Valerie Geller, a veteran radio consultant who worked at Limbaugh's WABC flagship in New York, said it appears that advertising money coming into Limbaugh's show is slowing down. "I think it's a very big wakeup call," she said.
Whether the advertisers return is another question. Limbaugh has a daily audience estimated at between 2 million and 3 million people, according to Talkers magazine.
"I suspect some people will permanently stay away," said Tom Taylor, executive editor at Radio-Info.com. "I suspect some people will drift back to Rush. What you won't see is a press release of someone saying, 'Hey, we're back with Rush!'"
While a law student, Carusone was active in a campaign to reach Beck's advertiser that began after the commentator said in July 2009 that President Barack Obama had "a deep-seated hatred for white people." Eventually, more than 400 advertisers said they didn't want to be part of Beck's show and, for Fox, the ad revenue was nowhere near what would be expected for a TV show as popular as Beck's. When Beck left Fox in June 2011 to take his show to the Web, the parting was mutual.
The idea with Limbaugh is similar: take advertisers away so rates go down, Carusone said. Couple that with the need to keep track of ever-changing lists of who will advertise with Limbaugh and who won't, and Media Matters hopes that station managers, market by market, may someday conclude that it's just not worth the trouble.
Conveniently, many stations will soon have a choice. Former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is launching his own syndicated radio show in April that will air at the same time as Limbaugh's, and Huckabee's backers are touting the show as a more civilized alternative.
Beyond the First Amendment concerns, industry experts like Talkers magazine publisher Michael Harrision are concerned that Media Matters' effort will simpy take some advertisers out of radio altogether when they have different options.
Carusone said Limbaugh has a chilling effect of his own. "There are plenty of people who self-censor out of fear that Mr. Limbaugh will smear them," he said.
The means of protest puts Media Matters and the conservative Media Research Center in the unlikely position of agreeing with each other. Brent Bozell, founder of the conservative media watchdog, said his group also informs advertisers of things it considers objectionable.
"We all have free speech," Bozell said.
That's where the agreement stops. Bozell this week called on MSNBC chief Phil Griffin to resign, citing objectionable things said in the past by Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton, both MSNBC show hosts. It's in part retaliation for attacks on Limbaugh, he said. The Fluke story was covered extensively by MSNBC.
"There's a great sense of selective outrage that is going on here," he said.
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