#StopRush, ALEC, and the Howard Stern Category

It’s time for Limbaugh’s defenders to stop before they hurt themselves. Actions like #StopRush have been going on for a long time without any help from George Soros or Media Matters. There is nothing new or innovative about advertiser contact and boycotts, and no one’s free speech is getting squelched. As Jim Wallis of Sojourners put it when he called on readers to boycott Glenn Beck:

Beck says Christians should leave their social justice churches, so I say Christians should leave Glenn Beck. I don’t know if Beck is just strange, just trying to be controversial, or just trying to make money. But in any case, what he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show. His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern. (Emphasis mine)

And in fact Glenn “white culture” Beck is doing fine today. He speaks freely and insanely on a subscription model similar to SiriusXM. Thanks to a sustained advertiser pressure campaign, he no longer enjoys a cable “news” channel spotlight, however. Beck owns his own spotlight now, as is appropriate, and well may it profit him.

Howard Stern, too, has enjoyed a blissful safety on satellite radio long enough that we’ve forgotten just how controversial he used to be, or how many times he faced pressure on his station and advertisers. But we got a reminder of those bygone days of anti-Stern activism last year when NBC picked him to sit as a judge on America’s Got Talent. The Parents Television Council reacted thusly:

“It’s an act of desperation on behalf of the NBC network,” suggests Dan Isett, director for public policy at the watchdog group. “[The show] trails badly in the ratings across the board, and this reeks of nothing short of a PR stunt to try to draw some attention to a show that’s been relatively successful and relatively family-friendly. It’s going to be quite a shock to viewers that have become fans of the show to tune into next season and find a guy like Howard Stern on there every night.”

Stern’s performances are notorious for his profanity and obscenity, so Isett tells OneNewsNow that PTC will be reaching out to advertisers who have sponsored the show in the past.

We’re going to serve notice to advertisers that by sponsoring this show, they are complicit and responsible for bringing Howard Stern and his name and his brand into every living room in the country,” the public policy director details. (Emphasis mine)

Anyone can use the First Amendment to educate advertisers on sponsored material they find unacceptable. Which brings me to Rush Limbaugh, who has passed as an “entertainer” for far too long. Not even remotely as entertaining as Howard Stern, Limbaugh nonetheless belongs in the same category of highly offensive talkers.

Rush Limbaugh loves to offend people, especially liberals. In fact, Limbaugh has built an entire career on the shtick of being offensive to liberals and liberalism. “Offensive to liberals” is the only real moral principle of Limbaugh’s hyper-political style of entertainment.

Offensive caricatures of liberals and minorities populate the Limbaugh universe; he never ceases to burn and beat and stab these straw men. Moreover, he encourages the same attitudes in listeners, which is why his fans gleefully admit they live to piss off liberals.

They are within the bounds of the First Amendment. So was Glenn Beck and his tinfoil hat-doom bunker-White Horse prophecy act. So were the Americans who contacted one thousand advertisers and asked them to make a choice: Do you really want your brand associated with this highly offensive speech? This has happened to both Beck and Limbaugh.

Most companies drop their sponsorship voluntarily. A few stick with them, in which case they have chosen to associate their brand with that highly offensive speech. I am under no compulsion to do business with a company that offends me or supports offensive speech.

Limbaugh apologists want to pretend that we are doing something different, and sinister, and vaguely un-American. Regular readers will recall that I tripped over the term “Secondary Boycott” a few weeks ago responding to Limbaugh’s favorite Ivy League professor, William A. Jacobson Esq:

“Secondary boycott” is an invention of Mr. Jacobson. No one associated with #stoprush ever said anything about being in Phase II. This imaginary second phase of #stoprush underpins Jacobson’s assertion that thousands of people only contacted sponsors because Media Matters told them to, and not because they were outraged at Limbaugh’s disgusting three-day rant against Sandra Fluke.

In fact, “Secondary Boycott” turns out to have a specific legal meaning — one that applies to labor unions. (Full disclosure: #StopRush is not a labor union.) Jacobson used the term much more broadly than its accepted definition, but others have now picked up his usage.

Brad Smith of the Center for Competitive Politics, an ALEC-linked propaganda shop that purports to be all about “deregulating US elections” and lurves them some Citizens United, opines:

Secondary boycotts should not be confused with primary boycotts. A primary boycott is a decision not to do business with a person because of a direct dispute. Thus, a decision not to patronize a business that discriminates on the basis of race is a primary boycott. Primary boycotts have a long and generally laudatory history.

That piece has now appeared as a Wall Street Journal op-ed, not just on the CCP website. Whereas Rush Limbaugh has made a career out of dressing up white resentment as a freedom movement, Brad Smith — formerly chairman of Bush’s Federal Election Commission — contorts Civil Rights into an awkward pose:

But secondary boycotts can quickly turn ugly. For example, the boycott of contributors to ALEC comes about because state lawmakers who are members of ALEC had, working through the ALEC framework, developed and introduced bills to require voters to present photo ID in order to vote. Polls consistently show strong support for voter ID laws, but such laws are strongly opposed by some on the left, who argue that they have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. Hence the boycott. But many corporate donors to ALEC are also corporate donors to the Congressional Black Caucus, which strongly opposes voter ID laws. Supporters of voter ID – whom, if we are to believe the polls, vastly outnumber critics – could decide to boycott these companies.

ALEC voter ID laws are a perfect example of why a successful effort to defund ALEC has emerged in social media. Far from a populist measure, voter ID bills target actual, real, not-imaginary college students, the elderly, and minorities for disenfranchisement. ALEC is deliberately trying to shrink the vote, which we find un-American and offensive.

To be sure, ALEC is free to create model bills and impress them on Republican legislators. They do not have a “right” to corporate sponsorship, however, and Americans are free to give ALEC sponsors a choice: Do you want your brand associated with a fascist agenda? If so, we are free to take our commerce elsewhere.

The right to offend me is my right to be offended. A special dissonance is required to not get that. For instance, The Volokh Conspiracy comments on Smith’s op-ed:

People have a right not to do business with companies or individuals. But blacklists—never a healthy part of political debate—endanger the very commerce that enriches us all.

See, you’re allowed to avoid doing business with Rush Limbaugh’s sponsors. But if I keep an updated list of those sponsors, then I become a danger to commerce — because that makes it too easy for you to avoid doing business with them. Just apply that to an organization instead of an individual, and you’ve got the fully-inverted value system of right-wing politics.

Used this way, “Secondary Boycott”  should be applied to every boycott organized in the whole history of forever, including the various ones launched against Howard Stern. No one has ever accused the Parents Television Council of being a union, however. Like “class warfare,” it is only wrong when we fight back.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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