Limbaugh: Free Market, Not Free Speech

Kind of embarrassing to read this AP story about the campaign to get Rush Limbaugh off the air. The story couches the debate in terms of his misogynistic attacks on law student Sandra Fluke versus Limbaugh’s “first amendment right” to free speech. But Limbaugh doesn’t have the constitution on his side here.

The notion that the first amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want is a common misinterpretation. Coming from the pen of a news writer, it’s particularly egregious; I would expect a reporter to know better. The first amendment doesn’t actually provide the right to say whatever you want in whatever context. (It certainly doesn’t give somebody the constitutional right to be on the radio or to accept payments from sponsors.) Instead, the first amendment exempts a very narrow class of political speech against regulation by the government.

But the government doesn’t have a dog in this hunt; the tussle is between Limbaugh and his corporate sponsors, who have come to the conclusion that his show is too toxic to sponsor (at least for the moment).

What Limbaugh is experiencing is not some horrible injustice but the not-so-invisible hand of the free market. If he’s really on the site of liberty and free markets, you’d think he’d welcome this market-enforced course correction. But it’s clear that this is just another example of how conservative money-men like Limbaugh only believe in their principles when those principles happen to coincide with their agenda.