Back at the beginning of the StopRush movement, I called our grassroots social media backlash “a market correction in the value of Rush Limbaugh. We will not stop until Excellence In Broadcasting is a penny stock — just like Glenn Beck.” In fact, our successful advertiser contact campaign is modeled on the successful StopBeck campaign and the Color of Change boycott of Beck’s advertisers.
StopRush is not opposed to Limbaugh’s right to live in an epistemically-closed, hermetically-sealed universe of falsehoods, or even his right to say hateful and awful things. We object to the assumption that he has a “right” to corporate sponsors for it, and exercise our right to make them choose a side: our business, or Limbaugh’s.
From what we’ve seen in our day-to-day activism on social media, his fans certainly aren’t going to save his sponsors from us. Social media trolling and astroturf have been ineffective, even counterproductive ways to counter our local volunteers across the nation.
Some volunteers identify sponsors on the show by listening to their local talk station. Other volunteers contact the sponsors. To date, the StopRush.net database contains 2,484 advertisers whose ads have been heard during Rush Limbaugh’s program at least once, but which have stopped playing after our contact. At times, we have recorded sponsor ads and shared them with the advertisers through social media: yes, your ad really is still playing on his show. We are not making this up.
We have known for some time that our efforts were bearing fruit. Limbaugh, like Beck, has been forced to find a new revenue stream; both bloviators are pimping FreedomWorks, which has made up for their revenue shortfalls. Call it “wingnut welfare:”
After the liberal magazine Mother Jones posted a copy of a FreedomWorks document about its fundraising, Armey reached out to Media Matters to explain how the group wastes money by trying to raise money through radio hosts Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Armey said FreedomWorks paid Beck $1 million to say nice things about the group to raise more cash, but Beck’s appeals raised considerably less than that. “The arrangement was simply FreedomWorks paid Glenn Beck money and Glenn Beck said nice things about FreedomWorks on the air,” Armey said, adding that, initially, Beck’s kind words were only supposed to cost $250,000 a year. “Once that was approved by the trustees, it then took on a life of its own, it got bigger than we understood it to be. All of a sudden it was we are paying Limbaugh as well as Beck.” The price of Beck’s nice words then went up to $1 million a year, Army said. He explained how it was a bad investment:
“If Limbaugh and Beck, if we were using those resources to recruit activists and inform activists and to encourage and enthuse activists, that’s one thing… If we are using these things to raise money; one, it’s a damned expensive way to raise money; and two, it makes raising money an end on to itself not an instrumental activity to support the foundation work that our organization does…
“It is like federal budgeting… We count the receipts we get from people who have sent in money, and we, meaning they, I am not a part of it anymore, do not count what the funds that are laying out are. They don’t say, we paid Beck a million dollars and we had this program where we raised $300,000, you had a net cost of $600,000, or whatever the numbers are.”
Basically, Limbaugh listeners who send money to FreedomWorks are actually helping billionaires support Limbaugh. FreedomWorks makes up the difference between their contributions and his salary, which he earns by soliciting contributions to FreedomWorks on his show. Call it a billionaire-subsidized tip jar.
But StopRush has achieved far more than the deflation of Limbaugh: we have rocked the very foundations of right wing radio. According to the business page at MySanAntonio.com, Clear Channel lost $424 million in 2012 — far worse than their 2011 loss of $302 million. While the actions of its venture capital owners (including Bain Capital) can claim the lion’s share of responsibility for that loss by loading the company with debt, StopRush has given Clear Channel a hard time finding advertisers for Limbaugh’s flagship talk radio program.
In response to this situation, Clear Channel is planning further layoffs while maintaining Limbaugh on their stations. We say that the company should reconsider this balance, as the relative value of his brand in their spectrum is less than the human capital they seek to set aside. Surely the many hard-working, dedicated employees who make local stations succeed are worth more than one un-entertaining host?
Clear Channel must take a lesson from Rupert Murdoch, who eventually realized he did need to cut Beck loose, after all. Because like Color of Change and StopBeck, we are not going away. In fact, our volunteer base grows ever larger with each new hateful, stupid monologue from Rush:
While Limbaugh began publicly denying that his show was suffering from the loss of advertisers, privately he was going into crisis management mode. The New York Times reported in March that he hired a reputation and crisis manager. And while Limbaugh was bragging about his ratings on the air, Politico reported in May that his show ”took a significant radio hit in some key radio markets” in the wake of his Sandra Fluke attacks.
Limbaugh’s partners were soon losing millions of dollars as a result of the loss of advertisers. The New York Times reported that less than two weeks after his attack on Fluke, Premiere Radio Networks had lost nearly $2 million in advertising revenue. In May, Limbaugh affiliate Cumulus Media reported losing several million dollars in revenue over two quarters. In August, Cumulus suggested it had lost more than $5 million on its top three radio stations alone due to factors related to the Limbaugh advertiser boycott.
As Daily Beast columnist John Avlon noted: “Rush Limbaugh made the right-wing talk-radio industry, and he just might break it.”
Our activism will outlast and outgrow all efforts to stop it. The radio industry would be wise to accept this fact and deal with it now before it is too late. Let Rush Limbaugh follow Glenn Beck into the happy world of paid content, where he can make all the money he wants by sucking the rubes dry. Instead of masking his income, let Limbaugh’s fans buy his content directly — it’s the American way!