Me­dia stars play out­size role in shap­ing of­gop’s pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY BETH FOUHY

NEW YORK | The up­roar over Rush Lim­baugh’s de­ri­sive com­ments about a young woman’s tes­ti­mony about con­tra­cep­tion is serv­ing as a vivid re­minder of the large role con­ser­va­tive me­dia stars play in Re­pub­li­can pol­i­tics.

With a Demo­crat in the White House and no lead­ing Re­pub­li­can elected of­fi­cial set­ting the party’s agenda, Mr. Lim­baugh and other me­dia per­son­al­i­ties such as the late An­drew Bre­it­bart and even real es­tate mogul Don­ald Trump have filled a vac­uum for many con­ser­va­tives seek­ing a full-throated po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cate. The pop­u­lar­ity of such fig­ures with the Re­pub­li­can base has made party lead­ers reluc­tant to cross them.

Democrats have plenty of left-lean­ing me­dia fig­ures in their corner, too — some of whom have made com­ments that have em­bar­rassed the party and its can­di­dates. Bill Maher, who gave $1 mil­lion to a su­per PAC that sup­ports Pres­i­dent Obama, was widely crit­i­cized re­cently for mock­ing NFL quar­ter­back Tim Te­bow’s re­li­gious be­liefs on Twit­ter. He also had re­ferred to 2008 vi­cepres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sarah Palin us­ing a vul­gar fe­male anatomy word.

But no lib­eral me­dia fig­ure has an au­di­ence the size of Mr. Lim­baugh’s, es­ti­mated as high as 20 mil­lion lis­ten­ers per week.

“The voices you hear on the con­ser­va­tive side have an au­di­ence of peo­ple who are very skep­ti­cal of tra­di­tional main­stream me­dia and power,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mary Washington who stud­ies me­dia in pol­i­tics. “If you’re a Re­pub­li­can can­di­date, you don’t want to of­fend those peo­ple. They are the most hard-core Re­pub­li­can vot­ers and the most likely to turn out in a pri­mary.”

Such was the case last week, when the top Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates dis­tanced them­selves from Mr. Lim­baugh but did not re­pu­di­ate him af­ter he used the terms “slut” and “pros­ti­tute” on his ra­dio show in ref­er­ence to 30-year-old Ge­orge­town law stu­dent San­dra Fluke.

Ms. Fluke had tes­ti­fied to Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress in sup­port of a re­quire­ment that her Catholic col­lege’s health plan pro­vide her with free birth con­trol, which is con­trary to the church’s teach­ings.

Mr. Lim­baugh of­fered an apol­ogy to Ms. Fluke on his web­site Satur­day af­ter spon­sors be­gan sus­pend­ing ad­ver­tis­ing on his show, which is car­ried by 600 sta­tions and is by far the most pop­u­lar talk ra­dio pro­gram in the U.S. He voiced re­gret on the air on Mon­day, too, but also said he was the vic­tim of a dou­ble stan­dard.

He said, “Rap­pers can say any­thing they want about women. It’s called art. And they win awards.”

The con­tro­versy has been an in­op­por­tune tem­pest for Re­pub­li­can hopeful Mitt Rom­ney, who has tried to fo­cus on jobs and the econ­omy but has found him­self deal­ing with ques­tions about so­cial is­sues in re­cent weeks.

Mr. Rom­ney said he wouldn’t have used Mr. Lim­baugh’s lan­guage, but he re­frained from di­rectly crit­i­ciz­ing him. The for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor has strug­gled in his ef­forts to ce­ment his sta­tus as the front-run­ner in the field, in part be­cause of the re­luc­tance of many con­ser­va­tive vot­ers to get be­hind him.

For­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum of Penn­syl­va­nia called Mr. Lim­baugh an “en­ter­tainer” who had li­cense to be “ab­surd” some­times, while for­mer House speaker Newt Gin­grich dis­missed the mat­ter as a me­dia dis­trac­tion. Only Rep. Ron Paul of Texas took Mr. Lim­baugh to task, telling CBS’ “Face the Na­tion” that the com­men­ta­tor’s lan­guage went over the top at times.

Repub­li­cans have paid a price for of­fend­ing Mr. Lim­baugh in the past. For­mer Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Michael Steele was forced to walk back com­ments he made sug­gest­ing Mr. Lim­baugh had been “in­cen­di­ary” and “ugly” for say­ing early in Mr. Obama’s term that he hoped Mr. Obama would fail.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Talk-ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh (above) is very in­flu­en­tial in GOP pol­i­tics, as wit­nessed by light crit­i­cism he re­ceived from party heavy­weights over his “slut” and “pros­ti­tute” com­ments. They were di­rected at Ge­orge­town law stu­dent San­dra Fluke (top), who has been ad­vo­cat­ing health plan cov­er­age of birth con­trol.

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