Talk radio, women and the GOP: An extended Week in Review

Over the past few weeks, the Gender Report has been following the continued news coverage and debates on President Obama’s ruling and subsequent compromise requiring all insurance plans to cover contraception.

POLITICO - 3/1/2012

This week’s headlines on the issue gravitated towards comments from talk radio’s Rush Limbaugh.

On his show Wednesday, Limbaugh spoke about Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student barred from testifying at a Congressional hearing held by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the contraception ruling. Among other comments, he referred to Fluke as a “slut,” saying, “She wants to be paid to have sex. 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. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.”

The response to Limbaugh’s show was widespread and almost exclusively critical. Nancy Pelosi and other democratic leaders called the remarks “vicious attacks.” House Speaker John Boehner as well as the republican presidential hopefuls also spoke out against the language use. Friday, President Obama called Fluke, who told MSNBC the president “encouraged me and supported me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women.” As of this posting, seven advertisers had also pulled their support for the show.

Limbaugh eventually apologized for the comments as out of line and that he did not intend a personal attack. Some, including Rick Santorum and many democratic leaders, called the apology insincere. However, Limbaugh still stood behind his position against the contraception mandate, saying, “I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.”

This week’s provoking language, however, is causing concern for some Republicans already concerned about their party’s image with female voters. A recent poll released by the Pew Research Center found men, by 54 percent to 40 percent, favored the birth-control exemption for religious groups, while only 42 percent of women favored it, with 48 percent opposed.

Last week, several media outlets focused on Santorum’s remarks on the birth control debate, questioning if his support of the Catholic church would turn away potential votes. A Washington Post poll showed Santorum is less unpopular than his rivals for the GOP nomination, but other outlets cast his campaign and the party’s push as a whole to win women’s votes as less optimistic. A POLITICO blog post referred to Santorum’s campaign as a “perfect political punching bag” for Democrats, and an NPR story called him the  “candidate who personifies the gender gap in American politics.” An earlier Wall Street Journal article found Mitt Romney’s “milder” candidacy more appealing to female voters. Similarly, the Christian Science Monitor reported in mid-February that among Republican men, Santorum held a 10-point edge, while Romney was beating Santorum among Republican women by 9 points (quoting a CNN news poll).

A New York Times post noted that “comments by Mr. Santorum about related issues, including women in combat and the role of “radical feminism” in encouraging work outside the home… fuel the sense that the election could present women with stark ideological choices about their rights and place in society.”

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