingly, only $2 million of his $32 million annual salary comes from his Fox News show where he gets most of his publicity. The majority of the money comes from his radio and publishing empire. It could be said that Fox News is the platform from which he hawks the rest of his wares.

      A “gullible audience doing nothing”, as you say, is their worst fear. An audience clamoring about how evil they are is what gets them where they are.

  10. Alert from the Metaphor police: I think you meant “I suggest a different tack” instead of “tact”. The original metaphor has to do with sailing against the wind. Hmmm. That seems somehow appropriate, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

  11. eric says:

    Having watched the congressional hearing AND listened to Rush’s show at the time in question
    it seems that very little mention is being made of his hypothesis as to whether she could be operating on behalf of the “Left” to promote the creation of just another entitlement program,
    especially when she has admitted to entering Georgetown with the purpose of starting a fracas
    with the Roman Catholic church.

    • PCC says:

      She was testifying on why religious organizations that don’t cover contraception, ( in this case specifically birth control pills) as part of their health plan should do so. Her specific argument was that the pills are used for medical reasons, as well as contraceptive purposes.

      If you consider President Obama the “Left” than yes, she was testifying to support the mandate he was trying to pass for religious organizations to cover contraception in their health plans. Hearings would normally include speakers both for and against the subject at hand, so why it bothers people that the side that was “for” Obama’s mandate was represented I do not understand. BTW she was not allowed to speak at those hearings.

      Georgetown students must buy a healthcare plan when they enter the school. Fluke and the students pay for that plan. There is no taxpayer money involved, it is a private plan. I do not see how getting coverage for a prescription medicine that most insurance plans provide coverage for is an “entitlement”.

    • Brandon says:

      Perhaps you’d like to listen to her testimony again. She did not enter Georgetown with the purpose of starting a fracas. She was unwilling to compromise her education simply because the university of her choice had a police she disagreed with. So she entered knowing she disagreed with the police but wanted the educational benefits Georgetown could provide. Then she worked to change the policy she disagreed with by doing the legwork. She researched, constructed a series of well supported arguments, and then convinced the school that it’s policy was misguided using her well supported and researched arguments.

      Private insurance is not an entitlement program by any stretch of the imagination. One of those very well researched arguments for contraception coverage is how much it reduces insurance costs, as many other forms of preventative care do. The argument against covering it isn’t a valid fiscal one; the argument is almost purely a moral/value one.

  12. Brian says:

    My girlfriend’s parents are both avid watchers of Fox News. What often gets lost in discussions about Fox’s political goals or their aversion to fact-checking is why their audience is reliable.

    If you can do one thing as a political media outlet, be it Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Huffington Post, or Coast to Coast, you’re “priming the pump” for success:

    Keep your audience entertained by keeping your audience angry.

    Whether they’re angry at the “other” side in our political system or at people trying to keep “the secret” out of the hands of “the people”, whatever secrets and people that is, if you’re marketing yourself as the only outlet willing to risk telling people the hard truth and fighting the power, you’ve got a powerful tool to keep people listening, reading, and watching.

    Rush has known this for a long time. Part of the reason it works so well for Fox News is that as “both” parties come closer and closer on the issues, the team sports-style partisanship actually increases rather than decreases.

  13. I listen to Rush quite often, and I was shocked that he would say something so offensive. I think that he was far more offensive than I’ve ever heard him be before and I’ve listened to many hundreds of hours of Rush Limbaugh over the years.

  14. John Blackhall says:

    It’s a very sad reality that most people affluent enough to own a TV or Radio and in the Western World several TVs and Radios, derive their opinions based on what is presented to them on these types of media. Media that really is only interested what it’s sponsors can sell to you..advertising doesn’t give a fat rat’s freckle what programs you watch tell you, only that you watch them…and maybe buy that new washing powder. All commercial TV network programs are Soap Operas.

    Just remember what that particular program you are watching is ‘brought to you by’, before you believe that sensational hogwash being dished up to you.

  15. frank says:

    Being over 65, I am amazed what has happened to my Grand Old Party. It has been hijacked by Christian fundamentalis idiots in their own way no better than the jihadist loonies they inspire.

    Starting in the 60′s, these abominable, fetus-hugging neo-Puritan godders flooded under the tent. I believe their migration from the old socialism of the Dumbocratic Party was a result of the latter becoming Hard Left. Be that as it may, these moronic, Darwin-denying, “evangelical” busybodies soon constituted a critical portion of an otherwise falling GOP. The reason the GOP was falling had absolutely NOTHING to do with its policies or its milque-toast core; it had EVERYTHING to do with the Dumbocrat’s strategy of hitching their political wagon to the star of untutored, room-temperature-IQ indigents. The old socio-economic pyramid. Worls every time. In less than 120 years, the Dumbocrat Party had gone from the party of states’ rights and segregation to a socialistic Big Government horde. Dependency of the sheeple, its primary goal, was achieved easily. Nothing motivates like jealousy, envy and self-pity. Yet, despite what 80 years on the socialist “plantation” has done to the blacks, for instance, they still are a dependable bloc vote. No matter how robbed the lower middle class is, they still cannot bring themselves vote for their own tax relief. Life is an IQ test—how’re these buffoons doing?

    The Dumbocrats are true political animals. They cannot wait to run your life for you. Money, being the true source of freedom, was their first target. Then the translated their “take” into essentially a series of programs which “bribed people with their own money” (George Will?). You can’t lose if 65% of the population feels it can, nay MUST, depend on you for their sustenance.

    In came the godders to a shrinking GOP and we took them in. Nothing like vibrant, motivated voters to bulge the ranks of a political party which used to hate government and used to wish its reduction and impoverishment (to prevent expanding socialism). And swell the ranks these fundamentalist cretins did. But these fetus-huggers also raised the prospect of busybody scolds. At this very moment, they are doing at the very least, three things: 1) driving atheists, light-religionists and others away from the polls, if not the party itself. Paradigmatic example of the godders’ idea of an ideal candidate is that man in a sweater-vest with the “face of a fool”; 2) the godders have succeeded in taking over the conservative airwaves—you can’t listen to Laura Ingram for 10 minutes without some reference to God bouncing off your ears. Ditto Rush; and 3) perhaps the most ominous, the religious righters have embraced another wandering horde—the largely Jewish AIPAC-bolstered “neoconservatives”. Unabashedly Zionist, and finding their roots in the pink-to-red Columbia campus in the 1930s and 40s, these “pink-diaper” neocons have hijacked the GOP, redirected its early, reflexive isolationism into an effort to fight Israel’s wars for it. This coming clash with Iran will be the capitation of AIPAC, neocon and “Christian Zionist” (did you see those fools on 60 minutes?) efforts to defeat the jihad, which was largely generated by the wholly lamentable creation of Israel and the blind funding and arming the US undertook over the past 70 years or so.

    Wait ’til the Iranians start sinking our mega-carriers with their Russian anti-ship “Sunburn” (?) missiles. Perfect field-test for those demonic devices—-and for whom, exactly will the US sailors and Marines be dying? Same people cheering us on in Afghanistan. You betcha!

    The GOP may as well face the facts: religious zealots and pseudo-American agencies have permanently hijacked the party. Paulists (not the Catholic kind), atheists and other disgruntled types must contemplate the option of bailing out of the GOP (first telling the godders and Zionists why we’re leaving, of course) and then gathering all those who see religion for what it has done, socialism for its invariably devastating results, and Zionism for the world scourge that it is. Once coalesced into a visible voting base, we can push for such things as a 10% flat tax (town, state, and Federal inclusive), a cement and hot-wired southern border fence, international neutrality, and domestic oil production. Wait ’til the Russians and Chinese begin to fill in the void left by our departure from the Middle East—we’ll be invited back by freedom-loving Arabs, but should go back in on our terms—even-handed treatment of all, the abandonment of Israeli settlements and curbing of jihadism. Esle the Saudis and their ilk can enjoy living under Chinese and Russian autocratic overlords…..

    Keep smilin’,

  16. frank says:

    Sorry about the typos and other syntactical errors. But you probably caught my drift.

    • nichole says:

      you lost me about half-way through the second brick of text. maybe shoot for one point per comment next time? just a suggestion.

  17. Slashthedragon says:

    It appears as if there have been dozens of companies which bought advertisement on the radio stations not realizing the ads were being run during the Limbaugh show. In 2004 Geico had specifically requested that their ads not be run during the Limbaugh show and occasionally they were. Sears and All State seem genuine surprised that their ads were being run during those time slots. I am beginning to question if Rush Limbaugh has as many followers as we are lead to believe. The sources of 13 million, 15 million and 20 million listeners are questionable. The show may have been just a tool for Clear Channel to spread its right wing influence.

  18. Brandon says:

    While I still believe Brian’s prediction will hold true, it looks like Rush is actually taking a hit from this debacle. There have been some stations dropping him from syndication, as well as some stations not able to run ads during his show because of ‘do not air’ requests from advertisers.

    This has already lasted longer than I thought it would.

    • Brandon says:

      Premiere Radio Networks have pulled all ads for two weeks. Being the only source of profit from Newt’s show, this actually hurts them. However, it only being two weeks shows that they will be back when they hope this blows over.

  19. Robert Davis says:

    Hi Brian, I am waiting for May 6th to see your prediction come true. “In the wake of yet another outpouring of popular furor over Rush Limbaugh’s offensive comments, advertisers including AOL, Sleep Number, The Sleep Train, Citrix, LegalZoom, QuickenLoans, and Carbonite, have pulled their advertising from his show. My psychic prediction is that within a month or two, they’ll all be back. Quote me on this.” How do you like your crow, cold or hot? Scumbag Rush has finally crossed the tipping point and he is too dumb to realize it.

  20. Robert Davis says:

    Well it has been two months and none of the advertisers you mentioned have returned to Rush as far as I can determine. Perhaps you should give up the psychic predicting business and try some other method of predicting the future, maybe tea leaves.

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