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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Corporate Social Responsibility Countering Rush Limbaugh

On February 29, 2012—Leap Day—Radio political-commentator and entertainer Rush Limbaugh called a female law student at Georgetown a “slut” and “prostitute” simply because she had said that Georgetown’s student health insurance should cover birth-control—a staple for even 98% of sexually-active married and single Catholic women as of 2012. On the following day, Limbaugh went on to offer to pay for aspirin that the women at Georgetown could “put between their knees” in lieu of birth-control. If you are wondering how that even makes sense, I am with you on that one. What strikes me in particular is the extreme to which Limbaugh went in his rhetoric or appeal for a larger audience for his radio show (and attention on himself). That corporate social responsibility would function as the corrective also surprised me, for CSR is typically merely marketing, window-dressing, or for better public relations.

By 2012, birth-control was a taken-for-granted staple in Western civilization. For one person or a group of well-placed individuals to suddenly decide for us all that the default had suddenly become toxic such that it was open season on anyone who merely confirms support for a common practice evinces the sort of power-grab that goes well beyond reason or justification. In other words, it is one thing to challenge the status quo—I do so all the time; it is quite another thing to viciously attack a person personally simply because she advocates something that is typically accepted in society. Limbaugh’s ascription of sordid and lascivious qualities to the law student was utterly unfounded, and yet for days he refused to back down—until his show’s advertisers became to pull out in droves. From the standpoint of the advertisers pulling out, the action represents corporate social responsibility in a civic sense.

As reported by the Huffington Post, David Friend, who runs the online backup company Carbonite, issued a statement on his company's website saying that Carbonite would no longer advertise with Limbaugh despite the host's rare admission of regret. From the website: “No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”

It is in ultimately in contributing to a more civil public discourse that David Friend has drawn on his own experience (i.e., having two daughters) in applying corporate social responsibility at potentially financial cost for a civic purpose. The influence of personal experience goes against Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy wherein the particular incumbent of an office does not matter as well as the corporate duty of fiduciary duty wherein a management acts only in the financial interest of the stockholders. In the case of Carbonite, Friend might have been the owner (or he might have surveyed the owners). Lest it be presumed unobjectionable that Friend could direct his company in terms of his personal experience (i.e., having two daughters) even if some of his employees receive less in compensation due to the loss of advertising, the director of a Catholic hospital could employ similar reasoning to refuse covering contraceptives for employees because of a personal moral (or religious) belief. Friend might have been on firmer ground in confining his objection against Limbaugh to the civic rationale (i.e., Limbaugh had abused his license to the public airwaves). Such a rationale is similar to that which claims that society should not permit employers to impose their personal beliefs on employees.

In other words, both Limbaugh and the employers who presume to impose their personal moralities or beliefs as binding on employees have violated the social contract by overreaching. The overreaching itself can be construed as involving aggression, rather active (Limbaugh) or passive (employers). Ultimately, the sin of self-idolatrous pride undergirds both. As Limbaugh was excoriating the Georgetown student, I was struck by how difficult it would be to provide any sort of accountability on Limbaugh for his invective hyperbole. Reading of corporate social responsibility swooping in to provide some check is impressive even if it raises the issue of how much influence the personal beliefs of an employer should have in the conduct of his or her job. I suppose what goes around comes around.

Even so, one hopes as Hegel did for some progression through human history, even if only in a progressively freeing-up of spirit. Lest this be thought to be a simple matter, it should be noted that the freedom of Limbaugh and the employers, including Friend and Georgetown, are also in the mix, as is that of the law students. If only freedom could be maximized for all of them at once; the best we can do otherwise is perhaps to see that harm is minimized. Yet even here, some would argue that there is harm in keeping a sperm from an egg and that such harm outweighs the freedom of people to use birth control. Such harm seems rather exaggerated because nothing existing is destroyed by forestalling a possibility, whereas the harm to Sandra Fluke from Limbaugh’s invective would have been minimized had it not been for corporate social responsibility. If only more businesses would invoke CSR apart from financial considerations.


“Limbaugh Advertiser: We Still Won’t Sponsor Rush Anymore,” The Huffington Post, March 3, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/03/carbonite-online-backup-rush-limbaugh-apology_n_1318892.html