Limbaugh Fires Back at Critics in First On-Air Apology

Rush Limbaugh fired back on the air at critics today after apologizing a second time for calling a Georgetown University law student a “slut” over her testimony about birth control before Congress.

“I acted too much like the leftists who despise me,” Limbaugh said on today’s show, according to a transcript at his website. “I descended to their level, using names and exaggerations to describe Sandra Fluke. It was wrong, and that’s why I’ve apologized.”

Limbaugh’s apology came as advertisers fled his talk show, the most popular on radio, over criticism last week of Fluke, who spoke on Feb. 23 in favor of President Barack Obama’s policy requiring insurers to offer contraceptives to women. Media Matters for America, a group that targets conservative media, is promoting a boycott of Limbaugh’s show, distributed by Clear Channel Communications Inc.’s Premiere Radio Networks. Inc., the Internet-based publisher, and Inc., the online retailer, said today they would pull ads from Limbaugh’s program.

“We have monitored the unfolding events and have determined that Mr. Limbaugh’s comments are not in line with our values,” Caroline Campbell, an AOL spokeswoman in New York, said in an e-mailed statement. “As a result we have made the decision to suspend advertising on the Rush Limbaugh show.”

Advertiser Backlash’s decision, disclosed in an e-mailed statement sent by Eric Nash, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based company, brought the number of advertisers dropping Limbaugh’s show to at least 10.

The Associated Press earlier identified nine that have pulled spots, including the ProFlowers delivery service and mortgage lender QuickenLoans. Inc., an online provider of legal services, is among those dropping its ads.

“Our company does not in any way support or endorse the recent comments of Mr. Limbaugh,” Andrea Holland, a spokeswoman for LegalZoom, said in a statement.

Representatives of Premiere and Clear Channel didn’t respond to requests for comment from Bloomberg News.

“The contraception debate is one that sparks strong emotion and opinions on both sides of the issue,” Premiere said in a statement, the New York Times reported. “We respect the right of Mr. Limbaugh, as well as the rights of those who disagree with him, to express those opinions.”

Clear Channel was taken private in a buyout led by Bain Capital Partners LLC and Thomas H. Lee Partners LP in July 2008.

Limbaugh Ratings

Limbaugh averaged 13.2 million listeners a week as of spring 2011, according to ratings supplied by Horizon Media Inc., an ad planning and placement company. Talkers magazine, a Longmeadow, Massachusetts, publication, called Limbaugh the most listened-to talk-radio host.

The controversy isn’t likely to have a long-term impact on the show, said Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of Talkers.

“Millions of people like to hate him, because he’s entertaining,” Harrison said in a phone interview. “To many advertisers, this is showing why they might want to be on his show. Some advertisers will come back. Some are dropping him for the attention they get for doing so.”

Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his radio program. He posted an apology on his website March 3 and said this on his program today:

“Those two words were inappropriate,” Limbaugh said according to the transcript. “They were uncalled for. They distracted from the point that I was actually trying to make, and I again sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for using those two words to describe her. I do not think she is either of those two words. I did not think last week that she is either of those two words.”

Fluke’s Response

Fluke, speaking on the television show “The View” today, responded to Limbaugh’s apology.

“I don’t think a statement like this issued saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything,” Fluke said on the show. “He’s under significant pressure from his sponsors who are beginning to pull their support.”

Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, operates 866 US. stations in 150 markets as of Dec. 31, according to regulatory filing. The Premiere Networks unit produces or supplies 90 syndicated programs to almost 5,800 affiliate stations.

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