Editor's note: Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem are the Co-Founders of the Women's Media Center.
(CNN) -- Ironically, the misogyny Rush Limbaugh spewed for three days over Sandra Fluke was not much worse than his regular broadcast of sexist, racist and homophobic hate speech:
-- Female Cabinet members are "Sex-retaries."
-- The National Organization for Women is "a bunch of whores to liberalism."
-- [Said to an African-American female caller]: "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
These are just a few samples from the arsenal of degrading language Limbaugh deploys on women, people of color, lesbians and gays, immigrants, the disabled, the elderly, Muslims, Jews, veterans, environmentalists and so forth.
Limbaugh doesn't just call people names. He promotes language that deliberately dehumanizes his targets. Like the sophisticated propagandist Josef Goebbels, he creates rhetorical frames -- and the bigger the lie, the more effective -- inciting listeners to view people they disagree with as sub-humans. His longtime favorite term for women, "femi-Nazi," doesn't even raise eyebrows anymore, an example of how rhetoric spreads when unchallenged by coarsened cultural norms.
At least this most recent incident has turned a spotlight back on the vile, damaging statements Limbaugh has been promulgating for years. His sponsors are dropping him; his stations have begun to follow suit. VoteVets, a coalition of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, released a statement by female vets, including Katherine Scheirman, former chief of medical operations in the U.S. Air Forces, demanding that the American Forces Network drop Limbaugh from its programming.
They state, "Our entire military depends on troops respecting each other -- women and men. There simply can be no place on military airwaves for sentiments that would undermine that respect."
That makes this a fitting time to inquire of his syndicator, Clear Channel Communications, whether it intends to continue supporting someone who addicts his audience to regular doses of hate speech. Clear Channel's Premiere Radio Networks Inc., which hosts Limbaugh's program, has defended his recent comments.
If Clear Channel won't clean up its airways, then surely it's time for the public to ask the FCC a basic question: Are the stations carrying Limbaugh's show in fact using their licenses "in the public interest?"
Spectrum is a scarce government resource. Radio broadcasters are obligated to act in the public interest and serve their respective communities of license. In keeping with this obligation, individual radio listeners may complain to the FCC that Limbaugh's radio station (and those syndicating his show) are not acting in the public interest or serving their respective communities of license by permitting such dehumanizing speech.
The FCC takes such complaints into consideration when stations file for license renewal. For local listeners near a station that carries Limbaugh's show, there is plenty of evidence to bring to the FCC that their station isn't carrying out its public interest obligation. Complaints can be registered under the broadcast category of the FCC website: http://www.fcc.gov/complaints
This isn't political. While we disagree with Limbaugh's politics, what's at stake is the fallout of a society tolerating toxic, hate-inciting speech. For 20 years, Limbaugh has hidden behind the First Amendment, or else claimed he's really "doing humor" or "entertainment." He is indeed constitutionally entitled to his opinions, but he is not constitutionally entitled to the people's airways.
It's time for the public to take back our broadcast resources. Limbaugh has had decades to fix his show. Now it's up to us.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem