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April 16, 2007

Ten Questions (and Answers) about Don Imus


As you may have heard, Don Imus' radio career came to a premature end last week, when the longtime radio host was fired first from his television simulcast on MSNBC, and then from his radio show itself by CBS Radio.


The whole brouhaha occurred after a "comedy" bit in which Imus referred to the Rutgers' womens' college basketball team, which had just played for the national championship, as "nappy-headed hos," and producer Bernard McGuirk described them as "jigaboos."


Oceans of ink have already been spilled on this incident, so here are 10 questions (and 10 answers) to the frequently asked questions:


1. Did Imus deserve to be fired? In a word, Yes. The type of language he used, in reference to young black women who never did a bad thing to anyone, clearly has no place in intelligent or human discourse.


It's especially sad that on the week we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the most significant event in the history of American sports Jackie Robinson's breaking of the baseball color barrier the biggest news story is yet another controversy over vile racial slurs. And while "nappy-headed hos" may be derived from gangsta rap, "jigaboos" is an insult straight out of the Jim Crow-era south, something an opposing player might have called Jackie Robinson.


2. But doesn't he deserve a second chance? No. Because this is by no means a "first offense." Imus has been spouting ignorant insults at every minority group imaginable for pretty much his whole career. He is a longtime bottom-feeder who has inexplicably managed a sheen of respectability, likely because of his numerous charitable efforts, and because major political and media figures regularly appeared on his show.


Imus has called Gwen Ifill, the highly respected New York Times correspondent, turned PBS host, a "cleaning lady." A former sidekick, Sid Rosenberg, likened Venus and Serena Williams to animals. You would think that would teach those on the show to avoid dehumanizing insults towards African-American female athletes, though I guess not.


3. Does Imus's firing portend a "chill" on freedom of speech on the airwaves? No. Other radio hosts may think so, but it really doesn't. Imus's freedom of speech has not been abridged. The government did not cause his firing, and CBS and NBC had as much a right to fire him as he had to say his piece on the air.


4. But what about all the other people it's happened to? Let's see: Here's a list of "controversial" radio hosts who have been fired in recent years: Opie & Anthony (who chastised Imus this week . . . for apologizing) were let go after staging a sex act at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Star (of Star and Buc Wild) was cashiered after threatening to sexually assault the four-year-old child of a rival host. Beau Duran lost his job after prank-calling the widow of baseball player Darryl Kile, who had died only months earlier. And a California morning show team was dismissed this year after holding a stunt in which a young mother died of water intoxication.


Did any of those firings place a "chill" on free speech? No. But if they placed a "chill" on anyone wanting to insult whole races, threaten to assault children, or taunt recent widows, is that really such a bad thing?


5. But isn't Imus a victim of political correctness? No. I'm as opposed to excessive PC as anyone, whether you're talking about campus speech codes or calling everything so-and-so-"challenged." But sometimes offensive statements are offensive statements. If one were to argue for the return of slavery and a second Holocaust, then yes, that would be politically incorrect. But it would also be very, very wrong.


6. Isn't Imus just part of the liberal mainstream media? Doesn't he represent the right-wing status quo? No and no. The Imus situation doesn't tie itself neatly into any sort of neat partisan bow, probably because Imus isn't really identified with either party or any ideology. He's buddies with and sworn enemies with lots of people on both sides.  Therefore, the usual "selective outrage"/"how can you defend X when you refuse to criticize Y" game isn't so easily applicable.


7. But isn't the real story on this that Al Sharpton is a hypocrite? No. Loathsome as Sharpton is (more on that below), Sharpton's involvement is not a bigger story than Imus himself. The conservative default position in every racial controversy this decade has been "it's not that big a deal, plus, Sharpton's worse." Sharpton may be a sanctimonious blowhard who puts his own interests well ahead of those he allegedly represents, but to say that is somehow more worthy of outrage than the racism and racial discrimination that exists in our society is the height of extreme ignorance.


8. So you're defending Sharpton? No, not at all. Al Sharpton has no business being taken seriously on this. He's got a long enough trail of "controversial" comments that he's disqualified himself as an authority on the matter.


9. But what about the Duke lacrosse case? Yeah, what about it? Other than being racial controversies involving college athletes that were both in the news this week, one has nothing to do with the other. And it's not like people are talking about one and not the other. The media, and people in general, are talking a whole lot about both. All further "hypocrisy hunts" are useless.


10. Is the Los Angeles Times' J.A. Adande right when he says that since Don Imus is so involved in charity work, he should now start doing it full time? Yes.  


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