Skip to main content

Georgetown vs. Limbaugh: Confronting a Bully

Georgetown, an enclave of the media and political elite, can be too perfect, self-important, and seemingly disconnected from average American concerns. But now, some women in Georgetown have taken on a bully. Georgetown women, for a change, are the underdogs.

"As a woman who has been viciously slashed by Rush Limbaugh, I can tell you, it’s no fun," wrote Maureen Dowd, a West Village resident, in one of her most personal columns to date in the New York Times. "At first you think, if he objects to the substance of what you’re saying, why can’t he just object to the substance of what you’re saying? Why go after you in the most personal and humiliating way?"

That is what happened to Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old Georgetown law student who Limbaugh branded, on the mega-airwaves of American talk radio, a “slut,” “a prostitute” and “round-heeled” for testifying to Congress regarding the debate over whether health insurance should cover contraception for women.

"Sandra Fluke 'goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her?' Limbaugh coarsely ranted. 'It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps. The johns,'” Dowd quoted Limbaugh as saying, in her Sunday column.

Fluke's crime was representing the opinion of many women before a House panel aimed at ensuring that those who work for Catholic institutions can access the same reproductive options that other American citizens consider normal. Dowd, a Catholic who has defended her faith, and that of others, knows when a religious discussion has crossed the line into misogyny, or shall we say, simple debasing of women.

Lest we think that the presence of powerful women among us -- neighbors like Dowd, Valerie Jarrett, Madeleine Albright, Sally Quinn, and Kitty Kelley, all residents of Georgetown -- signify that women will be accorded with the respect and dignity assumed by all citizens, Limbaugh's ugly rant -- his belated and requisite apology notwithstanding -- is evidence to the contrary, and a wake-up call.

President Obama called Fluke to ask how she was doing, and to remind her that her parents, traditional Catholics, should be proud.

Friday, Georgetown U. President Jack DeGioia praised Fluke's "civil discourse" in a letter that criticized Limbaugh's rant: "And yet, some of those who disagreed with her position -- including Rush Limbaugh and commentators throughout the blogosphere and in various other media channels -- responded with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student."

Limbaugh at first mocked DeGioia's statement in an ongoing spray of acid -- as though DeGioia were a treebox on 36th Street. But after some advertisers threatened to pull back their support, Limbaugh offered a more prepared statement.

"My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices," Limbaugh's statement said.

In 2012, there are choices everywhere. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Senator, has questioned women's long-established service in our military. Front runner Mitt Romney said Limbaugh's rant against Fluke was "not the language I would have used, but I'm focusing on the issues that I think are significant in the country today."

The Georgetown Dish invites Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum to visit Georgetown -- to ask women what issues are significant to them today. The right to reproductive choice comes to mind. With a Supreme Court teetering on the edge of Ultra Conservative, such rights are not a given.

David Friend, CEO of former Limbaugh advertiser Carbonite, articulated the appropriate response to this incident a bit better than all the candidates for President: “No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”