As President of iHeart Media, you’re not only a role model, you set the tone for radio content distributed on iHeart’s 850+ radio stations and other holdings. In researching an article I’m writing about the future of the radio industry, I read an interview with you, which included your comments about iHeart personality Rush Limbaugh. In light of recent news about the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana and Mr. Limbaugh’s recent comments comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality, I had to write.
While I understand that Limbaugh generates substantial revenue for iHeart, I was disappointed to read your words that embraced him wholeheartedly. Limbaugh’s openly hostile and homophobic comments, coupled with his racist and sexist remarks, have contributed to an environment advertisers increasingly avoid, according to The Wall Street Journal and Time.
Your words of praise for Mr. Limbaugh are troubling: “A huge focus for me is to have Rush be appreciated for what he truly is. He has been unfairly painted negatively as a mean conservative, but the truth is that he's a champion of American business and someone who creates jobs. The big story — and what we have learned — is that virtually all the negativity around him over the last two years has stemmed from very small number of people in social media. We have found that 70 percent of the attacks are coming from just 10 people. ... What's unfair about this is that it's not hurting Rush or Premiere; we're fine. It is hurting small businesses in America, causing small businesses in particular to shy away from advertising on the most effective radio show to grow business. We're really committed to countering the negativity.”
Darren, that’s tortured logic diverting attention from the truth. Characterizing the public backlash to Limbaugh as “coming from just 10 people” is false. Rush Limbaugh is America’s least-trusted news source and for good reason.
Thousands of Americans have signed online petitions, organized through social media, and boycotted Limbaugh’s advertisers. Your attempt to dismiss these citizens as “negativity” from “10 people” is untrue and complicit with Rush Limbaugh’s toxic rhetoric.
You are entitled to defend Limbaugh’s freedom of speech, but deflecting attention from his intolerance and bigotry by citing free enterprise is unconvincing, deceptive, and disrespectful to citizens defending freedom and equality for all.
Throughout American history, every freedom we’ve won — from the right of women and African-Americans to vote to the freedom for interracial couples to marry — happened because of the hard work of exceptional Americans willing to stand up for their own constitutional rights and those of their fellow citizens.
As an openly gay media professional just like yourself, I recognize the difficult position you’re in trying to preserve revenue generated by Limbaugh, especially given the pressure of iHeart’s $20+ billion debt. But with power comes responsibility.
Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Darren, remember, there are still 29 states in which people can be fired simply for being gay. The powerful movement opposing Limbaugh’s politics of hate and exclusion is bigger than just Limbaugh, it’s a battle to actualize two of America’s founding principles: that we are all created equal and that we are safeguarded by the United States Constitution with equal protection under the law.
Moral courage and decades of hard work from patriots who fought for our freedom helped provide the opportunity you now enjoy. You’re free to marry the person you love, pursue happiness, and prosper in your role as president at iHeart Media. But by embracing Limbaugh, a man whose homophobic rhetoric endangers for others the same type of opportunities you were given, you're essentially yanking up the ladder that enabled your climb to the top.
PAUL GOLDSTEIN is a media strategist and veteran broadcast radio programmer. His website is TheContentIsKing.com.