The flight of advertisers from "The Rush Limbaugh Show" continued Wednesday, with a total of 45 national and local companies pulling their spots, according to the liberal activist groups angered by the talk radio host for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute."
But Limbaugh told his audience that the reports of advertiser defections had been greatly exaggerated by his opponents, and that the companies that pulled ads accounted for a small minority of the overall ad inventory on the 600 affiliates that carry his show.
"That's like losing a couple of french fries in the container when it's delivered to you at the drive-through," Limbaugh said. "You don't even notice it."
An industry expert at the trade magazine "Talkers" said that the system for buying radio advertising is extremely complex and it would be hard to assess Limbaugh's ad losses in the short run.
The liberal advocacy group Media Matters said it had recorded a list of 45 sponsors -- mostly national, but including a dozen that aired spots on WABC in New York, which the group monitors -- that had abandoned Limbaugh by Wednesday afternoon. They included big companies like J.C. Penney and Capital One and also local advertisers like Norway Savings Bank.
Several different activist groups chronicled, and encouraged, the advertiser defections, with much of the news about their decisions delivered on Facebook and Twitter. The individual social media missives revealed a complicated situation, including instances in which advertisers said they had maintained a "no run" policy for the Limbaugh show, even before the Fluke controversy.
J.C. Penney said via Facebook: "It has come to our attention that a handful of local radio stations may have played jcpenney radio spots adjacent to or during The Rush Limbaugh Show. To be clear, jcpenney is not a national advertiser of this show. We have a strict 'No Run' policy in place specifically regarding The Rush Limbaugh Show. After jcpenney confirms the facts, we will contact any local radio station that is in violation of our radio advertising parameters to ensure that our 'No Run' policy is adhered to regarding this program."
The liberal interest group Think Progress reported that Capital One had dropped its Limbaugh ads. It quoted the bank as saying: "Yes. We have reiterated our advertising choices to our media partners. If an ad did run, it was not authorized by us, and we do not want it to happen again."
Netflix told the digital culture website Boing Boing: "Spotted your tweets and wanted to let you know that Netflix has not purchased and does not purchase advertising on the Rush Limbaugh show. We do buy network radio advertising and have confirmed that two Netflix spots were picked up in error as part of local news breaks during the Rush Limbaugh show. We have instructed our advertising agency to make sure that this error will not happen again."
Limbaugh told his audience Wednesday that any defections had been inconsequential. He said some new advertisers already had signed on, following his commentaries on Fluke last week. "Everything is fine on the business side. Everything's cool," he said. "There is not a thing to worry about. What you're seeing on television about this program and sponsors and advertisers is just incorrect."
Angelo Carusone, campaign director for Media Matters, indicated that a review of Limbaugh's website or radio show suggested otherwise. He said that a position on the Limbaugh homepage long occupied by the computer security firm Carbonite had been left blank. And Carusone forwarded his group's log of sponsor time during Limbaugh's show Wednesday as it aired on WABC in New York, showing that many spots were occupied by free public service ads.
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Michael Harrison, publisher of "Talkers," said he opposes economic campaigns against radio hosts, whether they are liberal or conservative. He argued that such campaigns, if successful, tend to stifle free speech.
But Harrison contended that only a decline in audience would do serious damage to Limbaugh.
"If the listeners are bailing out, then I would say there is a long-term problem," Harrison said. "Then he would lose sponsors and new ones would be harder to find."
But Harrison said there are not yet indications of a listener exodus from the Limbaugh program.
"His audience is not outraged," Harrison said, adding that Limbaugh was turning the issue already into a campaign against allegedly untrustworthy mainstream media. "If you listen to his show, he is making it an us-against-them thing. That's how he built his whole show in the first place."
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