The big Rush Limbaugh ad boycott turns out to have been a big flop

Don't overpromise. MoveOn and Media Matters did.

This time, they were really going to get him. was going to get him kicked off 180 radio stations.

Media Matters for America was going to get 100 national advertisers to cancel their spots on his show.

So how did the Great Rush Limbaugh Ad Boycott work? Not exactly as expected — and even its organizers admit it.

“Real consequences?”

“The objective has been to show that there are real consequences” for “someone like Mr. Limbaugh or his company,” said Angelo Carusone of Media Matters. But how real were they?

News reports said that more than 100 national advertisers had canceled air time on Rush Limbaugh’s midday show. That was more wishful thinking than fact.

To begin with, Limbaugh never had as many as 100 national advertisers at a time. If he did, his talk show would be wall-to-wall commercials. What’s more, industry newsletter reported on March 27 that there were 98 national advertisers — which is less, not more, than 100.

They said they didn’t want their commercials running near content “deemed to be objectionable or controversial,” a description that includes many shows besides Limbaugh’s.

Their hiatus was only for the weeks of March 12 and 19, and they’re back on air this week.

And according to a March 28 Washington Post report, lots of those sponsors weren’t Limbaugh sponsors in the first place.

What’s more, you may have heard one of those national sponsors reported to have dropped Limbaugh’s show — Habeeb Carpets — actually started advertising on it here in Richmond during the alleged boycott period, to announce their aquisition of a local carpet cleaning company.

“Contrary to the wishful thinking of the professional special interest groups, reports of sponsors fleeing the ‘Rush Limbaugh Show’ are greatly exaggerated,” said Premiere spokeswoman Rachel Nelson. “In fact, the program retains virtually all of its long-term sponsors, who continue to have great success.”

Drops in the bucket

How close to its goal did MoveOn’s petition drive get to forcing Limbaugh off 180 radio stations? Well, they missed by 178.

A grand total of two small stations — one in Western Massachusetts, the other in Hilo, Hawaii — said they’d drop his show. That leaves Rush on the airwaves of a mere 598 Clear Channel radio stations across the country.

Looked at another way, that’s a 0.3% loss of radio stations — and an even smaller loss of audience, since the two stations were in small markets.

The same principle applies to local advertisers. Most of the defecting advertisers ran commecials only in local or regional markets, Media Matters’ Carusone admitted. Simple arithmetic shows that one local market equals 0.1% of Limbaugh’s radio network.

The biggest loss was self-inflicted

It turns out that if anyone was boycotting Limbaugh, it was his own syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks. For the weeks of March 12 and 19, the Clear Channel subsidiary told stations to suspend “barter” spots, which come at discounted rates, for local advertisers. This week, they told the stations to resume running them.

Overpromising is dangerous

What’s true for political groups is equally true for advertisers: Watch out what you claim or promise. Big promises may sound great and make you feel important. But if you fail to deliver, you’ll lose all credibility.

Steven Biel, director of, the site MoveOn created for its petition drive to kick Limbaugh off all those stations, said this will make Rush think twice in the future.

I’ll bet he’s really quaking in his boots.

Talk is cheap.