At his first solo press conference of 2012, President Barack Obama addressed the controversy over Rush Limbaugh's insulting of Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who spoke to Congressional Democrats to advocate for free access to contraception.
"I don't know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart, so I'm not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology," Obama said.
But he added that "all decent folks can agree that the remarks that are made don't have any place in the public discourse," and said his supportive telephone call to Fluke last week was driven by protective feelings for his daughters.
"I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about - even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way," Obama said. "And I don't want them to be attacked, or called horrible names," for trying to be "good citizens."
Young people should know that "being part of a democracy involves argument and disagreements and debate and we want you to be engaged, and there's a way to do it that doesn't involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you're a private citizen," added the president.
Republicans have increasingly complained that Democrats are using the controversy -- which erupted when the Obama Administration moved to require religious-affiliated employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraception -- for political gain.
Obama, whose aides implausibly claimed that the press conference timing had nothing to do with the "Super Tuesday" voting in the Republican presidential nominating fight, shrugged off those allegations.
"Women are going to make up their own mind in this election about who is advancing the issues that they care most deeply about," he said. "It's not going to be narrowly focused just on contraception, it's not going to be driven by one statement by one radio announcer."
But, he said, "Democrats have a better story to tell to women."
And when it comes to civility in public discourse, "I'm going to try to lead by example."
But he begged off further comment, saying that if he became a media critic "I would be very busy, I would not have time to do my job."
<b>Update, 3:03 p.m. EST</b>: This post has been updated to include more quotes from President Obama as well as some background.
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