CNN Debate: Should FCC Boot Rush Limbaugh From the Airwaves?

On the side of kicking him off the air, Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem.

On the side of protecting his right to free speech, Marc J. Randazza.

This is not the same debate over whether the subject of his diatribe has a valid defamation claim against him. I wrote about that here.

56 Responses to CNN Debate: Should FCC Boot Rush Limbaugh From the Airwaves?

  1. blueollie says:

    Uh, how is this even an issue? I don’t like Rush Limbaugh, but who am I to tell radio stations what talk shows they are allowed (by law) to carry?

  2. chris mahon says:

    Mr. Randazza is a breath of fresh air. I didn’t think the left had any defenders of the 1st amendment. But Rush is not evil; he is opinionated.

    • Clint says:

      Just remember Mr. Randazza is also a lawyer working in huge settlements against bittorrent users, quite disproportionate from the real crime. His opinions on speech are awesome, which is the only reason why I still bother to stick my head around here, but the sum tally still equals douchebag lawyer.

      • Todd says:

        Oh, is that where the silly views on file sharing come from? Now I just have to figure out the misogyny. But yeah, aside from those two glaring blind spots, lots of good posts here.

  3. Michael Shankman says:

    While I am in agreement with your stated views on having RL air his views on radio, I do need to question when it is that those views rise to the level of inciting action–as in that crowded theater where someone yells “fire.” Do we, as a society, need to wait for that to occur before we say it is wrong?

    • Yes we do. We don’t silence someone because we think they might incite someone. Only if their speech presents a “clear and present danger.”. (Near v. Minnesota).

      If the government knew that Rush was going to go on the air and immediately call for a Pogrom, and there was evidence that his listeners were ready to go, and just waiting for his signal, then yes. Then we could properly silence him.

  4. Kim says:

    The public airwaves are supposed to be regulated by the FCC – they are supposed to be in the public interest. This garbage is not in the public interest it should be where other extremist go Syrius Radio. That way if you like is crap you can go listen to it. This is the reason we do not air porn at 11:30 am on network television. There is a place for everything but not on the public airwaves – it is not in the public interest. He can do his thing where Glen Beck, Lou Dobbs and Howard Stern do their thing.

    • How can you say this is “not in the public interest?” The public interest is served by political debate. Just because you think that his views are garbage (I do too) is no justification for removing him from the public airwaves.

    • MikeZ says:

      Technically speaking I’d say Syrius also uses public airwaves. I really don’t see the difference. With Syrius you need to more explicitly opt-in by paying for the latest decryption password to listen to the unencrypted data. With conventional radio you still have to opt in but only by turning the dial on your radio to the appropriate channel.

      Personally though I’d be more concerned with getting Rush off the air if I were a moderate Republican, than any kind of Liberal. His rhetoric isn’t going to sway someone to his views like say someone that uses actual logic and really tries to debate the issues. But it certainly provides lots of sound bites for the Left and allows them to paint Conservatives with an awful stereotype.

  5. angela deane says:

    I wasn’t aware of that on daytime air you were allowed to request people performing sex video but I guess if Rush can get away with it and there is no Law against it there will be big money to make and isn’t that what this is all about.?

  6. Kim says:

    I get what you are saying to a degree. However if the FCC logs in enough complaints then I think the public has spoken. This is the free market working itself out. When we have a product that is a good product the market swells and people buy. When we have a bad product people don’t buy and that product moves out of the market. That is sort of how I see it. So we need to see how the market votes on this one. I don’t view this as bullying someone off the airwaves…I view it as a free market move. Sometimes enough becomes enough for society as a whole.

    • Beth Hutchens says:

      The free market works itself out when you change the channel and stop trying to silence those you disagree with. Or worse, asking the government to do it for you. Let the advertisers who wish to dump him dump him and those who want to stay with him stay. Last I checked, he still had about 15 million listeners, sooo….

    • “if the FCC logs in enough complaints then I think the public has spoken.”

      So when the American Family Association gets its mailing list to send in complaints about “immoral” programming, that’s the public speaking and the FCC should heed it?

    • MikeZ says:

      For your paragraph to make sense I think you need to change the word “FCC” to “ClearChannel”. Otherwise it is somewhat the exact opposite of a free market.

    • mariocerame says:

      The majority does not determine the scope of speech rights of a minority.

  7. Cilla Mitchell says:

    I see Jane Fonda is one of of the people wanting Rush removed from the airwaves. Oh yes, Jane Fonda, otherwise known as “Hanoi Jane” who used the 1st Amendment to spout her treason. Yet, she wants Rush removed. Priceless.

  8. trythis says:

    Randazzo, left wing butt kissing worm. Limbaugh is respectful, dignified and he is accurate- that’s what bother the left wing scumbag worms- he is accurate.

    • Clint says:

      Respectful? Dignified? Is that during or after one of his pill binges?

    • angela deane says:

      OMG look what Rush has created another inarticulate clone of himself. They have difficulty expressing themselves without name calling, Eh!

  9. I’d rather all the Jane Fonda movies be burned……after she is executed for treason.

    Steinem just needs a new husband to cool down her ill-humours……or as the Victorians labeled it: hysteria

  10. Kim says:

    Well yes that is my point I don’t have to listen, I don’t have to buy from those sponsors and I don’t have to remain silent as citizens do in repressed countries. Here I get to speak up. In this country we get to protest if we don’t like something. Here we have regulatory agencies that we can log our complaints with if we find something objectionable. It is actually American to protest and log your complaint if you have one – that is the purpose of voting with your dollars. Here we are not required to let only 15 million listeners decide something for the majority of society. So we need to see how the MAJORITY of society votes on this one. With over 300,000,000 people in our country – 15 million are not enough to speak for everyone.

    • MikeZ says:

      What exactly are they deciding for the majority of society? It seems like those 15 Million are deciding for themselves to tune in. 285 Million of us decided not to turn that channel on and what he states has no real effect on our lives. So if you are finding him objectionable then you can count yourself among the 15 Million. I’d guess the subset of those 15 Million who listen but hate listening to him so much you want him silenced is a particularly small set of Masochists.

  11. Kim…..

    …the “vast majority” of society HAS voted…..the Limbaugh audience is on of the biggest in radio history.

    If you follow the links from the link in this post….you will find that “” cannot document many of the slanders being published as a “reason” to remove Limbaugh.

    However….since he is on “public” airwaves….I guess I’ll concede your point………….

    ……right after communist newspapers like The New York Times and The Boston Globe are prohibited from using “public” roads to deliver their seditious drivel to news-stands, convenience stores, and my driveway….

  12. Charles Platt says:

    I wish the Limbaugh critics would reveal whether they have ever listened to the show. Traditionally, those who wish to censor tend to be the ones who haven’t read or viewed or listened to the materials that they abhor so much. I’m betting this rule still applies. And incidentally, a host such as Michael Savage is far more offensive. I tend to wonder if someone such as Jane Fonda listens to the radio at all.

    The usual civil remedies apply if Limbaugh defames anyone. The usual regulatory remedies apply if he violates FCC doctrine. Isn’t that enough?

    (The FCC, incidentally, is an anachronism in an era where anyone can view bestiality with a few mouse-clicks.)

  13. Bill Portela says:

    I agree with Mr. Randazza when it comes to basic rudeness and buffoonery. I think Americans have a solid right to express their idiotic opinions, like Limbaugh. Where I disagree with Mr. Randazza is when so called “patriots” seem to be almost inciting, vulnerable members of our population against certain genders or populations. They of course do not usually (the ones on the air at least) employ overt racist, sexist or hateful language. Not usually. But the tone, images and below the surface agenda can almost be felt against: women, the poor, people of color, immigrants, people who lawfully protest, etc. Almost like a call to action that is unspoken. Apparently, conservatives and religious Americans tend to be more easily affected by symbolism such as flags and yellow ribbon bumper stickers and associated rhetoric. It has been shown that “Progressive”, Americans seem to be less affected by symbols and terms such as red, white and blue and “patriot”. I watched a recent clip of George Carlin posted by Move and I routinely tune in to the daily show with Jon Stewart. The term “incite” just does not really come into my mind as I watch these clips. Carlin was really ripping the so-called “pro-lifers”, but not on some subliminal level, he was overtly challenging their hypocritical pro-life slogans and stances. And Stewart is constantly just playing back the GOP candidate quotes and pointing out the many inconsistent and always changing views. Or in Bachmanns case they will point out that her position on women’s subservience may not resonate with many other Americans, but I dont see Carlin or Stewart “inciting” progressives against people who believe in God. I dont think that not quite subliminal hate speech directed against specific (non-white, non-conservative) genders and populations is protected. And many of us believe that is exactly what Limbaugh and his wannabes are engaging in.

    • jamesatsixteen says:

      I agree, “…not quite subliminal hate speech directed against genders and populations” is not protected. I think we all learned in elementary school our freedoms come with a responsibility. It is too simple to just consider this a yes/no free speech issue where all free speech should be allowed. Taking this to the extreme we would not allow Hitler to spout his evil nonsense, so really the question is where is the line and did Rush cross it. I think he did.

  14. Nathan Allen says:

    Good for you! I think you must be misguided in your beliefs to despise the mahaRushie, but that’s ok, you obviously understand free speech. I mean Rachael Maddow makes me sick, but I still want her to reach the few followers she can, its hers, and their, right.

  15. captainkickstand says:

    I agree that the government shouldn’t unduly censor Limbaugh, but you’re way off base about organized pressure on his advertisers to drop the program being ‘immoral’.

    Isn’t telling a large corporation that you don’t intend to patronize them as long as they’re paying for the spread of ideas that you find disturbing also ‘free speech’? In what universe is it morally questionable to vote with your dollars?

    • choosingtobecivil says:

      Thanks, captainkickstand, for beating me to it. I find Rush and his ilk repugnant because so many of their points, valid or not, are marred by the delivery. I’m not calling for him to be removed from the air. But to tell me that I’m morally wrong for refusing to spend my hard-earned dollars with a company that has different agendas/definitions of civility from me? That’s rediculous. There’s still KKK-sponsored stores in north GA. I don’t have to spend my money there either, although they have a right to do business on private property. I believe in CIVIL discourse. Not rude discourse.

      • I think you might have misunderstood my article. I find nothing wrong with you boycotting his show or his advertisers. I find something wrong with organized efforts to get his advertisers off his show. Mind you, there’s nothing illegal or unconstitutional about doing that. I personally find it to be morally wrong. I don’t believe in using money to try and buy silence.

        • captainkickstand says:

          My apologies if I have distorted your intended point, but here is the relevant passage:

          Another way to get Limbaugh off the air is to try and pressure his syndicator or his advertisers — gathering people of like mind to use their collective economic power to force Limbaugh off the air. This is constitutionally tolerable, but morally wrong.

          Would it be fair to say, then, based on your comment above, that there’s “nothing wrong” with my boycotting his show or his advertisers but there’s something “morally wrong” if I either a) tell them why I am doing so, or b) encourage some like-minded people to do the same?

          • Only if your intent is to silence him.

            • captainkickstand says:

              It depends what you mean by ‘silence’. If you mean encourage his advertisers–who are again, making a pure and simple business decision to sponsor him–to end their support, so he’s reduced to spouting off in the street, Fred Phelps-style, then yes. That would be the intent.

              What other intent could there be? At what point does a sponsor boycott become morally objectionable to you? Does it depend purely on the numbers, or does it have to be a collective effort?

          • Kim says:

            I personally find it morally right to stand up for decency. I find it morally right to coordinate an organized effort to get his advertisers off of his show. I find it right to boycott a product, show or anything that I deem offensive. I understand the dilemma about censorship. But educating corporations on what we as a public like or define as entertainment is the way business works. (Having said all this advertisers will just shift their dollars – he will stay on the air because he holds the AM market so well.) But ethically and morally it is right to stand up and tell sponsors and friends what you like and don’t like. In the end it will come down to how much is too much – just like it did for Beck, Dobbs and Stern.

        • captainkickstand says:

          Boycotting advertisers and telling them why is hardly “buying silence” in the sense in which that phrase is generally used. First, you would have to be offering Limbaugh himself money to keep his mouth shut. Second, as he has often pointed out himself, he’s an entertainer. The sole reason his advertisers support his program is that they believe there will be a return on their investment.

          I understand what you are saying–I would agree that most attempts to silence or drown out unpopular views can have a chilling effect, but using the dollar is perhaps the only way of driving disgusting speech into the underground that I would morally accept.

  16. Steve Gomez says:

    Marc, in your article you said “I despise Limbaugh not because he uttered one or two nasty words, but because his views are truly evil”, I’m curious what views are evil and how many times have you listen to his show?

  17. Jack Shipman says:

    I love Rush because through the years he has taught me how you stupid liberals think so I can understand your oppressive, big government, big brother philosophy. You would love to silence us conservatives!

  18. Brandon Tatum says:

    First Amendment extremists kill me just like any other extremist. There are perfectly good reasons to shut some people up. And, no… it does not have to arise to the level of inciting violence or mass hysteria.

    Unfortunately, women rights are not protected in this country in the way that racial minority rights are; this Limbaugh episode proves that. Let’s say Limbaugh came on are just spewing every racial epithet he could dream of in the course of political discourse. I believe the great majority of people would support the government kicking him off the air, and he’d be gone in no time. Yet, women he calls women some of the foulest names you can call them… slut, prostitute, porn star, over-sexualized and unable to control their slutty ways.. and encourages them to put videos of them getting it on online for the world to see like a good porn slut… this is somehow not as bad as trashing Jews or Black people or Mexicans, etc. It’s a ludicrous reality. Both of those affronts to any sense of public decency should be shut down.

    But, now your First Amendment brain is churning and you’re thinking of slimy words like “slippery slope”. This does NOT present a strong argument. Everything in law is about balancing interests.. you’re constantly weighing the scales of justice…sliding to one side or another. So, decisions about who you will or won’t give access to the public radio waves is also one of those balancing scale decisions. You generally want to leave it as open as possible. But, you also set rules in the public interest… otherwise it’s the wild wild west of ideas… and that’s actually not good in the public sphere. If it was, then profanity should not be censored either. And, nudity should not be censored becuase that’s free expression. Indeed, pornographic sex in a expressive act, so how can we censor that without limiting our untouchable First Amendment?

    It’s funny how many Americans look at the Constitution as this flawless piece of work. Not funny… actually sad really. It wasn’t perfect when it was drafted. It’s not perfect now. The system of government was never perfect, and it won’t be under any Constitution. All it does is balance interests. And, when new interests arise, the law must adapt to accommodate that… ask the music industry. American just like every other country with a right similar to the First Amendment applies reasonable and rational limitations. And, whereas I don’t think the government should need to step in in this case, I do think it is 10000% legitimate for the public to seek to shut Limbaugh down via other means. And, I hope they are successful because he is a complete idiot of spews, encourages, and reinforces serious and troubling divisiveness and ignorance. And, for what he said about women, that’s just as bad as if he spewed racial slurs. It’s INSANE that you called it “morally wrong” AKA “immoral” for people to try to shut him. NO… what he is saying is “morally wrong”… and the failure to ACT to stop this voice from harming others is “morally wrong”. Women already have it hard enough with wildly over-sexualized, objectified portrayals of them in society as secodn class citizens mostly good for just sex. Look at the stats on women in society and the class ceiling under which they toil. These are over half of the country’s population. You think there’s not enough interest to protect their freedom to be free from this sort of public hatred and belligerence? Geez! Law school really screws up a lot of our brains on things. This is a no-brainer though… get out of the law school case books and cute little brilliantly eloquent Learned Hand type of Supreme Court judge quotes… and come up for some air. What he said STINKS… and the marketplace should air it out.

  19. Pat says:

    There’s nothing political about telling an African-American woman caller to “take that bone out of your nose”, or calling someone a slut, or saying that “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.”

    We do regulate speech — you can’t say absolutely anything, anytime on the public airwaves. The discussion about Limbaugh’s remarks is reasonable and appropriate. It’s not reasonable to defend his remarks based on freedom of political speech, because they’re not political.

  20. […] the Free Speech end, Randazza has a nice column in CNN defending Rush Limbaugh’s free speech […]

  21. blueollie says:

    Randazza, your column sure raised a ruckus at Daily Kos.

    Though there is often decent stuff at that site, you also have the “he is a man and doesn’t understand “slut shaming”, etc.”. They completely miss the point of your article.

    Gradually, I’ve arrived at the opinion that most people, regardless of political stripe, are for free speech for those who don’t “offend them”.

  22. John says:

    I think a lot of the commenters here are missing the point of the First Amendment.

    It is not to protect speech of which we approve. That doesn’t need protection.

    It is explicitly to protect speech we don’t like… or that guy over there doesn’t like, but we happen to.

    There is no conceivable way to write a law that protects everyone against hurt feelings. How do I know whether what I say will hurt Citizen X’s feelings? I can’t read his mind. I don’t have her psych profile in front of me. I don’t know what they went through as a child. Nor do I know their religious sensibilities or their lack of them. I don’t know political preferences, degree of education, medical history… the list of what is unknowable is endless.

    Under a regime where I must never offend, I must never talk. It’s the only way to be safe.

    The First Amendment protects Americans from government action taken against a speaker. It in no way limits the power of people to disagree, even disagreeably. If the people wish to engage in a primary boycott, that’s their right and pleasure. If they wish to write advertisers to express their unhappiness, that’s their right, too. Writing blog posts, comments, letters to the editor… even taking it to the streets peaceably… all that’s great!

    Unhappy people do not, however, have the right to call on government to censor voices they dislike. You simply cannot ask the government to take actions that are unconstitutional when performed by government. Doing so turns the government from a protector to an oppressor. If you think not, then just imagine your worst enemy having the power to restrain your speech.

  23. mariocerame says:

    Indeed. Nobody ever needed the First Amendment to protect someone for sending momma a card on mother’s day.

  24. I am so glad you are my lawyer!

  25. Carlos says:

    Intellectual Mistake: being a First Amendment Nazi. No one is silencing Limbaugh, he can go to any streetcorner and say what he wants! There is NO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to the nation’s airwaves. The government, us, gives you a channel if we (our government) decide you are doing a good thing for us. Do Neo-nazis also deserve a TV channel? I say he is lowering the national consciousness, take his channel away.

    • Cas says:

      Do you even think about what you are saying before you say it? The government decides if you are doing a good thing for us? The government decides what we can say? Which government? What happens when we get a government you don’t like? What if they decide to shut you up? Scratch a liberal, find a totalitarian.

      • carlos says:

        I shouldn’t reply to your rude tone, but I’ll give you one more chance: the government is us! We should decide, who else is there? Surprised by reality?

    • Observer says:

      Now, now, Cas…be nice…..

      …you KNOW the government is the best judge of what is appropriate or not……

      Why should the “undeserving” be allowed to bother us with their claptrap?

      Now MY government has determined that liberal “thought” is mostly offensive….so in the interest of efficiency……MY government will ban ALL liberal opinion…..and then the banned can follow an appeals process to reverse my decision.

  26. Bill says:

    Not being a lawyer, I won’t contest the point that the government should not step in to restrict Mr. Limbaugh’s access to the airways. On the other hand, as someone with sufficient training in ethics, I suggest that your comment that using our economic might [and, i might add, our political rights] to get him off the air is, “…constitutionally tolerable, but morally wrong,” is indefensible.

    It is in no way morally wrong to take personal political action to influence the economic decisions of sponsors or radio stations themselves, whether it be to add programming or to remove it. This is, in fact, what goes on every day, less stridently. Just as serious political speech goes on every day, less stridently than that of Mr. Limbaugh.

    It is, in fact, morally correct to use the marketplace – both of ideas and of goods and services – to argue for your causes, and countless examples abound of such actions.

    Certainly, one could reasonably argue the effectiveness of such campaigns but not the morality. As long as there is a free market of public opinion, those who disagree can also petition to add or remove programming. Sponsors can make independent decisions regardless of public opinion, as can program managers.

    So, while I applaud your efforts to remind us that even idiots have the right to free speech, I believe you should allow as free a market for the speech of the listener as you do that of Mr. Limbaugh. It is our due – constitutionally and morally.

    • Bill,

      I think it is morally wrong to try and silence a speaker because you don’t like what he has to say. If you decided to organize a boycott of his sponsors, and his sponsors sued you for it, I’d defend your right to do that. It is most certainly YOUR First Amendment right to do so.

      However, I would do so just as reluctantly as I’d defend Limbaugh.

      The only morally (to me, your morality may vary) sound way to silence him is to directly debate his views and to discredit him so that his listeners tune out.

  27. JR Cooper says:

    The first amendment is very clear….the right to freedom of speech. The first amendment does not have a codicle….as long as you are Pollyanna about conveying what you have to say. We all have/had issues that we agree or disagree upon. What is so outstandingly wonderful is that we, as citizens of the United States, have the constitutional right to voice our content or discontent without governmental prosecution… aren’t we lucky that we have the right to do so. As for Rush, don’t like him, so I don’t watch or listen to him BUT he certainly has evoked all of the above to use the first amendment.

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