Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dom Imus and Free Speech

(Originally posted on MySpace on Saturday, April 14, 2007)

We live in a time where personality means much more then real news. That's always been the case, but it just seems to get worse and worse, especially since the news media, television and print, seem to feed us nothing but fluff stories. They claim that's what the public wants to hear. But I think that since the public doesn't know any better, they have no idea what they want to actually hear. I do know that the government and the corporations that own the news medias don't want the public to hear much of the real news out there. Ignorance is bliss. So, we have a President who lied to get us into an unwinable war. But who cares because Britney shaved her head and went into rehab. Truly dangerous countries like North Korea and Iran are developing nuclear weapons and may very well be threatening us with them soon. But who cares because we now know whom Anna Nicole's baby was fathered by. And we're increasingly forced to vote for unreliable candidates for office, choosing between the lesser of two evils. But who cares because Don Imus said something that upset a group of people.

Actually, I want to comment on the Don Imus controversy since that one actually does present some problems that we as a society need to think about. I still think that its been blown way out of proportion to its actually importance. That's very well summed up in the following cartoon by one of my favorite political cartoonists, Ted Rall:

For those of you in other countries who might not know what all this is about, Don Imus is what's known as a "shock jock" here in the States. He's a radio and television personality who thrives on saying provocative and stupidly insulting things in order to get attention for himself and his show. He's one of the most popular on the radio here. A couple of weeks ago he was talking about the Rutgers University Female Basketball team and referred to them as "nappy headed hos" since most of them are black. This created quite the media storm here and opened the door for other loud-mouthed opportunists like the "Reverend" Al Sharpton, a black "politician" (I use the word loosely) who thrives on acting outraged by any supposed slight towards American blacks.

At first the American public seemed like they were going to treat this as they do just about any other controversy like it: with a big yawn. But the media just wouldn't let it go and when they started taking other, older statements by Imus out of context as proof that the man is a bigot towards everybody, the public started speaking up and before we knew it, Imus was out of a job.

Let me get it straight that I'm not a fan of Imus. The whole "shock-jock" thing grates on me and I really dislike them all. Most of them, like Imus, tend to gravitate towards the conservative side of the political spectrum, but there are a few liberal ones as well and I don't enjoy them either. All most of them do is scream and abuse and they've gotten popular off of exploiting the ignorance of the great American unwashed.

And while I believe that what Imus said was stupid and hurtful, I don't believe the man is necessarily a racist, as Al Sharpton has loudly proclaimed to anyone with a television camera. You have to put Imus into context before you can understand him and what he does. Imus used to be an equal opportunity offender, much like television's great cartoon show "South Park". He not only tried to offend everyone and anyone of both sides of the political spectrum, he also would take on himself. In short, he knew what he was doing and didn't take himself seriously while doing it. But somewhere along the line, he became what he used to make fun of and started taking himself very seriously. And he mostly began to side himself with the conservative side of things, much as comedian Dennis Miller has done. Miller also used to be funny before he started taken himself so damned seriously. And like Dennis Miller's old HBO show, it used to be amusing and somewhat informative to listen to Imus' show even if I didn't agree with most of what he was saying. But as he started taking himself seriously, the show just became painful to hear. (Both his decline, and Dennis Miller's, is another thing I indirectly blame Bush for.)

So although Imus has been saying offensive things for years, he finally said the wrong thing at the wrong time and it blew up in his face.

I'm stuck in a weird place on this. I believe that if we are supposed to have free speech, we need to have total free speech. "Free speech" doesn't mean only that speech that doesn't offend anyone. Especially since just about anything will offend someone, someplace. But I also don't like the kind of speech that these people get away with.

So, do I think that Imus should have been fired for what he said? No.

Do I think CBS was justified in firing him? Yes.

Free speech should be allowed, but people who exploit it need to realize that they have to be responsible for their actions. I couldn't help but notice that when Imus first made his statement that CBS refused to respond to it. This has pissed off a lot of people, thinking that CBS' slowness was a sign of disrespect towards those he offended, but I think CBS was doing the correct and shrewd thing. It wasn't until some of Imus' major sponsors pulled out of his show that CBS finally canned him. And that was the correct thing to do. The sponsors want to align themselves with a show they can agree with and feel comfortable with. If Imus' comments made them feel they could no longer support the show, they have every right to pull their support from the show. That's not censorship, that's good business. So while Imus was fired for complications that came about because of his words, he wasn't fired for the words themselves. His actions lost the sponsors and cost CBS a lot of money. And the firing was justified.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It's kind of convoluted. And while the distinction is razor thin, I stand by the idea that he wasn't fired for his words, but because of his words.

But this whole incident also brings up several other serious subjects. The first is the fact that we live in a racist, homophobic and sexist society and no one wants to outright admit that. Until we as a society can confront that truth and start figuring out what to do about it, things like the Imus controversy will keep happening. Unfortunately, Imus got fired and most people seem to think that solved the problem. The problem isn't that simple and I don't know what it's going to take to wake people up to that fact.

The second is the amount of hypocrisy that was blowing around during this whole thing. Political hack/hag Ann Coulter called Presidential candidate John Edwards a faggot and there was hardly a burp about it. Already mentioned professional loudmouth Al Sharpton made comments about the Duke Lacrosse players that were as racist as the comment by Don Imus. Jesse Jackson, horrible "news" pundit Nancy Grace and a whole slew of others are guilty of the same thing as well. Now that it's all come out that the charges were false and the players are innocent, there's just been a deafening silence from these people. Why aren't they being taken to task for their offensive comments? Idiotic "Christian" television preacher Pat Robertson has managed to offend just about every other religion in existence. But there've been no cries to get rid of that fool. Why is what Don Imus said so offensive, but when others say similar things, its just ignored?

Anyways, I've blathered on long enough about this. Hopefully I can get on to more pleasant things next week. As always, I welcome any and all comments.

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