Will Rush Limbaugh's ‘Slut’ Remarks Derail His Career?

Will Rush Limbaugh's 'Slut' Remarks Derail His Career?

Rush Limbaugh is losing advertisers in droves, but will this scandal actually be his undoing?

Rush Limbaugh has incensed advertisers and women’s rights activists alike by calling Sandra Fluke a “slut,” but will it cost him his job?

The fallout from Limbaugh's remarks continued to gain momentum on Tuesday, with two radio stations — WBEC in Pittsfield, Mass., and KPUA in Hilo, Hawaii – dropping the show from their schedule.

Meanwhile advertisers continue to flee: JC Penney, John Deere and Netflix all backed away from the conservative talker on Tuesday, bringing the list of defectors to more than 20.

Also read: Rush Limbaugh: His Greatest (or Worst) Hits

“I think it’s a Wizard of Oz moment. He’s melting before our eyes," said media consultant Michael Kassan, CEO of MediaLink. "We’re in a day and age where 600 stations is fleeting, and things can change on a dime based on information. Those 600 stations today can be 6 stations tomorrow."

Limbaugh takes in some $30 million a year in advertising for Clear Channel, which owns most of the 600 radio stations on which the show airs, according to a knowledgeable radio executive.

Clear Channel, which has affirmed its support for the incendiary host's right to free speech, is the largest owner of radio stations in the country. It owns Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates Limbaugh's show.

But Limbaugh's successive apologies don't appear to be doing him much good. Even Don Imus considered Limbaugh's apology insufficient, calling him "an insincere pig."

Also read: Jon Stewart: Rush Limbaugh Is 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Gross' (Video)

Limbaugh’s attack on Fluke, a Georgetown law student and contraception advocate, immediately drew criticism, and the censuring remarks show no sign of dying down soon. President Obama said on Tuesday that Limbaugh’s comments “don’t have any place in the public discourse” while Obama’s opponent in 2008, John McCain, called them “totally unacceptable.” 

A senior Clear Channel executive said they believed advertisers would return, citing previous scandals with other famous people, including Tiger Woods infidelities and Nike's distancing from him.

Also read: Obama Slams Rush Limbaugh's Slut Talk, JC Penney Pulls Its Ads

Robert Unmacht, an editor at trade website radio.info and a former station owner, agreed. He said losing core sponsors will hurt in the interim, “but there are probably others waiting in the wings."

Indeed, Ashley Madison, the dating service for people looking for love outside their relationships, has offered to fill Limbaugh's extra ad inventory.

“I’m trying to be the opportunistic entrepreneur that I am,” CEO Noel Biderman told TheWrap. “He’s clearly a controversial figure, one that to date has refused my overtures to advertise on his show.”

Now maybe Limbaugh will reconsider, Biderman said.

But potential ads from Ashley Madison might not be enough to keep Limbaugh on the air in certain markets.

"I think he's lost advertisers and certain stations for a long time," a high-level ad executive from the leading advertising agency Omnicom told TheWrap. 

Limbaugh, the nation’s most popular conservative radio host, faces widespread rebuke, but that does not mean he is in danger of losing his power.

Limbaugh has an audience of more than 15 million listeners, according to Talkers magazine. While the popularity of conservative talk radio is in decline, Limbaugh remains the undisputed king.

“He’s not the power he was – not in individual markets,” Unmacht said. “But once you aggregate 600 stations, you are still huge.”

So could a suspension or firing be next?

“I don’t see that at all,” Unmacht said. “You would have to see hundreds of station abandon him, and I just don’t see that happening.”

Limbaugh’s reach and audience differentiate him from Imus, who was fired from CBS Radio after making racist and misogynistic comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.

“It’s easier to get rid of people when they are not the franchise, but [Limbaugh’s] the franchise,” Al Tompkins, senior faculty member for broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute, told TheWrap.

It doesn’t hurt that Limbaugh’s core audience has stood by him. While those on the left are irate, many conservatives have avoided condemning Limbaugh because of his perceived power with right-wing voters.

Also read: Glenn Beck Double-Teamed by McCain Women Over 'Naked' Crack

The situation has also put GOP candidates in an awkward position as they try not to alienate female voters. Social topics like contraception and abortion are not winning ones for the GOP, especially when candidates like Rick Santorum take positions seen as out of step with most Americans.

Mitt Romney found the middle ground, saying that it was “not the language I would have used” and leaving it at that.

The fear is that if they criticize Limbaugh, he will turn his audience against them.

“Traditional followers haven’t renounced him, but what he said, and that’s an interesting little parsing,” Tompkins said.

Yet Limbaugh still faces the biggest crisis of his career, one that far worse than his brief but disastrous role on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" or when he called President Obama a "Magic Negro."

Many of those scandals damaged his reputation, but they didn't seriously impact his radio show, which is what makes this flap new territory.

"Occasionally you get a sneak peek under the hood of what's really going on in their minds," the ad executive said. "He showed us his raw, true self. We got a brief glimpse of that. It's hard to put that toothpaste back in the tube."