My Take: Rush Limbaugh's 'apology' fails test for public confession
The author argues that Rush Limbaugh didn't really apologize for maligning a Georgetown Law student.
March 6th, 2012
01:05 PM ET

My Take: Rush Limbaugh's 'apology' fails test for public confession

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Dear Rush, which part of “I’m sorry” don’t you understand?

The ritual of public confession is so formulaic in American culture that it’s hard to imagine that someone as media savvy as Rush Limbaugh doesn’t know how to do it. But his so-called apology for calling Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” shows he doesn’t know the first thing about this rite, so here is how it goes.

First, admit that you have done wrong. Say this straight. Do not hedge. Do not confuse things by saying that others have wronged you. Do not say that others have committed similar sins.

Here the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church is a good model:

Most merciful God,

We confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what we have done,

and by what we have left undone.

Second, show that you are truly sorry. Saying “I’m sorry” (which Limbaugh did not do) is a good start, but it isn’t enough. You have to make yourself believable. Here tears are not necessary, but they help. Others need to believe that you are confessing for the sake of your soul, and not merely for the sake of your career. Hint: the best way to make that happen is to actually be sorry.

Third, humble yourself. Admit that you are a human being like the rest of us. This can be difficult for people with a high opinion of themselves. So what. Suck it up.

Fourth, repent, turn around, promise that you will go and sin no more.

Look familiar? It should, if you’ve ever gone to Catholic Mass or observed Yom Kippur. But Limbaugh flubbed it big time.

First, he didn’t really apologize for turning a public policy question into a vicious personal attack. In fact, he said, “I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.”

Second, he tried to justify his unjustifiable behavior by claiming that he was trying to be “absurd” and “humorous.” He wasn’t trying to libel or slander Fluke, or to shut her up or humiliate her. He was just trying to have a little fun.

Third, Limbaugh stopped apologizing almost as soon as his apology had begun. Instead of detailing his many and manifold sins, he launched into a reprise of his argument against birth control coverage in U.S. health plans, and criticized President Obama along the way for coming to Fluke’s defense. In other words, he changed the subject, so the bulk of his ”apology” wasn’t an apology at all.

Finally, when he got to something approaching apologizing, Limbaugh did not apologize for what he really did. He did not apologize for launching a multi-day ad hominem attack against a private citizen. He did not apologize for dragging the American public through the muck and mire of his misogynistic fantasies. He did not apologize for inspiring a series of copycats in the right wing blogosphere.

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Instead he apologized for “insulting word choices.” In other words, he apologized for using the word “slut” instead of some less insulting synonym.

Given this abysmal performance, we should not be surprised that Fluke did not find his remarks particularly apologetic, or that she and many others believe he issued it not out of genuine remorse but in an effort to stanch the hemmoraging of advertisers from his show. “I don’t think that a statement like this issued, saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything, and especially when that statement is issued when he’s under significant pressure from sponsors who have begun to pull their support,” said Fluke, a Georgetown Law student.

Neither should we find it surprising that advertisers, including AOL, are fleeing the show en masse, and that some radio stations are now refusing to air it.

Limbaugh could have stanched the bleeding by practicing what historian Susan Wise Bauer has described as “the art of the public grovel.” Instead he gave us the art of the public equivocation.

Why? So why couldn’t he say, "I'm sorry"?

In a word: ego.

Republicans and Democrats will doubtless disagree about vices and virtues of the man who would be a GOP kingmaker. But there is no doubting that Limbaugh admires himself. And he is not about to sacrifice that form of worship at the altar of Sandra Fluke or anyone else.

That is why he is now blaming not himself but the companies who have stopped advertising on his show for their decision to separate themselves from his hate speech. “They’ve decided they don’t want you or your business any more,” he told his radio audience on Monday.

This in my view is a foolish course. Americans are a forgiving people. Many of the public figures profiled in Bauer’s “The Art of the Public Grovel” have come back into the public eye, not least President Bill Clinton. But the American public will not forgive you unless and until you confess and repent. And so far at least Limbaugh has refused to do either.

At this point, what is dragging Limbaugh down is not so much his incendiary attack on Fluke but his refusal to admit that, like the rest of us, he is a sinner, too. Until he does that, he will continue to float around in a celebrity limbo of his own making, praised by his true believers but damned - and rightly so - by most of the rest of us.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Celebrity • Church and state • Culture wars • Politics • Sex • Sexuality • United States

soundoff (1,250 Responses)
  1. ttoott55

    Add to this Bimbo's remarks: that the advertisers jumping ship surely got financial benefits from having the privilege of being allowed advertise to Rush Bimbo's listeners.
    Gawd, the honor, they should be crawling on their knees, kissing his feet that His Flatulence allowed them to advertise on his holy stage.
    This guy is as trashy as it gets. Donald Trump looks like a class act compared to Flush.

    March 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  2. Jebb

    It's about time that his advertisers (28 so far) have made a statement about the destructive slander & propaganda that is daily occurence on his garbage program. Being politically interested, I have found that Limbaugh is partially responsible for the vile political discourse America is plagued with. If Limbaugh's show were to end immediately, America would be a better nation!!!

    March 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Bo

      Ditto (Does that work?)

      March 6, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Martina


      March 6, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • scottpt1

      aMEN...Amen...second that......Upuckin heh.....sounds good.......I agree

      March 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Thank you Jebb,
      When you play loose and free with the facts, and spread hate,
      it is bound to come back and bite you in the azz sooner or later.

      Jebb, please change your handle, forgive me,
      but it sounds so.....redneck.
      Like jed clampet or something.
      Thanks for the post.
      Mark/Rochester New York.

      March 6, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  3. Joe Rockbottom

    All you need to know about republicans is that they consider limbaugh to be their intellectual leader. As laughable as that is to normal people, it is the truth and that is why the republicans are becoming irrlevant to normal life in America. Santorum (look it up if you don't know what that word means) expresses views that 99% of the people in America reject. Yet he is a "leader" of republicans. that is why he lives up the meaning of his name. Poetic, isn't it?

    March 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  4. edmundburkeson

    With every step this writer takes ... he becomes as guilty of what Rush did, if not more. He is allowing politics to divide us. We are still Americans aren't we? We still believe in what this country stands for don't we? Stop allowing your party to dictate everything that you do and you won't develop this holier than thou mentality. The one reason I believe Obama should not seek a second term is that he has deeply divided us. He has failed to bring us, Democrats and Repbulblicans together to do what we do best. Its time that we get someone who can brings us together, not divide us even further. As is stand with Obama, I believe we are facing four more years of gridlock because he is not a leader who possesses the ability to bring the incredibly talented leaders that we have elected to office.

    March 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Jon O


      March 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Inglourious

      You mean bring us together like the "Great Uniter" GW Bush did? Or perhaps how the current Republican candidates will do, just as soon as they are finished demonizing all Democrats?

      March 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • scottpt1


      March 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Martina

      You are misplacing the blame aren't you? The republicans, who fell so low that they consider it acceptable to use outright lies and a character assault, to regain their ground, the cretins, who hate Obama simply because he is black. Those are dividing this country.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • KENNY

      OMFG... are you high right now or just batpoo insane? "incredibly talented leaders that we have elected to office" as SETH AND AMY would say on their SNL sketch "REALLY????" our leaders that held us hostage over a debt ceiling increase that's like saying to your credit card company "i don't think I'll pay my bill this month until you lower your rate..." or our leaders that have NO RESPECT for the first black president that they don't even address him as it, interupt his speeches and despise him for NO VALID REASONS... those leaders??? wow... just wow...

      March 6, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Do Not Disassemble

      **** The one reason I believe Obama should not seek a second term is that he has deeply divided us. He has failed to bring us, Democrats and Repbulblicans together......

      George Bush said "you are either with us or against us"
      He wasnt talking about terrorists, he was talking about Americans.
      It worked very well.
      It has torn this country into pieces.

      President Obama has been working to repair the damage.
      The Republican party has torn a hole that needs to be fixed.

      There is no going back.

      March 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  5. Yaung Ni

    I am a democrat, but I do not hate or dislike republican , they have standard, but he, Rush, is just a lowlife, no-value-perso, he is just a second class human.

    March 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  6. bluemax77

    Live by the mouth, die by the mouth !! Only someone with this goons ego and conceit could think he’s indispensable and untouchable, and for what? Frightening “good old boys” who are having lunch in their trucks with his hate mongering garbage – Well so long hypocritical fat boy and good riddance..!!

    March 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  7. T3chsupport

    From the comments on this board, it's pretty apparent that we should make birth control free and available to any and all. The people of this country who are breeding should stop right now, because they aren't the ones who should be breeding. The ones that should won't, because the ones who don't make the world a terrible place to raise kids. Maybe send out a little packet of pills with the Sunday paper every month. Hell, put it in the water supply! Children of Men, here we come!

    March 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Skyler

      Pencils! Robots hung the engine of effervescence to the severance creating lipstick around wedding undertoe!

      March 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • momoya

      It depends on your perspective.. For the humans species, the best thing would be to limit population growth to a very, very minimum for at least a few decades.. The problem is that evolution drives reproduction, and that's why we all enjoy it so much.. So for any particular individual (especially male) the goal would be to have as many children as possible as this guarantees that "your" genes carry on into the future..

      Of course, if the human species collapses, it hardly matters how prevalent you've been in passing out your genes.. Either way, we're at the top of the food chain, and science tells us exactly what's in store for us.. Massive collapse, followed by some other new-comer organism that is able to use the products of humanity as fuel for its survival–exactly as we exploit the once-dominant species (dinosaurs) in the form of oil, for our survival today..

      March 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • T3chsupport

      My money is on crows. Or dolphins. Or sharktopus.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  8. Skyler

    Ooops. Belief blog. Now he's done it.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  9. Stephen P

    The way liberals support s l u t s it looks like a lifestyle that is revered by the libs. Enjoy!

    March 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • southernsugar

      And yes, you're a pig, too.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Your self-righteous indignation is showing. You might want to at least try to appear a little less partisan then maybe you could actually be taken somewhat seriously.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      Perhaps explain how Rush could be married four times yet never impregnate a woman. And of course, a discourse on his Viagra coverage would be welcome.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • works4me

      Time to put down the magazines and give your hand a rest... rectal cavity!

      March 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Were you doing her, Stephen? If not, what do you call the guys that were?

      Yeah, that's what I thought.

      March 6, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Do Not Disassemble

      You are right Stephen,
      This is much worse than A conservative Governor
      trying to pick up a gay fling in an airport bathroom.
      Oh the horror !!!
      Got to protect them family values.

      March 6, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  10. glorydays

    Why would he? To the lesser than intelligent that support him, his vitriol makes him a hero and the supposedly intelligent party members cower in his plus size presence. He epitomizes this vulgar party.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  11. sharky

    Rush didn't apologize and Obama didn't return Bill misogynist Maher's superpac million.

    Good now we have that cleared up let's move on.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Inglourious

      That's the thing with SuperPACs: they cannot be under a candidate's control or they are not legally a SuperPAC.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  12. scott

    Tell that to Bill Maher. Oops that's right he is on the Left. My bad. Still have not heard appology from him about Sarah Palin, her daughters, any other female conservative person. etc.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Dave A

      Scott: Sarah needs to apologize to all people with an IQ of more than 90

      March 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Refresh my memory: was Ms. Fluke running for office? Did she attack someone? Or did she attack ideas?

      Do try to use your head. Even if it's mostly empty.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      How about all those poor conservative women who love to go on his show? They have thicker skin than yours evidently.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, yeah, and learn to spell "apology", because no, that wasn't a typo, ya moron.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Rob

      I think Maher should apologize too, that doesn't mean the conservative side gets a freebie. I would hope that BOTH sides could behave better. I find Bill Maher offensive just like I do Rush Limbaugh.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • ca3b

      Lots of comparisons here to negative comments regarding Sarah Palin. There is little relationship between the two. The big difference is Sarah is a public figure, like any other recognized politician, media personality, and celebrity. The barbs and jabs go with the job. You'll be ridiculed on SNL, late night TV, etc. But you bought into that being a high paid public figure. The woman who was the target of Rush's attack was a private citizen. Vulgar insults hurled at a private citizen, who is merely expressing a political viewpoint, goes beyond appropriate boundaries when made by a public figure with unlimited access to the media in order to humiliate someone.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      If Maher should apologize, then so should Letterman, Leno, most of Hollywood, and every comedian who isn't some redneck nitwit.

      Please. This is not the same thing. This was not comedy. This was not on cable. And this was not a politician being skewered.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  13. Dave

    Maher is a comedian. Democrats do not grovel on his show and beg for forgiveness when they're opinions do not line up with his. Rush is welcome to rebrand himself a comedian that no one takes seriously on politics. Until then, he has different standards, and he can stop whining about it.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • jasie

      I'm waiting to hear an apology for Sarah Palin from all the hypocrites.

      March 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • sharky

      Bill Maher talks about political issues.

      But hey it is good to see you condone his brand of misogyny. WOW.

      Awwww double standards and hypocrisy. Bravo

      March 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      I'm waiting for Sarah Palin to apologize for ruining the Republican Party.

      March 6, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • A.J.

      Bill Maher is a comedian?

      March 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • jsok

      Actually there isnt much difference. Rush labels HIMSELF as a comedian and state he uses comedy to make a point, just as Bill "The Foul Mouth" Mahr. Thank you

      March 6, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      He can 'state' it all he wants. He's about as funny as a crutch.

      March 6, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • Do Not Disassemble

      *** jasie

      I'm waiting to hear an apology for Sarah Palin from all the hypocrites.
      When she admits she lied about Obamas death panels,
      until then, she is just a lying freaking ho.
      I dont take to liers.
      Guess that you do.

      March 6, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  14. kathleen

    I do really wish Rush hadn't said those things about that girl.... so that I wouldn't have to hear anymore dung come out of her mouth. She's gotten enough attention.
    By the way, she doesn't speak for all females.
    Why do we need birth control written into forced health care anyways?
    Has Komen agreed to finance that for us since they cowtowed to PPH......

    March 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Martina

      You don't represent the majority American women either. You represent those brain-washed undereducated housewives that are good only for breeding.

      March 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      You really have no idea what you're talking about when it comes to cost of birth control pills, Komen or PP. How about doing a bit of research from independent sources instead of getting all your information from people who hate birth control.

      March 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Career Girl

      Kathleen-Spot on!

      March 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Martina

      Of course, women, who just stay home and keep reproducing, have no idea of the costs of birth control. And they think that every woman should be like them.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Joe Rockbottom

      "...She doesn't speak for all females."

      No, not all, only 99% of them. Maybe you are of the 1% who does not use artifical birth control. 99% of american women say they have used artifical birth control. So, why not have it covered by insurance? If viagra (limbaugh needs it, and uses it, according to the news), then why not birth control? Just makes sense to normal americans (the 99%).

      March 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • videoroom

      Rush Limpbaugh is all the birthcontrol woman need, he needs Viagra and Oxycotin for gratification, illegally obtained.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So what, kathleen? You think women shouldn't use bc? Or that insurance shouldn't cover the cost of it, when it covers the cost of other prescriptions?

      Why not?

      Do you like being pregnant all the time?

      Guess what? Not everyone is like you. Not all women think birthing babies is the end-all and be-all of life on earth. Many of THEM actually work at careers you couldn't manage in your wildest dreams. Their jobs offer health care insurance. THEY, unlike YOU, actually pay something for their healthcare.

      I'll bet you never got a degree, did you?

      March 6, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Fearless Freep

      Just another freaking Republican who doesnt understand the issue.
      Shame that it is from a woman.
      Or is it ?

      March 6, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  15. Martina

    You don't represent the majority American women either. You represent those brain-washed undereducated housewives that are only good for breeding.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • manderson367

      Martina, so what you're saying that you're not good for breeding? Thank God, I'd hate to think that intolerant cretins like yourself are out there making little cretins..

      March 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Martina

      Manderson, intolerant cretin is you and the one, who cannot even read, even if just two sentences.

      March 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  16. bannister

    This is the second article I've read by this guy... and I'm getting sick of him already.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • scottpt1

      perhaps you shouldnt read anymore articles from reasonable people

      March 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  17. John

    I will also boycott every sponsor of his program. I have already emailed them. Sirius just sent me an email saying they are dropping Rush Limbaugh. Capital One claims to have never knowingly advertised on his program. They are checking to see how they got on the list. So, if you don't support misogony and Rush's other hate mongering rants, don't buy anything from the sponsors of his show.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  18. Martina

    People like Rush Bimbo just do not belong on a public radio or TV. He is no different form any domestic terrorist. Just instead to physically assaulting anyone, he cultivates hatred and incites the extremists at large to go step further than he himself might have gone. But this is not the only issue. The language and rhetorics he uses simply does not belong in the realm of public media. It only serves to degrade the American culture even further than it seems to have done already. I cannot imagine any European public figure use the kind of language he does and get away with it for sooo long.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  19. Kathleen

    The only reason I wish Rush hadn't said those things is so I didn't have to hear anymore from that dingbat female who doesn't speak for all women.
    Seriously, who needs birth control added to forced health care when you can get if for free at Planned Parent thanks to Komen bending over and taking it like man.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • T3chsupport

      Forced healthcare? Are you on crack? People still pay for their own healthcare, therefore they are paying for their own birth control through the insurance company. People pay hundreds a month for prescription coverage. This is a prescription.

      You should take birth control. I'll pay for it.

      March 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Bhawk

      That makes you a freeloader sponging off all of us who pay tremendous amounts of money for health care and in property taxes to hospital districts for people that will not buy health care or some insurance company wont insure.

      March 6, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • scottpt1

      another classy republican......

      March 6, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  20. Bo

    Limbaugh’s egotistical arrogance has turned against him. He doesn’t know how to handle it. He is use to putting people down and getting away with it. he doesn’t know how to apologize because he has never done it before, he believes he does nothing wrong. (How many times has he been married?" Does he have it right yet?
    He is like someone else I know who said, “I never have to apologize because I never do anything wrong.”
    If you have ever heard anyone call into his program with something good to say, he ups it like he can do better. I have never heard him congratulate anyone on a good idea, he always makes it sound like “I know that” and then adds something to it to make the person’s idea sound impotent.
    I got tired of him saying he was “...on loan from God.” and “I whip any liberal with half my brain tied behind my back.”
    I thought it was really, really funny one time when he called his wife while on his show to refute the idea that he was egotistical. He said. “Honey, am I arrogant?” with out hesitation she replied, “Yes, of course you are!” He was flabbergasted for a moment, but excused her for not knowing him as well as she should have. Sorry if I have offended anyone here.

    March 6, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • videoroom

      Rush does not take live calls because he does not take calls from people that oppose his view and can't take the chance of being made the fool he is

      March 6, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
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