Limbaugh Apology Doesn't Slow Controversy

Days after apologizing for his comments about a Georgetown University law student, Rush Limbaugh was back on the air Monday afternoon. He lost several advertising sponsors and upset Republican officials with his very personal attack on the student who had spoken out for insurance coverage of contraception.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today was Rush Limbaugh's first time on the air after issuing an apology over the weekend. The conservative radio host had insulted a law student after she testified in support of requiring health-care companies to pay for contraceptives.

Limbaugh's apology has not ended the controversy, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Rush Limbaugh began his show today by explaining why he posted a written apology to Sandra Fluke on his website Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH: It was simply for using inappropriate words in a way I never do.

SHAPIRO: This was one of the inflammatory comments he made on the air last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

SHAPIRO: Democrats enthusiastically used Limbaugh's comment as a fundraising tool. President Obama called Fluke personally to express support, and Republicans struggled to distance themselves. Reporters asked Mitt Romney about the issue as he worked a rope line in Ohio on Friday.

MITT ROMNEY: It's not the language I would have used. I'm focusing on the issues that I think are significant in the country today.

SHAPIRO: On NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday, Newt Gingrich said it was appropriate for Limbaugh to apologize, then he pivoted to an attack on Democrats and the media.

NEWT GINGRICH: This is the most fundamental assault on religious liberty in American history despite every effort by the elite media to distort what it – it's not about access to contraception. People who want to can get access to contraception every day.

SHAPIRO: U.S. News columnist Mary Kate Cary was a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, and she worries that Republican leaders are afraid to take on Limbaugh.

MARY KATE CARY: I mean, I was nervous. I wrote a blog about it on Friday and I thought, do I really want to hit send?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CARY: Is he going to trash me on the air next?

SHAPIRO: But she says Republicans have to acknowledge that 53 percent of U.S. voters are female, and Limbaugh is driving them away.

CARY: He's becoming our own worst enemy on the Republican side because we've all got to discuss this and decide to speak out against it and, you know, it's a distraction. We should be talking about the economy.

SHAPIRO: This morning on ABC's "The View," Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke said Limbaugh's apology to her does not change anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF "THE VIEW")

SANDRA FLUKE: Let me be clear that I think his statements that he made on the air about me have been personal enough, so I'd rather not have a personal phone call from him.

SHAPIRO: She said that's especially true when the apology comes as Limbaugh is under fire from his advertisers. Indeed, this morning AOL and Tax Resolution Services became sponsors number eight and nine to suspend their ads on Limbaugh's show. And later in the day, Allstate and Sears backed away from the show as well.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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