The secondary boycott of Rush Limbaugh advertisers is portrayed in the media as a reaction to a groundswell of public outrage. In fact, the secondary boycott was initiated by and driven by Media Matters, which had a “Stop Limbaugh” campaign on the shelf waiting to be used, and was executed by Angelo Carusone, Director of Online Strategy for Media Matters.
Carusone was the person behind online efforts against Glenn Beck even before joining Media Matters in 2010, and also is behind Stop Fox News and Stop Limbaugh efforts. His role appears to be going after advertisers, and getting others to do so via Twitter and other online media.
In an interview with The Village Voice, Carusone acknowledged that there already was a dormant Stop Limbaugh campaign at Media Matters, which then was activated for this controversy:
Stop Rush, I initially rolled it out in late 2009 and early 2010. At the time, the Beck work was doing well. I thought that in dealing with advertisers, some really appreciated being educated about where their ads were running. The ad market took care of this. The word “boycott,” it’s very rare that I called for a boycott or attacked a company. For the most part, I let advertisers know where there money was being spent, where it was going, and what it was helping. They made the decision themselves.
I started Stop Rush in 2009, 2010, and when I went to register the domain, I saw that Rush owned StopRush.com….
The Beck work was working, and I kind of froze the Rush work, and experimented with it a little, to get a sense of who Rush’s advertisers were and what their comfort level with him was. It was definitely valuable, and I am glad I spent some time doing it. It has informed the work I am doing now.
The second the Fluke controversy broke, Carusone swung into action contacting Rush advertisers and getting others to do so, as reported by The NY Times:
Some of the same activists that persuaded advertisers to boycott Glenn Beck’s television show on Fox News in 2009 are now mobilizing against Rush Limbaugh in the wake of his verbal attacks on a Georgetown University law school student this week.
Actually, they are remobilizing. A Twitter account, “Stop Rush,” which has been dormant since late 2010, woke up on Wednesday, when Mr. Limbaugh first called the student, Sandra Fluke, a “slut.” …
Mr. Limbaugh’s comments on Wednesday about Ms. Fluke, who had testified in support of the Obama administration’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptives for women, were immediately noticed by Media Matters, a liberal media monitoring group that has been raising red flags about Mr. Limbaugh’s language for years.
The “Stop Rush” Twitter account asked on Thursday [March 1], “Are y’all ready to @StopRush? Getting the strong sense that it’s time and the feedback has been there so far. Spread the word.”
The person behind the account, Angelo Carusone, has subsequently started to contact some of the sponsors of “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” which is distributed by local radio stations across the country.
As reported by Businessweek:
A day after Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke “a slut,” Angelo Carusone, a Washington-based activist, began contacting advertisers to boycott Limbaugh’s show — over the phone, via e-mail, through Twitter Inc. and on Facebook Inc. (FB) ….
“The boycott wouldn’t have had the same effect without Twitter or Facebook,” said Carusone, campaign director for Media Matters for America ….
In the Village Voice interview, Carusone acknowledges he talked to advertisers all weekend, and that the Carbonite Saturday night announcement was a key turning point:
I started talking to advertisers on Thursday, and got a lot of feedback on Friday, and I knew a lot of movement was taking place. This was important to think about from a business perspective. The very clearest example was when Carbonite came out on Saturday night. That was significant because they had been one of his biggest advertisers, and they announced their drop after the so called apology. They said the apology didn’t matter. Rush had exposed himself as too volatile to do business with.
Carusone doesn’t state that he communicated with Carbonite, but it’s certainly implied in his interview.
While Carusone was contacting advertisers, Media Matters began running almost daily counts of how many advertisers had “dropped” Limbaugh. Media Matters did not disclose that advertisers were “dropping” Limbaugh as a result of the efforts of Media Matters’ own employee, Carusone.
Carusone did not try to hide his efforts in his media interviews, but Media Matters itself did not attribute the success of the campaign to its own efforts.
The weekend Twitter and Facebook campaign by Carusone paid dividends, as many of the initial advertisers cited online complaints as one of the reasons for dropping Limbaugh.
Media Matters also inflated the numbers, including advertisers who never advertised on Limbaugh but merely acknowledged a pre-existing policy. Yet those inflated numbers (50? 100? 140?) then were picked up by the media, to create the appearance of momentum.
Media Matters then published an account of “dead air” during Limbaugh’s show on WABC in New York City. In the text of the article it’s revealed that the dead air was only on the online broadcast, but the lazy and biased mainstream media simply regurgitated the headline of dead air, which has become an urban legend.
There is no equivalent of Media Matters on the conservative side, a well-funded organization devoted to silencing political opponents through secondary advertiser boycotts. George Soros donated $1 million in 2010 for the anti-Fox News campaign, the same year Media Matters hired Carusone for the various “Stop” campaigns.
While much of the public outcry against Limbaugh was genuine, the advertiser secondary boycott was astroturfed by Media Matters, which initiated a pre-existing “Stop Limbaugh” campaign, executed it over the first weekend of the controversy, and then hyped it and spoon fed it to the mainstream media without disclosing that a Media Matters employee was behind it all.
Update 3-19-2012: Rush move to Twitter has boycott organizers worried and The answer to the Twitter war is sunshine
I discuss the Limbaugh boycott on Pundit Review Radio: