Will Limbaugh apology quell controversy?

Rush Limbaugh (AP)

Rush Limbaugh apologized over the weekend for the language he used to describe a law student who wants insurance coverage for birth control.

But some of his sponsors are dropping his show, and the Republican presidential hopefuls are being drawn into the controversy with Super Tuesday just hours away.

They'd hoped to spend this critical time focused on the issues, such as the economy and energy prices, but instead found themselves faced with questions about Limbaugh.

He's a media powerhouse known for rallying the right, but for some conservatives, his latest comments were too much.

McCain: Limbaugh comments "totally unacceptable"

On the campaign trail, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney tried to distance themselves from the controversy.

"He's being absurd!" Santorum said on CNN Friday. "But that's, you know -- an entertainer can be absurd."

In Cleveland on Friday, Romney said, "I'll just say this, which is, it's not the language I would have used."

The controversy began after Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke testified in support of mandatory contraceptive insurance coverage under her school's healthcare plan, saying birth control would cost $3,000.

"It makes her a slut, right?" Limbaugh said on his show Wednesday. "It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex."

On his show Thursday, Limbaugh added, "Ms. Fluke, and the rest of you femi-Nazis -- here's the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus, pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is -- we want you to post the videos online so we cal all watch."

Insisting he didn't mean to personally attack Fluke, Limbaugh issued a written apology stating, "My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir."

But Saturday's apology became Sunday's talk show fodder.

Newt Gingrich said on NBC's "Meet the Press" he's "astonished at the desperation of the elite media ... to suddenly decide that Rush Limbaugh is the great national crisis of this week."

Former Richard Nixon speechwriter Peggy Noonan remarked on "ABC This Week" that, "It played into this trope that the Republicans have a war on women. No, they don't -- but he made it look that way."

And on "Face the Nation" on CBS, Ron Paul called Limbaugh's language "crude" and questioned Limbaugh's apology, saying, "I don't think he's very apologetic. He's doing it because some people were taking their advertisements off his program. It was his bottom line he was concerned about."

Seven companies have pulled commercials from Limbaugh's nationally-syndicated radio show. Online data company Carbonite said the on-air attack crossed the line and issued a statement saying, "We hope that our action ... will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse."

Media expert Eric Dezenhall believes Limbaugh's career can survive this public relations crisis. "Rush Limbaugh," says Denzenhall, "makes his living crossing the line. ... For every person who loudly protests, there are also people who silently agree with him."

Limbaugh had some defenders, but they were drowned out by protests on the left and critics on the right. For some Republicans, there was also concern that the focus on the Limbaugh controversy was distracting from important issues and playing right into Democrats' hands as they try to win women voters, who are considered key in the fall election.

To see Jan Crawford's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Jan Crawford
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    Jan Crawford is CBS News' chief legal correspondent and based in Washington, D.C.