Tuesday, April 10, 2007


“I was just trying to be funny!”

Last week, dubious radio personality Don Imus made a nasty comment about the players on the Rutgers (NJ) women's basketball team. He's spent the time since then apologizing for it and fending off demands to his employers that he be fired. Now, no one should be surprised at what Mr Imus said. He's said things like it before, and, in fact, it's arguable that he's specifically expected to say such inflammatory things. On the other hand, it's entirely appropriate that his employer be held to account for it, and demands that he be replaced by a radio host that does not offend the public are reasonable.

Let's make no mistake here: this is not a question of Mr Imus's free speech. If I had heard him say what he said as he stood on a street corner, I would think him an empty-headed bozo (to use a somewhat like-structured phrase), and I'd wonder why he felt the need to behave that way... but I wouldn't have him silenced. Only, he's not standing on a street corner, speaking for himself. His commentary is being broadcast on public airwaves, as a representative of his employers (CBS Radio, and MSNBC for the TV syndication) and with public licenses from the FCC.

If I said such a thing within the closed offices of my company, I would likely be fired if someone who heard it reported it to management or HR. That's because my company deplores such characterizations, and believes that its employees and visitors should not be subjected to the hostile environment that such talk creates. Similarly, CBS and NBC must decide whether the public should, in their names, be subjected to that hostile environment, disguised as “entertainment”.

I accept that Mr Imus is sincere in his statement that he is a non-racist who makes racist (and other offensive) comments in a misguided attempt to be funny. I do not ackowledge that it's acceptable to try to be funny in that way; quite the contrary: it's a weak wit that has to stoop to insults and ethnic characterizations for humour. With a nod to my friends who actually do like his show, I will be happy to see him fired for habitual bad taste in his public commentary.

“I was just trying to be funny,” is not an excuse for being offensive, and we have to stop accepting that sort of thing from public figures. Either find another way to make people laugh, or find another vocation.

Update, 8 a.m.: Imus has been suspended for two weeks by both NBC and CBS.

NBC also served notice yesterday that it would not tolerate insensitive remarks in the future. Mr. Imus had promised to change the tenor of the show, NBC said in a statement, and had agreed that the suspension was appropriate.
We'll see... if it sticks, then I think it's a fine solution.

Update, 12 Apr: And now MSNBC and CBS have cancelled Imus's shows. I have to say that I'm agreeing more and more with Ray and Scouter, when they say that there's not enough outrage about some of the rest of what's going on in the country (and the media).


Dr. Momentum said...

What's this world coming to when you can't get away with devaluing women and minorities on a popular radio show for laughs?

Should he be fired? Actually, I think that sometimes there's more value in a sincere apology, an explanation of why it won't happen again, and an acknowledgment of why it was wrong. Why? Because firing is not always instructive. Fired he just becomes another angry white guy who fell victim to an overreaction (in the mind of his supporters).

Our society has changed and is changing. If he can manage it, maybe embodying that change can do more good than harm. If he's willing to go that route.

If not, then sure, fire him.

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, I agree that if his apology is "sincere" and he really does stop doing it, well, that's what we all want. I'm not a "zero tolerance" kind of guy, and I'm in favour of firing him not because he said it once, but because it's part of a pattern, he's been called on it before, and he's still doing it.

A sincere apology also doesn't include something like, "I'm sorry you were offended, but I was just being funny." Instead, it starts with, "I'm sorry I said that. It was a stupid thing to say, and there's no excuse for it. I won't do it again." Too often, we hear things like for former passing for an apology.

On the other hand, the latter is what Imus said. What's more, he's now been suspended and has promised to change. See the update to the main entry. So maybe this will work out well for everyone.

Ray said...

Sometimes, just to get my blood pressure up and to remind myself how low into the swill people can dip, I tune in to WABC's "talk radio".

Now, not to belittle what Imus said, and by no means agreeing that it was either right or appropriate, but how is it that he was suspended for this when the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, Coulter, and their ilk, continue to spew their vile and hateful venom over the airwaves with such abandon?

Oh. Oh... now I get it. It's all about The Ratings, Stupid! What Imus said negatively affected the ratings. What those other despicable creatures say improves the ratings.


scouter573 said...

I must confess I don't really know what to think.

I don't listen to his show, so I don't know if this is "normal" for Mr. Imus or not. If it's normal, why wasn't he fired a long time ago? If abnormal, I'm inclined to give him a second chance (after some suitable negative reinforcement).

I'm not sure that a two-week suspension is any kind of negative reinforcement. The guy makes how many millions per year (just guessing), so two weeks is, what?, beer money for him? I'm assuming it is suspension without pay. If suspended with pay, it means nothing. Maybe a month would be a better bit of reinforcement, more likely to get his attention.

Or maybe two weeks was selected because it hurts neither Mr. Imus nor his employer - they play a couple weeks of "best of Imus", get free publicity they couldn't buy, and everybody forgets it when the next political dust-up comes along. (Anybody remember that Attorney General guy? Did he do something recently? I forget.)

If you really want to get something changed, start calling the advertisers and express your disappointment that they would sponsor Mr. Imus. Then ask what alternative products you can buy from other companies that can replace their products. Mr. Imus will hear that message pretty quickly. What's the toll-free number?

The things that Michael "Savage" (?) says make Mr. Imus look like a sweet-tongued nun. The O'Reilly Factor makes Mr. Imus look positively statesmanlike. Rush Limbaugh makes Mr. Imus look reasoned and thoughtful.

So, any other radio stations in town?

scouter573 said...

Oh, yeah, now I remember what I was going to say:

Ann Coulter.

Isn't she the one who has perfected the "funny" talk that Mr. Imus used on his show. If Mr. Imus gets two weeks, Ms. Coulter should be banned from radio and TV for life, yes?

Ray said...

Here's an interesting article on the subject, from a black perspective: http://www.kansascity.com/159/story/66339.html

Khrystiaan's Dad said...

He has no respect for where is when he's mouthing off. At the White House/TV/Radio Media Assn dinner about ten years ago he went over the top as featured speaker. Said stuff about the Clintons that was totally inappropriate even for that kind of "roasting". And the Clintons were really frosted about that. Grist for the mill - and other media followed. Bad man.

Ray said...

I just checked Google news for the Imus story, and it seems to have exploded uncontrollably.

Again, not to belittle his comments, but I find it intriguing, and more than a little troubling, that an entire nation can be triggered to exhibit outrage over a name-calling incident when there are so many more things that ought to raise people's ire.

Where's the outrage against Bush and his cabal for starting a phony war?

Where's the outrage aginst Bush for being responsible for the deaths of untold thousands?

Where's the outrage for our having reduced a country to ruins?

Where's the outrage for the corporate takeover of this nation?

Where's the outrage for this being the only industrial nation on the planet without universal health care of some form?

Where's the outrage for the administration-abetted rape and pillage of our natural resources?

Where's the outrage for Bush having sunk the nation into unprecedented debt?

Where's the outrage for his lies and deceit?

Why have we saved it all for a radio personality who called someone an inappropriate name? It just seems to me there is a total reversal of what should be our priorities.

Khrystiaan's Dad said...

It may well be that the media is spending a disproportionate amount of time on Imus at this time. My take is that it doesn't hurt to bring his statement(s) to the public as unacceptable. The mass of blacks are living lives of quiet desperation. There is a connection between two facts: 1) The Rutgers team looks more like most of the folks in Iraq riding the circuit and missing their kids, and 2) the people who suck up to Imus are the ones making policy.