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:
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.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Of course the liberals will say this. When Ed Schultz said he was sorry to Laura Ingraham is was forgiven. Libs have no class at all.
bob: Authoritative comment. Convincing? Not so much.
Republicans have people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin and you say liberals have no class?
This article actually has nothing to do with that and only discusses what an actual apology is. You may believe that different political pundits are held to different standards but that is not relevant as to whether or not Limbaugh apologized. He did not, but it thats really not surprising for a guy who talks trash all day long.
It doesn't matter what he says at this point. Because if he were to crawl and grovel and say I'm sorry – We'd all just figure he was trying to get his advertisers back.
lwhen libs are wrong they always fall back on their favorite hate speach word RACIST
Goshers, I am just SO won over to the other side by the use of the word "speach".
Oh, wait. It isn't a word? Damn!
tomtom: I was thrown off right out of the gate with 'lwhen'.
Republicans have Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and you say liberals have no class?
Thanks for accentuating the articles point: just like Limbaugh you were able to avoid actually commenting on the issue at hand and instead used the moment to attack the left.
Must be the hate speach-ula!!!
Tom; Don't Y'all know that's how they spell speech at Inbred Acres Trailer Park?
Rush Limbaugh DITHERED instead of apologizing. Does that make his listeners Ditherheads?
That deserves an SNL video clip
Do sociopaths really ever feel sorry about anything?
thespirit: I will never forget an exchange in an interview with Ted Bundy; When asked if he had any 'remorse' for the dozens of murders he'd committed, his response was "I have no idea what the word means".
A phoney apology from rushh has to be about money. I will never be able to understand how a bully and a racist fool can become so important to a significant part of america. Maybe it tells us something about our country. Lord help us.
I'm convinced that a whole lot more than 14 millions think the same thoughts.
Funny how T3chsupport can write a book on this forum but anybody critical of Miss Fluke and her motives are silenced. CNN bias at work again.
Ha! It took me like 5 revisions to get that novel posted. You just need to try harder.
Apparently that rant from t3chsupport was all about tits 😉
C'mon, Dave. Don't be so paranoid; you really think CNN gives a damn about what you post? It's an automated filter for certain letter/word combos.
Nah, t!ts were attacked like last month, or the one before, when SGK pulled their funding from planned parenthood. This month it's about things going into and coming out of po0nanzers, and who should be allowed to legislate such activities.
Sandra Fluke may be a student but she is really an activist.
Rush is jerk and should be suspended. But lets stop pretending that this is the worst thing ever. I only found out today what Bill Maher said about Sarah Palin and it literally took my breath away. Maher said the worst thing you can say about a woman period. But nothing, not a peep from anybody.
It's interesting that so many replies are, "Well, b-b-b-but Bi-Bi-Bill Maher said offensive stuff t-t-t-too!"
If it's wrong for Maher, then it's wrong for Rush!!. The issue is Rush unless two wrongs make a right.. Are you people really claiming that?!? Fvck me!
Limbaugh does not need to really apologize, because in Rush-World, the people are divided sharply in two - (A) those who already agree with him and his lousy "choice of words" and (B) those who would never ever listen to him. His sponsors were there because he had an audience they wanted to pursue (A); they left in droves this week because his provocation was severe enough to catch the attention of (B) and prompt retribution against Limbaugh *and his advertisers*. He's not apologizing to (A), because they don't think he's wrong; he's also not apologizing to (B) because there's nobody on the fence expecting it. So it's only a way to give cover to the sponsors. Once this blows over, many of them will be back.
I don't know what we could do to make our national discussion more civil, but boycott threats are a blunt tool for doing that. The fact is, Limbaugh's nasty talk draws an enthusiastic crowd, and money with it. Toning down the rhetoric would mean walking away from money. It's hard to break that cycle.
If Rush is not sorry, then he should not apologize. But he also should quit trying the blame the consequences of his actions on everyone but himself. He should either give an honest apology or take ownership of his words & endure the consequences. That is what the words "personal responsibility" mean. So far Rush has done neither.
I am amazed that these two points were overlooked:
1. The most offensive piece of Mr. Limbaugh’s diatribe what that to compensate for contraception being covered, women should post their s*x acts online. So now he is pro-p*rn?
2. That Mr. Limbaugh, a grown man that has been married to four different women and has not produced any children, does not know how the pill works. He seems to think that women have to take it each time they have s*x. Is he really that clueless?
kid: Yep, we're talking about the same guy.
So... as a religious scholar, that makes you an expert on apologies? The next time I need an opinion from a elitist, self absorbed, windbag– ill give you a call.
And any time I need an empty, feeble, ad hominem argument to try to defeat a reasoned, logical statement, i'll call on you.
tomtom: "Oh? Do explain how it's different, dear. I'm just all ears."
Reading comprehension isn't your forte, eh?
But for your benefit: there's a difference between someone going out and looking for illegal drugs – that serve no medical purpose – in order to "get high", and a person who is on legitimate prescription medications and who, because of their physiological response to the medications, becomes dependent on them.
In the one case you have an addict who initially, and every time thereafter, was merely looking for a "fix", and in the other you have someone on prescription medications who has become addicted to them because of that prescription.
Try reading the comment next time. And when you can't respond, admit defeat and move on. You'll look less foolish that way.
Aww, tom, you ran away right when you had to support your beliefs.
How sad 🙁
Using the reply link makes it easier for people to follow up on whatever you're ranting about...
Ahahhahha! I knew it.
tom: "Ahahhahha! I knew it. ... Apologist."
*yawn* Another non-response from tom, eh?
Oh, sam, don't be too harsh. Nah isn't quite up to speed on the niceties of the web.
He's just a tad old and a bit of a misogynist.
That doesn't excuse his being an apologist for drug addicts and blowhard gasbags.
Then again, what would anyone expect? He is one of their kind. And does rely on the kindness of strangers, after all....
sam: "Using the reply link makes it easier for people to follow up on whatever you're ranting about..."
Nah, it was repasted from the original reply in order to goad him into making an actual response.
As you can see, he's incapable of doing so.
tom: "He's just a tad old and a bit of a misogynist. ... That doesn't excuse his being an apologist for drug addicts and blowhard gasbags."
tsk tsk. You're not a very good troll at all.
Oh, gosh. How heartbroken am I?
You're a sh!tty parent. Not much of a comparison, is there, porker?
nah: It was the prescription's fault? I have to admit – I've never heard that one before. The pills actually leap into your mouth? Nope, I'm not buying that
Not a "he", ya moron. Go ahead, deny your words, Nah.
Tell everyone how you'd be willing to allow your kid to die of cancer rather than get him/her vaccinated, because doing so might 'encourage" or "permit" him/her to have s#x before marriage.
oooh, that's the difference, is it? Gosh, in one case it's a weakness of character and in the other it isn't, is that about it?
Wow. What a strong example of courage YOU are.
sdn: "It was the prescription's fault? I have to admit – I've never heard that one before. The pills actually leap into your mouth? Nope, I'm not buying that"
Nah. The causation isn't similar because the reasons for the addiction are drastically different. Or have you never been near a cancer patient, or someone with chronic pain, who, as sad as it may be, becomes dependent on their medications thanks to the dosages required?
There simply isn't a moral equivalence to becoming addicted to your own prescription medications, and seeking out a "fix" on the streets through narcotics you had no need for in the first place.
Hate Limbaugh all you want, but denying that fact shows more that you're dogmatic and partisan than intelligent and open minded.
Yer an idiot. Cancer patients don't "become dependent" on painkillers, ya daft moron.
When are you going to tell us about your kid and Gardasil, you fraud?
I wonder what your kids will view you as being, Nah?
Can't imagine it'll be a very flattering portrait.
tom: "oooh, that's the difference, is it? Gosh, in one case it's a weakness of character and in the other it isn't, is that about it?"
Nah. Addictions are created because of a physical need for a medication. Moral culpability hinges on intention. Hence, a person who becomes addicted to their own prescription medications - because of the prescription itself - is not blamable.
The drug addict who seeks a fix by taking medications (which he never needed in the first place) intended something completely different from the hapless patient who's given necessary medication for pain.
I'm sorry you're too stupid to see the difference.
Thank G0d I'm an atheist.
Oh, wait. Nope, it's one shot and you blew it, Nah.
Rush is a stupid pile of shit! I hope he has a massive heart attack lol!
Who cares what "Pills" Limbaugh says. BTW. His real nemesis is NOT Obama....it's Ron Paul!!
Ron Paul 2012!!!!
Narcissists like Limbaugh are incapable of thinking they did anything wrong, much less apologize for something.
is she a muncher
Probably wouldn't need birth control if she was.
El Fat Rushbo is just a fluke in how so many ignorant people believe in what he spews all day long-but he just stepped into a pile of it, and things may right themselves finally. We can only hope and pray-Adios M.F.
man they better not let him go off the air,if people dont like what he has to say turn the dial,he has all t6he wright in the world to say what ever he wants to its called freedum of speach!who cares weather hes wright or wrong people have a choice to listen to what he has to say or just turn him off,why should he say hes sorry no way!the women comes on there and states the insurance comp should pay for to go out and screw any one she wants and let them pay for it so she dont come home prgnet get out of town shes lucky he got on her i would have been much less forgiven!