The Rush Limbaugh controversy has slowed down in recent days, but before we do away with it altogether, it’s worth exploring the media’s role in the drumbeat of criticism against him. There have been some charges that the scandal around Limbaugh’s misogynist language is hypocritical, that there is considerably more outrage over what the right-wing radio talker said than there has been when lefty pundits and comics have said similar things. Our own Rachael Larimore points out the troubling language of left-wing talk show host Randi Rhodes, who recently said that someone like Fox News contributor Monica Crowley should have her ovaries cut off. At the Daily Beast, Kirsten Powers mentions the nasty rants of men like Bill Maher, Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann. And Powers’ colleague Howie Kurtz piggybacks on that, saying part of the reason the press has been harder on Limbaugh is because “the mainstream media, much mocked by Limbaugh, has it in for him.”
I think there’s a major point that Kurtz is ignoring here, and it has less to do with the anti-Limbaugh biases of the media than with the basic biases inherent in the news business. The narrative of the two major political parties has for decades been that the GOP is the party of men, and the Dems are the party of women. This is not just a media perception; in point of fact, women tend to be more closely aligned with the Democratic party. Limbaugh’s misogyny feeds that narrative, which means his anti-woman statements get more play than those coming from a left-wing pundit. (For the same reason, if Mitt Romney makes yet another a wealth-related gaffe, it will get more attention than if Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum were to say the same thing.) The media is biased towards narratives, and unfortunately, the GOP’s narrative is that it’s a party considerably less friendly to women. Its current fixation on contraception only heightens this perception.
Happily for Limbaugh, though, Gloria Allred has just become involved in the scandal, which means the issue has officially jumped the shark. According the Associated Press, Allred sent to a letter to the Palm Beach County Attorney’s office suggesting they prosecute Limbaugh, who lives in Palm Beach, for the misdemeanor of “falsely and maliciously question[ing] a woman’s chastity” when he called Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Allred is so adept at stretching feminist outrage right up to (and sometimes over) the line of ridiculousness that I sometimes wonder if she is attempting some sort of satirical theater.