Radio host Rush Limbaugh said his apology to the Georgetown law student he called a "slut" was sincere but also joked that he, too, got a busy signal Monday when he called the show to join the growing roster of advertisers abandoning it.
The student, Sandra Fluke, said Limbaugh's apology did nothing to change the corrosive tone of the debate over health care coverage and that Americans have to decide whether they want to support companies that continue to advertise on his program. AOL and Tax Resolution Services Co. on Monday became the eighth and ninth advertisers to leave Limbaugh's three-hour show as he sought to stem the exodus of advertisers and fellow conservatives declined to offer him support.
"I should not have used the language I did, and it was wrong," a rarely contrite Limbaugh told listeners.
Fluke, who testified to congressional Democrats in support of their national health care policy that would compel her Jesuit college's health plan to cover her birth control, said she had not heard from Limbaugh directly but signaled she had little interest in speaking with him. She said his criticism of her beliefs was an attack on women's health.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"It is an attempt to silence me," Fluke told ABC's "The View."
Fluke had been invited to testify to a House committee about her school's health care plan, which does not include contraception. Republican lawmakers barred her from testifying during that hearing, but Democrats invited her back and she spoke to the Democratic lawmakers at an unofficial session.
The issue has been much debated in the presidential race, with Republican candidates particularly criticizing President Barack Obama's requirements on such employers as Catholic hospitals. Democrats - and many Republican leaders, too - have suggested the issue could energize women to vote for Obama and other Democrats in November.
Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, told CBS News on Monday that Limbaugh's statements were unacceptable "in every way" and "should be condemned" by people across the political spectrum. Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said it is "silly" to suggest that Limbaugh speaks for the party.
Limbaugh, even as he retreated from his earlier characterization of Fluke as a "slut" and "prostitute," insisted the 30-year-old was trying to "force a religious institution to abandon its principles to meet hers."
"Those two words were inappropriate. They were uncalled for," he said of his initial comments that roiled his critics. "They distracted from the point that I was actually trying to make."
Even so, eight companies now have stopped advertising on Limbaugh's program on Clear Channel's Premiere Radio Networks Inc. The parent company is supporting Limbaugh, whose on-air contract with Premiere runs through 2016.
AOL said Monday that Limbaugh's messages "are not in line with our values."
ProFlowers, mortgage lender Quicken Loans, mattress retailers Sleep Train and Sleep Number, software maker Citrix Systems Inc., online data backup service provider Carbonite and the online legal document services company LegalZoom also left Limbaugh's roster of advertisers.
Limbaugh sought to find some humor in the situation.
"I called myself to cancel my advertising. I got a busy signal," he deadpanned at the start of Monday's program.
Yet, he appeared defiant and suggested he'd have little trouble finding new sponsors.
"I reject millions of dollars of advertisers a year much to the chagrin of my hard-working sales staff," Limbaugh said.
The tumult began last week when Limbaugh discounted Fluke's appearance on Capitol Hill.
He said last Wednesday: "What does it say about the college coed ... who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex."
He dug in a day later, refusing to give ground.
"If we're going to have to pay for this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke," Limbaugh said. "And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we're getting for our money."
On Friday, still defiant even after Democrats beat back Republican challenges to the new health care requirement, Limbaugh scoffed at the Democrats' talk of a conservative "war on women."
Obama, aware of the political advantages of branding all conservatives as supporters of Limbaugh's views, telephoned Fluke from the Oval Office on Friday to offer his support.
A day later, Limbaugh apologized to Fluke.
Yet even on Monday, Limbaugh didn't back away from his criticism of Fluke's appearance on Capitol Hill. He questioned why she was invited testify.
"She doesn't have any expertise," Limbaugh said during the second hour of his radio show.