Sunday, April 15, 2007

 

Imus in the Twilight

If you were awake at all this past week, you couldn't have missed the unfolding drama surrounding radio talk show superstar Don Imus in the aftermath of his unfortunate remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Imus actually uttered the infamous three words, nappy-headed hos, characterizing the Rutgers' players as such, on Wednesday, April 4. By the 6th, Imus had already apologized on the air. He did so again on Monday, the 9th, but by the morning of Thursday, April 12, Don Imus, one of the original "shock jocks" (the other being the notoriously raunchy Howard Stern), was out of a job.

Both CBS, parent of the companies which aired and syndicated his morning show, Imus in the Morning and NBC, parent company of MSNBC, which simulcast his show on their cable network, had dismissed the jock permanently. Just a day earlier, the networks had decided on a two week hiatus for Imus, but the continuing cries for his dismissal - and probably more importantly - the defection of large advertisers like Staples, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline,
Read the complete Imus Timeline at Media Matters for America.
Bigelow Tea, American Express and Sprint Nextel - were taking a toll on network executives behind the Imus image.

By the weekend, both networks had gone into "mea culpa" mode, along with fellow giants of the public airwaves, PBS, FOX, and ABC. Soon everybody was talking about a "national dialogue" on race, women's rights and decency, pointing the finger at various rappers like Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Ludacris, who routinely use the N-word, and other racially, and sexually-charged language in their rap lyrics.

Finally, by Sunday night, CBS' 60 Minutes and ABC's Dateline featured the Imus, race, women's rights story on their shows and maybe the furor will subside and maybe some good will come of it.

The matter is pretty simple, especially concerning First Amendment rights, public decency notwithstanding. As Imus has overwhelmingly proven, anyone can say anything on public airwaves, though not necessarily without consequences. Our constitutional rights are well-established and are not threatened by this incident.

And while it may be OK to call President Bush misguided, suggest he's mentally-challenged or even opine that the Vice President is deliberately evil, it's quite a different thing to call a group of female college students - athletes or otherwise - prostitutes. Make no mistake, that was why Imus was fired. Had he stopped at "nappy-headed" he probably would have escaped with an apology and his job. But calling them "hos" stepped over the line.

He completely denigrated ten women he had never met and whose backgrounds he did not know. The fact that most of them were black makes little to no difference. Nobody, not Imus or anybody else, can publicly characterize a private person in a degrading, derogatory manner.

There are laws that preclude such speech, mostly under defamation of character statutes, and the Rutgers' women could, if they so choose, pursue the matter in the courts, and they'd likely have a winnable case against not only Don Imus, but CBS and NBC. Those are some deep pockets there, but the Rutgers women have shown themselves to be a singularly classy group of young women, and they probably won't pursue the matter in the courts.

Maybe that ought to tell us something.

As for the rappers, their use of the N-word, the "gansta" lifestyle and the self-degradation of their own race is a cultural issue - a black cultural issue - and one that I, being a 50-something white guy, have no dog in that fight. I'll leave that up to Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Jesse Jackson, Oprah and the Reverend Al Sharpton to sort out. I have a feeling they'll - apologies to Spike Lee - do the right thing.

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