WASHINGTON (AP) — Radio host Rush Limbaugh said his apology to the Georgetown law student he called a “slut” was sincere but also joked that he, too, got a busy signal when he called his show to join advertisers who are abandoning it.
Georgetown’s Sandra Fluke said Limbaugh’s apologies did nothing to change the corrosive tone of the debate over health care coverage and said Americans have to decide whether they want to support companies that continue to advertise on Limbaugh’s program. America Online became the eighth advertiser to leave Limbaugh’s three-hour show and the radio personality sought to stem the exodus of advertisers as conservatives declined to offer him support.
“I should not have used the language I did, and it was wrong,” a rarely contrite Limbaugh told listeners.
Fluke, who testified to congressional Democrats in support of their national health care policy that would compel her college’s health plan to cover her birth control, said she had not heard from Limbaugh directly but signaled she had little interest in talking with the radio host. She said criticism of her beliefs was an attack on women’s health.
“It is an attempt to silence me,” Fluke told ABC’s “The View.”
Fluke had been invited to testify to a House committee about her school’s health care plan that does not include contraception. Republican lawmakers barred her from testifying during that hearing, but Democrats invited her back and she spoke to the Democratic lawmakers at an unofficial session.
The issue has been much debated in the presidential race, with Republican candidates particularly criticizing President Barack Obama’s requirements on such employers as Catholic hospitals. Democrats — and many Republican leaders, too — have suggested the issue could energize women to vote for Obama and other Democrats in November.
Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, on Monday told CBS News that Limbaugh’s statements were unacceptable “in every way” and “should be condemned” by people across the political spectrum. Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said it is “silly” to suggest that Limbaugh speaks for the GOP.
Limbaugh, even as he was retreating from calling Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute,” insisted the 30-year-old was trying to “force a religious institution to abandon its principles to meet hers.”
“Those two words were inappropriate. They were uncalled for,” he said of his initial comments that roiled critics. “They distracted from the point that I was actually tried to make.”
Even so, eight companies now have stopped advertising Limbaugh’s program on Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Networks Inc. The parent company is supporting Limbaugh, whose on-air contract with Premiere runs through 2016.
AOL on Monday said Limbaugh’s messages “are not in line with our values.”
ProFlowers, mortgage lender Quicken Loans, mattress retailers Sleep Train and Sleep Number, software maker Citrix Systems Inc., online data backup service provider Carbonite and online legal document services company LegalZoom also left Limbaugh’s roster of advertisers.
Limbaugh on Monday tried to chuckle about his former advertisers.
“I called myself to cancel my advertising. I got a busy signal,” Limbaugh deadpanned at the start of his three-hour show.
Limbaugh appeared defiant despite the defections.
“What we’re going to do is replace them,” he said. “I reject millions of dollars of advertisers a year much to the chagrin of my hard-working sales staff.”
The tumult began last week when Limbaugh discounted Fluke’s appearance on Capitol Hill.
He said on Wednesday, “What does it say about the college coed … who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.”
He dug in a day later, refusing to give ground.
“If we’re going to have to pay for this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke,” Limbaugh said. “And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we’re getting for our money.”
And on Friday, still defiant even after Democrats beat back Republican challenges to the new health care law, Limbaugh scoffed at the Democrats’ talk of a conservative “war on women.”
But by Saturday, he bowed.
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