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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. know your facts

    @nah doctor shopping is a junkie looking for a fix.

    March 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  2. Annaliesa

    I'm sure there are a thousand other inflammatory comments Rush could have made that didn't include calling a woman some of the most insulting things you could call her. I don't doubt that the comments were made to get attention, but they did cross the line. It's his choice to say such things, but I'm not entirely sure if the comments did what he intended. He certainly received attention, but he's lost a lot in advertising revenue and listenership by radio stations ceasing his broadcast. He made himself look like an idiot, and I don't doubt there are a lot of conservatives who find his remarks disgusting.

    March 7, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  3. Yoyall

    Just as pathetic as Limbaugh was Mitt Romney's response. When asked to comment on Rush, he tried to run and hide until they finally caught up to him a couple of days after Mitt had a chance to think it over. Here's what they got out of him as he was again on the run from the inconvenient question: "Those were not the words I would have chosen." I'm sure the ladies and all people with even a smidgen of conscience and integrity are impressed. Quite the future leader, eh?

    March 7, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • onesimple man

      just like the time he said God d___ America. wait, that was Oboma's pastor. my mistake, never mind

      March 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  4. Yoyall

    The only followers he'll keep are those who are just as disgusting and vile as he is.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  5. Yoyall

    What do you call a public figure and voice of a party who can't say he's sorry for such vile remarks? A pathetic overfull burlap bag of trash.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  6. ????

    Rush accomplished what he wanted. Create controversy and let the money roll in to Rush. Might bring some of the rabid Rush-aholics back into the fold for him.

    March 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • sharon

      And who'd want to be one of those losers?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  7. Rambo

    As I was reading the radio script that got Rush Limbaugh in trouble, I couldn't help from laughing because Rush totally reminds me of Archie Bunker. On the serious side I bet the people who borrow the money to the United States government is behind the Obama health care plan and everything they are trying to push through. Population control is one of them.

    March 7, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Jabberwocky

      Oh, brother.

      March 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Yoyall

      Go run back to your bunker and hide. We'll call you when Armagedon has passed.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • sharon

      Just when I was beginning to miss those conspiracy theories...Rambo, go take a nappy-poo in your little bomb shelter and then ride around on your little stick horse and take out those aliens!

      March 7, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  8. mitch

    Mean what you say and say what you mean. Rush either does not believe in what he is saying or is a coward who lacks the character to stand by his statements.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  9. False Dichotomy

    The thing is, according to his own explanation he is not just calling Fluke those things, he is calling anyone who would like to have contraceptive medication covered under their health insurance a who.re. That accusation includes my mother, my wife, many of your mothers, wives, and daughters as well. The man is a sleazebag and deserves what any man who says that about someone's family deserves – to be knocked on his fat a.ss.

    March 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  10. sc


    March 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • lunchbreaker

      Your mother charges money for woopums.

      March 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Primewonk

      The Blaze? Seriously? Glenn Beck?

      Question – where do you think Rush got the whole suit thing? Because he, like Beck, obviously did not read Fluke's testimony. Plus she went to GU to get a law degree. She spent several years after undergrad working with groups to help victims of domestic violence. And for some reason, you cretins think helping abuse victims is a bad think.

      She has been working to get GU to include contraception in the insurance she, and all other GU students are required to purchase. Guy does not pay for, or subsidize this I surance. She, and others have gone so far as to offer to purchase the same insurance plan that GU employees get – THAT COVERS CONTRACEPTION!

      Why is it you cretins keep lying?

      March 7, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  11. Ladybug

    Rush Limbaugh is a sweaty pig. He has been calling women FemiNazi's for years. If that is not an indication of hatred for a woman,than I don't know what you would call his slanderous remarks. How does he think he got on this earth?
    His parents should have been using birth control before R L. was conceived. I would gladly have paid for them.

    March 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  12. lookindown

    Scott, Primewonk called you out and set you straight, big time. Can't you respond honestly? If you ignore her you are admitting she is right.

    March 7, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • False Dichotomy

      Yep, Primewonk pretty much laid it out straight. What say you?

      March 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Reality

    Only for the newbies:

    Getting to the nitty gritty of birth/STD control and way beyond the likes of Limbaugh and Prothero:

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity: ->>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Guttmacher has listed these safer methods in their on-line reviews. Doubling up i.e. Pill plus condom or mutual masturbation are not listed but should be.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

    "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts. ...

    Note: Some words are hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter.

    March 7, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  14. scott


    March 7, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • kc

      How does insurance equal my money? The government is not paying the insurance premium.

      March 7, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Nonimus

      Still waiting for apologies from @scott for writing in all-caps.

      March 7, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Duke5343

      Nancy Pelosi then held a hearing at which Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke was the lone witness. Fluke was presented to us initially as a 23-year-old college coed, struggling to make ends meet. But it turns out that Ms. Fluke is 30-years-old and an experienced activist.

      She's championed many liberal causes, including something called "reproductive justice." She says she chose Georgetown purposely because contraception was not included in their insurance policy and she wanted to change that. To many of us, her "testimony" was laughable. Rush Limbaugh found it so absurd that he's gotten into some hot water over his remarks.

      March 7, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Reality


      Please give references to support your statements.

      March 7, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Jabberwocky

      I'd like to see that source as well.

      March 7, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Primewonk


      I wonder why you said this? You advise us to read Fluke's testimony to see that she said she wants us to pay for her birth control.

      Tell you what Scott – I will send a $1000 donation to the tea part goup of your choice if you take your own advice. Go to one of the thousnads of websites that have a transcript of her testimony on it. Copy the sections of her testimony where she talks about wanting us to pay for her birth control and post it here.

      To be honest, I could raise the offer to a billion ndollars, and it won't matter. Do you know why Scott?

      Because you ARE LYING. No where in her testimony (I actually read it instead of just parroting what Limbaugh said she said) does she say this.

      She has a student health insurance policy thaat she already pays over $1800 a year for. She, and others, offered to puchase the insurance plan the GU employees get – it includes contraception She wants her insurance to cover her medications like it does all other medications.

      I wonder why Scott, and many other tea baggers here continue to post lies about Fluke? I kinda thought your god was against lying?

      March 7, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • mitch

      By the reasoning i have decided that I do not want to pay for Mr. limpbaugh's viagra.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • sharon

      Are you just yelling or are you afraid of losing track of the shift key?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • know your facts

      and i want my money back for Iraq, Vietnam, the lack of growth caused by the suits that kept my lifetime investment of 40 yrs in SS from growing for two years, etc. get over yourself

      March 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • KenKicker

      You am de dumbest....

      March 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  15. BoldGeorge

    People are missing the point in all this, even you Mr. Prothero. When folks in in the media or in celibritydom make a public statement or say something inappropriate where others can hear it and then make it public, they know what they are saying, they know their statement will bring consequences, either good ones or bad ones, and most of all, they know they will have to apologize afterwards. But they will still choose to make their statement. Everyone with half a brain knows that when you say something, you can't take it back. Forget about inappropriate or not, when you have this powerful phenomena called "a public forum" to make a statement, any statement...YOU CAN & YOU WILL no matter the consequences.

    March 7, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  16. lunchbreaker

    Rush can say whatever he wants. What I find disturbing is that people are defending his right to say it but no one cares about this girl. If someone insulted your sister would you just say, "well he has the right to say that," or would you try to defend her. I have the free speech to talk about the dirty things I did to your mom last night, but I'd still be a d-bag for saying it.

    March 7, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Nonimus

      "I have the free speech to talk about the dirty things I did to your mom last night, but I'd still be a d-bag for saying it."

      Actually, that would probably be libel or slander, because you are claiming that "your mom" did something that she did not do, which is illegal, if "your mom" is harmed by it.

      March 7, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Primewonk

      For several days Limbaugh repeated told lies about Fluke on the public airwaves. Fluke is not a public official or figure. She was a college student called to testify before Congress.

      Rush had the ability and the opportunity to watch, listen or read Fluke's actual testimony. If he did read her testimony, why did he tell lies about what she said?

      March 7, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • lunchbreaker


      March 7, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  17. NVAKathy

    Such a double standard. Rush is a radio host, not a politician, just like Bill Maher. But Bill sure has a free pass. Same with John Stewart.

    March 7, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • momoya

      Free speech is everyone's right.. Rush is much "bigger" than Maher.. Rush makes a lot more money and reaches a lot more people and makes much larger claims about himself and his role in politics and political power.. Rush doesn't need to apologize just like Maher didn't have to apologize, but hopefully enough public outcry will cause Rush to lose sponsors and be busted down to about Maher's pay and influence.. Does that help you understand the issue more clearly?

      March 7, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Nonimus

      I'm not sure this is a free speech issue, it may be a libel issue. Generally, you cannot say things that will "defame" a person if they are not true and broadcasting it is even worse. To call someone names in general may not be legally actionable, but Rush called her a "prosti.tute" which has a specific meaning of taking money for s.ex, i.e. slu.t is an opinion, but prosti.tute is factual. I don't know what Bill Maher said, but Rush's words may be illegal.

      March 7, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Duke5343

      However, Democratic members of Congress wanted to include a witness, college student Sandra Fluke, to talk about contraception. Issa refused, saying what she had to offer was not pertinent to the discussion. Two Democratic congresswomen walked out of the hearing and straight to the microphones, demanding to know, "Where are the women?"

      From that moment, the hearing, which according to the Congressional Record was called "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State," became known in the press and by every Democrat as "the hearing where the men are trying to take birth control away from women" or some variation of the same.

      Nancy Pelosi then held a hearing at which Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke was the lone witness. Fluke was presented to us initially as a 23-year-old college coed, struggling to make ends meet. But it turns out that Ms. Fluke is 30-years-old and an experienced activist.

      March 7, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Jabberwocky

      Duke, where are you getting this information?

      March 7, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • JohnR

      Well, you can check the wikipedia entry for some of this she was born in 1981 and:

      "Fluke graduated from Cornell University in 2003 and spent five years working for Sanctuary for Families, a New York-based nonprofit aiding victims of domestic violence, where she launched the agency's pilot Program Evaluation Initiative. She co-founded the New York Statewide Coalition for Fair Access to Family Court, which successfully advocated for legislation granting access to civil orders of protection for unmarried victims of domestic violence, including LGBTQ victims and teens. Fluke was also a member of the Manhattan Borough President's Taskforce on Domestic Violence and numerous other New York City and New York State coalitions that successfully advocated for policy improvements impacting victims of domestic violence"

      March 7, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • sharon

      But Bill and John are not idiotic d-bags. They're funny. Rush is not. Failing to see how what you said makes any sense....whatsoever!

      March 7, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  18. Ken Oberman

    Too bad people aren't allowed to speak their minds anymore. It's a shame someone doesn't kick that lying woman down a flight of concrete/metal stairs in the middle of a freezing winter night in a bad part of town.

    March 7, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • False Dichotomy

      That you can cough up that deplorable comment demonstrates that people are allowed to speak their mind. Limbaugh has not been arrested, so quit your whining.

      Limbaugh is rightfully catching heII for being a vile sleazebag of a human being. You have every right as an American to choose to be one too.

      March 7, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • momoya

      See, Ken, with speech like that you probably won't be hosting a talk show as most people don't want to hear that sort of thing.. Now imagine that you already had a huge following and lots of advertisers and you said something like that.. Your listeners would voice their opinion; you'd lose advertising support; you'd have to go off the air.. See how it works?

      March 7, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Josh

      Um, yeah..... That sort of reaction is to be expected from a Rush Limbaugh listener.

      March 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • JohnR

      Feel better now, Oberman? It's "too bad" that someone isn't assaulted?

      March 7, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • sharon

      Ken Oberman–you're as much a mysoginist as Rush is. Free speech is fine, but you are wishing someone with whom you disagree, harm. You just might lose your sponsors, your audience, your show. See how that is?

      March 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 7, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Jesus

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      March 7, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Primewonk

      Spam! Spam! Spam! Spam!
      Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!
      Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam.
      Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!
      Spam spam spam spam!

      March 7, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • NVAKathy

      Did you see the movie Courageous yet? Our world would be in such better shape if we could all understand His truth.

      March 7, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • bigot

      "Did you see the movie Courageous yet? Our world would be in such better shape if we could all understand His truth."

      What "truth" is that? That fallible men wrote the bible? or that the writers of the NT never knew Jesus, only wrote about him 40+ years after his death? Or that the bible promotes, slavery, murder, discrimination and bigotry throughout?

      March 7, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • just sayin

      Truth Wonderful Truth, Saw Courageous for the first time the other night well done, moving and extremely challenging.

      March 7, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • just sayin

      Sadly the studies referenced by it that takes the Lord's name in vain have been proven hopelessly false. Scholars recommend that it study God in prayer.

      March 7, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • ????

      Being a Deist, not an atheist, please offer we mere mortals one shred of proof of what you claim.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  20. Hitchens

    Rush Limbaugh
    The most misunderstood genius of our times.

    March 7, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • Nonimus

      ... did you mean least understandable?

      March 7, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • But Actually

      No Nonimus, they actually meant the most misunderstood Misogynist of our times!

      March 7, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • ????

      Actually he is one of the best con men of all time. Should have been a preacher.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • sharon

      Genius, no; idotic d-bag, yes.

      March 7, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
About this blog

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.