A Rush to the Head: When News Personalities Become the News

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio personality and pundit, has a long track record of creating headlines and causing controversy with his  eyebrow-raising remarks.  As a media personality he has tremendous influence with his audience of over 15 million and in many ways influences the national discourse.  He is paid to speak his mind, unafraid to tackle hot topics or contentious issues. Yet this latest story seems to have gotten away from him.

Limbaugh’s recent incendiary remarks – about Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congress in support of President Obama’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptives for women – have stirred up a cauldron of media criticism and advertiser backlash with multiple advertisers dropping his show.

Limbaugh went from commentating on the story to being the story. Reports from the Atlantic Wire, AdAge, TVNewer, TheWrap.com and HuffPost have dissected his remarks focusing the spotlight on him and his program. At first Limbaugh stuck by his comments, but days later offered up an apology that many feel came across as insincere.

Limbaugh is no stranger to the news or making bombastic statements, yet his most recent tirade has moved him from commenting on the news to becoming the news.  He has plenty of company among other radio personalities experiencing media scrutiny and criticism for overstepping their bounds with harsh commentary. You might recall Imus’s infamous comments about the Rutger’s Women’s Basketball team/the WNBA.

Here are few key lessons learned from this controversy:

  • Colorful comments – generate quotes and attention but be careful to not distract from your own point. Be insightful, provocative and offer a strong viewpoint, but don’t ruin the story by becoming the story.
  • Track the temperature and pulse – track the story and monitor Twitter, Facebook and news sites for reaction. Are comments pro or con piling up?
  • Ready to react – stay engaged and have a focused response whether doubling down or retracting, marshal support and be prepared to weather a storm.

–Ben Tanner and Gregg Rosenberg

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One Response to A Rush to the Head: When News Personalities Become the News

  1. Tony says:

    Good insight into this situation and how to avoid this problem when counseling clients. I especially like the point about offering colorful comments but being careful to not distract from your own point. I think Rush’s predicament came about because of that.

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