Sandra Fluke lawsuit for slander will end Rush Limbaugh talk radio career
It's not only likely but very probable that Rush Limbaugh won't be hosting a talk radio program this time next year.
And not because I expect any significant impact from efforts to boycott his advertisers. Nor results of petitioning affiliate stations, such as our own WJR 760 AM here in Southeast Michigan.
Rather, Rush Limbaugh will terminate his broadcast career under terms of settlement against a libel and harrassment suit brought against him by Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke.
To be clear, I mean he'll settle the lawsuit ("out of court"). This has nothing to do with "winning" before a judge, or even the potential for that sort of outcome.
Although hints of a lawsuit had already been rising above mostly emotion-charged chatter, the first time it struck me as really serious was as I listened to the opening 6 minutes of The Mark Levin Show Monday night. Mr Levin is an attorney, former member of the Reagan Administration, and a deeply loyal, long-time friend of Rush Limbaugh.
"And by the way, as a litigator," Mark Levin curiously said on this point, "I can tell you right now that the witness is a public figure by her own choosing, which is a very high bar."
Note the emphasis: Public figure.
Translation: "You can't convince a judge, so you shouldn't bring the lawsuit."
Dell Deaton has been a community contributor on AnnArbor.com's Faith page.
Paralleling this, yesterday, commenting on President Barack Obama's press conference, Rush Limbaugh went out of his way to emphasize the question of whether Sandra Fluke was, as the President said, a private (versus public) figure. "Well, I don't know if she's a private citizen testifying before a Congressional committee," Mr Limbaugh said during the first half of his 2 o'clock hour.
I'm not a lawyer, never have I ever claimed to be. But we have a fine community of attorneys in professional practice here in Washtenaw County, and I'm sure any number of them will happily weigh-in with details if it's felt important to help readers understand the differences between "public" and "private" persons when it comes to "winning" a defamation or harassment lawsuit.
But I don't think the distinction is important.
Because I don't think Sandra Fluke's interests are best served by "winning" financial award for damages.
Why? Mark Levin gave it away at the outset of that same Monday night broadcast, starting with his very next words after "high bar" in that first segment.
"And more than that, does she want discovery? Because when you have legal discovery, politics doesn't matter. You're in a room. The lawyers are there. The lawyer conducting the discovery -- the deposition -- he doesn't give a damn what the media have to say, or anything else. The lawyer's very aggressive. And if you deny being what you're called, they're gonna try'n dig into that stuff."
Is this where someone is supposed to quote the movie line, "Be afraid. Be very afraid"?
I'm not going to get distracted by the preposterous implications of that last sentence.
But, does anyone seriously think Rush Limbaugh's attorneys would even pursue, let alone prevail, in a litigation strategy that argued "truth as an absolute defense" by proving to whatever legal standard that complainant Sandra Fluke is, in fact, a "slut" and a "prostitute"? If so, good luck with that.
Setting that aside -- and irrespective of whatever motives caused Mr Levin to offer his advice on client advocacy via deposition to Ms Fluke -- I've got to believe that Rush Limbaugh is the party with more reason for concern about what private matters of his might be publicly "discovered" through the process of discovery.
Again, I'm sure any esteemed member of the Michigan Bar could easily offer hypotheticals about how Rush Limbaugh's alleged history of drug use could be made relevant. How records from his divorces could be accepted as probative in looking at motive, patterns suggesting misogyny, and relentlessly targeting a woman for harassment day after day, for the better part of a week.
"The lawyer's very aggressive," as Constitutional scholar and Landmark Legal Foundation attorney Mark Levin emphasized last Monday.
Litigation, of course, hinges on whether or not Sandra Fluke has proper standing to sue Rush Limbaugh.
An article that ran yesterday on Reuters asserts that she "definitely" does. Rush Limbaugh himself gave that standing to Sandra Fluke, by name. But his loyal followers certainly contributed to her potential claims of damages as well, by, for example, creating and tying hashtags such as "#slutgate" to Ms Fluke on Twitter -- as a direct consequence of his actions.
Compared to this, it's almost inconsequential how many advertisers jump ship from Rush Limbaugh's radio talk show, or how fast they're replaced by how many others, and how soon.
Similarly, it won't matter how often Rush Limbaugh's behavior is rationalized by comparing it to that of Bill Maher, et al.; nor complaints lodged at why those "liberals" were never condemned and distanced from by "the Democrats."
Because discovery is Rush Limbaugh's Achilles' Heal. And standing to bring suit gets Ms Fluke to the place where she can depose Mr Limbaugh. She wins by getting it that far; it need go no further, thus making it irrelevant if she's a "public" or "private" persona.
Additionally, I think Mark Levin is only half-right in having said, "when you have legal discovery, politics doesn't matter."
True-- it does not matter in the sense that having Sean Hannity and Frank Beckmann and David Limbaugh shout down even their most dependable loyal opposition, insisting "the story's run it's course," "there are more important things to discuss," and "he apologized, what more do you want?" isn't going to stop this from going forward.
That decision is completely in the control of Sandra Fluke.
On the other hand, it seems to me that the most influential basis on which Sandra Fluke has to make this decision is entirely political.
Rush Limbaugh has already set her up financially for life by yanking her from the obscurity of a YouTube video and testimony before a Democrats-only Congressional subcommittee. He's now made her The 30-year-old female law student targeted for three days of gratuitous, unrelenting vitriol by the most powerful man on radio, himself a multi-millionaire. She can earn a living off that. Ample resume for Ms Fluke to close a book deal, a lucrative move into punditry, and maybe even a program of her own in the mainstream media.
The more aggressive Mr Limbaugh's attorneys are to her in defense of any lawsuit she might bring for libel, the stronger her credentials as an advocate for victimized women become.
More important to her, I think (based not on personal knowledge, but on a reasonable look the causes she's championed, repeatedly), is to have "talk radio" do away with Rush Limbaugh. And the mistake being made by every discussion I've seen of this so far is to think that she needs a judge to make that ruling -- and that no judge ever will.
It'll never get that far. Like a Reagan budget to a Democrat-controled Congress, Mr Limbaugh is dead on arrival in court, that is to say, when he's setup to be deposed.
The first best option, then, is for Rush Limbaugh to consent to a "suggestion" Ms Fluke might make for him to step down, thus bifurcating the process entirely. Thus, Sandra Fluke wins.
Alternatively, Rush Limbaugh drags it out. That thinking holds that delayed discovery becomes discovery effectively avoided, held at abayance until, say, after the November Presidential election. The public loses interest, and Ms Fluke loses support for her efforts (if not financial backing for her litigation).
The falacy in this thinking is in a failure to appreciate that the power of time is on her side, not his.
Sandra Fluke can easily wait to sue Rush Limbaugh for slander until after the Republican primaries are over. The litigation is thus poised to become, and, in fact, will become, a campaign issue. We've already seen in lead-up to Super Tuesday how devastating Rush Limbaugh's actions were in dominating the news and changing the debate among candidates over the week leading up to it. Any weekend efforts to emphasize distinctions between candidates were blunted by the noise of Rush-Gate.
Regards election advocacy, Rush Limbaugh becomes either a millstone around the neck of a Republican candidate who fails to refute him, or altogether silenced as mouthpiece for a candidate who does.
Hapless defenses of saying "the Democrats must disown their talkers first" are both indefensible and evidence a lack of absolute moral compass and leadership.
If he decides to weather it out via this second of two options, it will inevitably position him as "only in this for himself," completely undermining his claims of being "for conservatives" or "the country."
Hoist by his own petard here, this scenario renders him completely impotent, thus easily targeted, and taken down. That's when #DumpRush efforts will find a following in WJR if it hasn't done so already, and whatever advertisers the Rush Limbaugh Program then still enjoys.
Any way you look at it, that's why I say, "it's not only likely but very probable that Rush Limbaugh won't be hosting a talk radio program this time next year."
Note: I've taken some care here to avoid inserting my own opinion on whether or not that would be good or bad. My primary point was to identify the issue. Secondarily, to underscore the fact that actions have consequences.
Or, to quote Rush Limbaugh: "Words have meaning."
And he lives in Literalville.
Dell Deaton is a Christian counselor specializing in divorce (and alternatives), available through independent professional practice since 1983. Contact on www.divorcepastor.com or by phone at (734) 668-2001 in Saline. Also @delldeaton on Twitter.