The case for Rush Limbaugh

Our political umbrage episodes are orgies of insincerity
March 7, 2012 4:58 pm

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People have the right not to buy a product or service they don't wish to buy (except, of course, health insurance, but that's another story). Mr. Limbaugh's advertisers are free to transfer their loyalty to Glenn Beck if they wish, and Mr. Limbaugh's critics are free to deny themselves the rapturous comforts of Sleep Number beds.

Nevertheless, the self-righteous parade out the door by Mr. Limbaugh's advertisers is hard to stomach. Had they never listened to Rush before, in all the years they had been paying for commercials on his show? His sliming of a barely known law student may be a new low - even after what he's said about Nancy Pelosi and Michelle Obama - but it's not a huge gap. "We hope that our action," said David Friend, the chief executive of a company called Carbonite, "will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse," as the company withdrew its ads. Ultimately! Where was this hope for "civilized discourse" a week ago?

Consumers who are avoiding products by Mr. Limbaugh's advertisers are engaged, whether they know it or not, in what's known in labor law as a secondary boycott. This means boycotting a company you have no grievance with, except that it does business with someone you do have a grievance with.

Secondary boycotts are generally frowned upon, or in some cases (not this one) actually illegal, on the grounds that enough is enough. There's sense to that outside the labor context, too. Do we want conservatives organizing boycotts of advertisers on MSNBC, or either side boycotting companies that do business with other companies who advertise on Mr. Limbaugh's show, or Rachel Maddow's?

As we all know, Mr. Limbaugh's First Amendment rights aren't involved here - freedom of speech means freedom from interference by the government. But the spirit of the First Amendment, which is that suppressing speech is bad, still applies. If you don't care for something Rush Limbaugh has said, say why and say it better. If you're on the side of truth, you have a natural advantage. And if you're taking on Rush Limbaugh, you're probably on the side of truth.

Michael Kinsley is a columnist for Bloomberg View.
First Published 2012-03-07 15:58:46

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