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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Rush Limbaugh rarely says he's sorry, and by the time the conservative talk show host did apologize for recent sexually offensive comments that caused much outrage, he'd already lost some of his big-name advertisers.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And he's continued losing them. The object of Limbaugh's derision was a Georgetown University law student. She testified before Congress in favor of insurance coverage for contraception. Limbaugh's apology came in an online statement and did not stop the controversy.

MONTAGNE: As of this morning, nine advertisers, including Allstate and AOL, have pulled their spots from his show. NPR's David Folkenflik joined us to discuss the fallout. Good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Why, after all these years of very provocative statements, why are advertisers reacting so strongly to this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, these statements were pretty raw, and I think it's probably worth hearing what he had to say about this woman. And I'd like to warn listeners a little bit to brace themselves. This is pretty noxious stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO PROGRAM)

RUSH LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke that goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right?

FOLKENFLIK: Her name, of course, actually is Sandra Fluke, but nonetheless he calls her a prostitute and then he goes on the next day to say, you know, if we, the federal taxpayers, will be subsidizing her sexual activity, she should post videotapes of this on the Web. And I think there's two reasons really why there was some genuine outrage as well as some opportunistic ideological criticism of Mr. Limbaugh.

I think first is that she's what we in the press kind of call a civilian. She's not a politician. She's not a public figure. She happens to be testifying before members of Congress, but she really is somebody who's just a citizen, and he went after her in the most personal possible way.

MONTAGNE: And what else, though? Again, this has blown up in a way that very few things have done for Rush Limbaugh.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's also happening in the context of a presidential primary. You know, Limbaugh likes to see himself as an influencer, even a king-maker among conservatives. There's been a lot of question about whether the clear frontrunner, Mr. Mitt Romney, is sufficiently conservative, and it means that you have all these candidates being asked to comment on this episode. And the candidates are kind of squirming to distance themselves from his remarks and at the same time not be too condemnatory because so many of the potential voters are fans.

MONTAGNE: And then there was the apology. What exactly did Rush Limbaugh say?

FOLKENFLIK: Limbaugh didn't distance himself from the sentiment. What he did instead was say that, you know, it was a poor choice of words. It was perhaps too severe. But he really didn't back off from the idea that somehow someone who thought that it was appropriate for a healthcare policy to cover contraception was somehow promiscuous and therefore open to criticism for it.

And also it opened him up to criticism from a number of conservative voices, including people like George Will and Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe. So the apology itself doesn't seem to have contained the storm that raged around his comments.

MONTAGNE: You know, David, though, other talk show hosts on both sides of the ideological divide have said things that are incendiary and insulting. What is different about Rush Limbaugh?

FOLKENFLIK: What makes Limbaugh different, of course, is the role that he plays as an influencer in conservative circles, is essentially unmatched by anybody on the left. And for that reason, I don't think you're going to see Limbaugh go anywhere. But this is a moment where he's been forced to step back and acknowledge that perhaps he went too far over the line.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

MONTAGNE: NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik.

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