First it was Sleep Train Mattress Centers that spurned its longtime ally and business partner Rush Limbaugh.
Now Limbaugh is returning the favor — and the split between the Sacramento retailer and the controversial radio host appears to be permanent.
Limbaugh on Thursday rejected Sleep Train's offer to resume advertising on his national radio show and rehire Limbaugh as a paid spokesman. Limbaugh's spokesman said the conservative commentator would no longer carry Sleep Train's ads "in the future."
Sleep Train stopped advertising on the show last Friday, becoming one of the first sponsors to drop Limbaugh. The company's decision came two days after Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student a "slut" and a "prostitute" over her stance on health insurance coverage for contraception.
Limbaugh apologized to the student over the weekend.
Sleep Train's decision was especially noteworthy because Limbaugh and Sleep Train chief executive Dale Carlsen have known each other since the 1980s, when Sleep Train was a small company and Limbaugh was an on-air personality at Sacramento's KFBK (1530 AM).
"As a diverse company, Sleep Train does not condone such negative comments directed toward any person," the mattress retailer said last week.
The statement said "we have currently pulled our ads," hinting the stoppage might be just temporary.
But the rift deepened Thursday, maybe for good.
Limbaugh's spokesman Brian Glicklich sent Carlsen an email rejecting Sleep Train's efforts to make peace. The email noted that Sleep Train asked Limbaugh to resume his "voiced endorsement" in which he personally read the ad copy on the air.
"Rush received your requests personally," said Glicklich's email, which was released to The Bee and other media. "Unfortunately, your public comments were not well received by our audience, and did not accurately portray either Rush Limbaugh's character or the intent of his remarks. Thus, we regret to inform you that Rush will be unable to endorse Sleep Train in the future.
"Rush appreciates your long friendship and your past support, and we wish you good luck in the future."
Carlsen couldn't be reached for comment but said in a prepared statement: "We confirm that Rush Limbaugh will no longer be one of Sleep Train's radio endorsers."
Although he apologized to law student Sandra Fluke, Limbaugh has downplayed the impact of losing advertisers.
"Two of the sponsors who have canceled have asked to return," he told his audience Wednesday, according to a transcript on his website. "We are being very careful about that. Not gonna give you any names here. One of them is practically begging to come back. Everything is fine on the business side."
Eric Dezenhall, a public relations executive in Washington who consults with companies facing crises, said Limbaugh's rejection could hurt Sleep Train.
"It throws a haymaker at them that leaves them in the news longer than they would have anticipated," he said. "It extends the half-life of the controversy, which is always problematic."
The company seemed to try to dial down the issue.
It put a message on its Facebook page Thursday afternoon saying, "Out of respect for fans who do not wish to be part of the Rush Limbaugh discourse, we are turning posts off."
That message disappeared about an hour later.
Dezenhall called Limbaugh's move "a very calculated risk," designed to warn other advertisers that they shouldn't drop him.
Carlsen hired Limbaugh to read his radio ads back in 1986, when Sleep Train owned just two stores and Limbaugh was trying to kickstart a not-so-successful radio career.
"He started doing the spots and it took off right away," Carlsen told The Bee in 1997.
The relationship with Sleep Train continued after Limbaugh moved to New York and became one of the biggest stars in radio. In a 2005 interview with The Bee, Carlsen recalled what Limbaugh told him as he was moving to New York.
"When he left town he said, 'The people you meet on the way up are the people you meet on the way down. I'll always take care of you.' "
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