Who put the coarse in public discourse? Well, it wasn’t just Rush Limbaugh.
Sarah Fluke’s uterus—unknown prior to last week—is suddenly the center a media firestorm. You’ve probably heard the story by now. Fluke is a Georgetown University Law student who testified in an informal hearing about the since-failed Roy Blunt amendment to allow insurers to refuse to cover contraception under “moral grounds.” She cited a friend of hers who suffered from ovarian cysts but couldn’t afford contraception (which prevents cysts) because her private Catholic university’s health care insurance would not cover it. Her point is that contraceptives are medication and are not just used as birth control.
So Limbaugh made a wild leap of non-logic: “What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic] who 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? It makes her a prostitute.” The blowback has been fast and furious, leading advertisers to pull from his show, and President Obama to call Fluke and offer his support.
Limbaugh himself even offered a tepid non-apology which read, in part: “ I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” and followed with a caveat: “I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities.” He also said that his vile statements were a cute joke. Really, now.
But name-calling isn’t just a right-wing specialty. Kirsten Powers, over at the Daily Beast, pointed out that while the left wing media has no problem calling Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut,” (Ed Schultz), Michelle Malkin “a mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick” (thanks Keith Olbermann), and Sarah Palin a “balloon head” (Chris Matthews), the left wing pundits got all outraged when this slur was aimed at one of their own.
It’s been pointed out that Fluke differs from Palin et al, because she is a private person and not a public figure. But no woman should be called a slut. Name-calling shouldn’t be part of the public discourse, especially about important topics.
The most disturbing arguments of all have come from conservative women, who still insist that all women should pay for their own contraception (and men should get free Viagra), apparently never having met poor women who can’t afford health care and who need more help preventing unplanned pregnancies than the rich or more privileged women of the world.
And even when they mean well, the conservative women still trip over their own rhetoric. Never one to be sensible, Michelle Malkin undermines her fine list of terrible name-calling directed at herself by liberal commentators and bloggers (best of the worst: “Manila Whore”), and other conservative women like Sarah Palin, and Laura Ingraham, by calling Fluke a “femagogue tool.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to not resort name calling at all? How about we not call Sarah Fluke a tool, and not call Michelle Malkin a Manila Whore? Why don’t we just disagree with their opinion and stick to the facts?
At least actress Patricia Heaton, who is notoriously conservative, erased a series of mean-spirited Tweets, which included this gem: “Hey GTown Gal: How about only having sex on Wednesday? (Hump day!).” Heaton wrote later: “I crossed the line w/@SandraFluke. Don’t agree w/her views, but I was not showing Christ’s love.”
In the end, it actually took a well-evolved rich, straight, white male in the form of Jon Stewart to spell out, with humor and grace, all the ways in which the conservative’s argument against the mandated coverage for birth control was flawed. He ended his segment on Limbaugh (titled ingeniously, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Gross”) thus: “To the people who are upset about their hard-earned tax money going to things they don’t like: Welcome to the f*cking club,” Stewart said. “Reimburse me for the Iraq war and oil subsidies and diaphragms are on me!”
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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