Nearly 100 advertisers have withdrawn their commercials from Rush Limbaugh's radio program in the past two weeks.
Limbaugh, whose three-hour talk show reaches as many as 20 million listeners each weekday, said he is doing well and denied hostility toward women. On Wednesday, he complained on the air: How can I be anti-woman? I even judged the Miss America pageant!
Limbaugh, 61, provoked the advertiser pullout after calling 30-year-old Georgetown law school student Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute after she had told members of Congress she supports health-Insurance coverage for contraceptives.
The remarks by the conservative firebrand outraged women's-rights and liberal activists who are usually at odds with Limbaugh's rhetoric but also well-known Republican and Democratic politicians. Within three days, most of his technology sponsors had pulled ads from the show -- Carbonite Inc. (Nasdaq: CARB), developer of PC backup systems; software-management provider Citrix Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CTXS) ; and online-services provider AOL Inc. (NYSE: AOL).
Those were quickly followed by Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Stamps.com Inc. (Nasdaq: STMP) and PolyCom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM), as well as Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF), Deere & Co. (NYSE: DE), Allstate Corp. (NYSE: ALL), Sears Holdings Corp. (NYSE: SHLD). Privately held companies ProFlowers, LegalZoom, Sleep Number and Sleep Train also withdrew.
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Among Limbaugh's tech-company sponsors, only LifeLock Inc., a privately held identity-monitoring service provider, has remained. The Tempe, Ariz., company's directors include Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor and secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush.
Two radio stations also dropped Limbaugh's show. The remaining 600 stations have broadcast so-called dead air in the time slots for their spots, or public-service announcements for the Red Cross or U.S. government agencies.
Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, has urged the Defense Department to remove Limbaugh's show from the Armed Forces Network, which is broadcast worldwide to members of the U.S. military.
Limbaugh issued a muted public apology three days later, on March 3, saying his word choice had been poor. Fluke declined to accept the apology, calling it insincere Limbaugh then apologized again on air but has continued to denounce women's groups. .
The show is syndicated by Premiere Networks, which has responded to the criticism by telling stations to replace withdrawn commercials with other material. The move has also extended to advertisers on hourly newscasts that precede Limbaugh.
So far, according to an internal company memo cited by the New York Times, The Rush Limbaugh Show has lost only about $2 million in advertising. Nielsen Media estimates Limbaugh's show brings in as much as $361 million annually.
Premiere itself is owned by Clear Channel Communications, based in San Antonio. Once a public company, Clear Channel was taken private in a $20.6 billion buyout in 2008 led by Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners, two giants of the private-equity sector. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the co-founder of Bain and still receives funds from the firm although he doesn't participate in management.
Limbaugh hasn't endorsed a Republican contender yet, although he has frequently had Romney rival Newt Gingrich on his show for interviews. His format usually precludes guests as Limbaugh delivers monologues occasionally interrupted by listener calls.
Limbaugh has long boasted of his affection for technology, especially Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) products. He has complained on air that while he exclusively uses Apple's Mac computers, the Cupertino, Calif., company has never advertised on his program.