Angelo Carusone, Tweeter Behind @StopRush and @StopBeck, On Rush Limbaugh's Implosion
Angelo Carusone is the Director of Online Strategy for Media Matters for America. Even prior to that gig, he's been known in the Twitterverse during the past couple of years as @StopBeck, an online campaign to let Glenn Beck's advertisers know where their advertising dollars were going. The Voice spoke with Carusone by phone from Washington, D.C. after his @StopRush Twitter actively rang the Limbaugh death bell over the weekend.
Here's an edited transcript of our conversation.
Why did you start Stop Beck?
I started it on July 2nd, 2009, during the summer between by second and third year of law school. For me, it was an interesting time. I was in law school, getting an info dump. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, and for me, it became clear that things were pretty messed up. Our policies are messed up, and didn't think the conversation around them was going well. I started looking at the irresponsible, reckless pillars of the media. Beck represented the worst of them at the time. He was extremely reckless, and illustrated the very worst of the media abdicating their responsibility. That's why I picked him as a first target. Things for him turned out to be bad business. I think people should have opinions, and express them passionately, but there is a responsible way of doing that. He was being completely irresponsible, and that's why I started Stop Beck, in July of 2009.
And then a month later, he called President Obama a racist. I started Stop Beck, and the next month, he really ramped up why he was problematic. Before that, there wasn't a magnifying glass on what he was doing. He helped put a larger microscope on the many ways his program was troublesome.
What was Beck's Waterloo moment? And when did you know you were having an effect?
For me, I always believed it would have an effect. I believe persistence pays off. I always told people, [Beck] might have a platform, but it was a two-year plus campaign. But it was effective every day, because we attached real financial consequences to what he was doing. [Here's] a link to those financial consequences to what Beck was doing. We went back and got advertisers' rates, and showed that the number of paid ads decreased, and that the rates themselves decreased, during Beck's show on Fox. Fox was getting three to six times less from the same ad, from the same advertiser, than other Fox News shows. So it was effective everyday.
For me, as we moved into 2011, it was obvious that Fox News knew it had a more significant problem on their hands. They' been absorbing losses for a long time, and the problems increased. It became clear that this was bad business for them.
What did you start Stop Rush?
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
I've noticed things like that. Corporations often do that. In looking at a story about JC Penney, you see they own hundreds of corporate domains... BoycottJCPenney.com, UnionizeJCPenney.com, etc.
Yeah. Rush didn't have StopRush.org, so that's what I got. Obviously at the time, I was a law student, and I was working very much on the Beck effort, and I was still managing law school. 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.
When did you have a sense that Sandra Fluke might have been Rush's Waterloo?
It was very clear late evening Friday, early Saturday that this was different and distinguishable. There have been temporary flare ups with Rush before. This was clearly not one of those. It has a different dynamic, and became a business problem, as opposed to people just being angry.
Rush had spent three full days digging in. 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.
And on the top of his website, there was a blank box that said "ADVERTISEMENT." That was where Carbonite has been for a long, long time. It was a very clear sign that we were dealing with something new.
The only ads I saw were for Rush's own products. I was almost surprised to see that his "Club Gitmo" clothing line hadn't dropped him!