We let certain people get away with a lot in the name of entertainment, so when radio host Rush Limbaugh went into theatrics during his argument against Sandra Fluke’s advocacy of health-insurance coverage of contraceptives, no one should have been surprised. However, the heedless way he launched into an all-out attack on her character was truly horrifying. He called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” while claiming that, “she’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.” Tact and common sense alone will tell you that there is utterly no excuse to say such things in the public sphere.
Yet enough has been written about that already. I’m here to puzzle over Limbaugh’s apology, or more accurately, non-apology. He begins his statement with “I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.” This is hardly the case. To so blatantly deny the reality of the situation as an attack and to instead blame the assault on “insulting word choices” is appalling. You cannot apologize for something by claiming you have no responsibility for the act, and contradicting the accusations that lead to the apology in the first place just negates the gesture. Limbaugh then uses the rest of his “apology” to continue his argument against Fluke’s testimony, further questioning her motives. This is not an apology; at the very best it is an excuse forced out of a scolded child. And let Limbaugh be punished for his remarks if he can’t acknowledge his actions. At the time of this writing, 35 advertisers have pulled their funding from the radio show.
I’m no manners expert. My parents taught me to chew with my mouth closed and say please and thank you, but I’ve eaten with my elbows on the table and I’ve been known to mistake the dessert fork for the salad fork. But I do believe in the power of words and discourse to help make things right. When people issue such false-hearted apologies such as Limbaugh’s, not only does it cheapen the effect, but also tarnishes the apologizer.
If you aren’t familiar with Limbaugh’s lambast, then you’re possibly aware of the New Orleans Saints bounty-system scandal. Beginning with the recently released head coach’s apology, we are sure to see a string of apologies that will ultimately ring hollow. We have become all accommodating when it comes to the “processed apology” that bears little thought and even less remorse (seemingly weekly celebrity apologies on Twitter speak volumes). For an example of how much an “apology” can forever scar a legacy, look no further than Richard Nixon’s claim, “I am not a crook.”
While the apology is always in order, sometimes we need to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. It is a significant part of the healing process, but an apology by its lonesome is oftentimes just not enough.
Know this: that the power of words is just as capable of hurting someone as it is healing. It’s a rather elementary idea, but one I’m sure your parents taught you. At the very least, think before you speak.
A class of 2013 psychology major with chemistry and biology minors, Patrick joined the Concordian as a contributing writer for Arts & Entertainment before writing and editing for the Opinions section.