Until last week, News Hits had been content to let others rail about Rush Limbaugh's disgraceful three-day attack on Georgetown law school student Sandra Fluke. The reaction has been widespread and intense to Limbaugh calling Fluke a "slut” and "prostitute” simply because she advocated having all employer health insurance plans — including those of religiously affiliated employers — be compelled to provide women with birth control.
As best we can tell, scores of advertisers have already withdrawn from his show. And the pressure isn't letting up.
With MT columnist Jack Lessenberry also weighing in, we here at the Hits didn't feel the need to add our voice to the chorus of contempt.
But last week it got personal for us here at Metro Times. It didn't have to do with Limbaugh's comments about Fluke, or his mealy mouthed quasi-apology for remarks that were clearly calculated to offend and inflame.
No, what's prompted us to join the fray was an attack on one of our colleagues, Tracie McMillan. While she worked on her book The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Wal-Mart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, McMillan was provided office space here at the MT newsroom under an unofficial Metro Times fellowship. Over the course of several months, we saw firsthand the incredible amount of time and effort she put into the project, her dedication to tracking down and verifying facts, the guts and commitment it took to go work undercover in places like a suburban Detroit Wal-Mart and the fruit orchards of California's Central Valley.
In short, she earned our immense respect.
What she earned from Limbaugh, who apparently could find no factual errors in her reporting to dispute, was a rather bizarre personal attack.
"What is it with all of these young, single white women, overeducated — doesn't mean intelligent,” the boorish gasbag bleated. "Who is the authorette? It doesn't matter.”
Well, it matters to us.
And we hope it matters to you.
As for McMillan, a Holly native of modest means who has worked incredibly hard to get where she is, being singled out by Rush has been a help of sorts. Media, such as the hosts of several MSNBC shows, as well has the Detroit Free Press and others, have picked up on the story, giving McMillan and her book additional exposure and, as result, increased sales.
But whether she ultimately benefits from this isn't the point.
Neither is this a free speech issue.
There are those who argue that the First Amendment protects Limbaugh's vitriol. They are absolutely right. And if this were about government censorship, we would be among those lining up in his defense.
But no one's speech is protected from the forces of the free market. In fact, just the opposite.
If people don't like what is in the Metro Times, they are free to not pick it up. And if they really don't like what we do, they are free to launch boycotts and attempt to drive off the advertisers that keep us in business. And advertisers themselves, unhappy with our coverage of issues — or them — are certainly able to withdraw their support.
That's the way it works.
And so now, in response to Limbaugh attacking a journalist we personally hold in high regard, News Hits is ready to do what it can to hurt him right back.
The best way we know of to do that is to hit him and his enablers where it hurts most: in his wallet.
The public's reaction to the despicable attack on Fluke has already succeeded in doing that to a great degree. Advertisers have been fleeing his program in droves. At one point last week there were several minutes of dead air on the show's New York broadcast when products were supposed to have been pitched.
Were this an aberration on the part of Limbaugh, our reaction would be different. But it's not an anomaly — it is the continuation of a pattern of distortion and sleaze that has formed the foundation of Limbaugh's career in broadcasting.
At this point, Rush is wounded. And though we aren't deluded enough to think that he's going to be chastened or driven from the public scene, we can still stand up and exclaim that we are repulsed and unwilling to support either him or his advertisers. We hope you'll do the same.