Monday, April 09, 2007

Shock Jock Imus Hits New Low

Many of you may have caught the furor over Don Imus' latest nasty remarks on his morning show. I won't perpetuate the shock by repeating what he said, but suffice it to say, he made a racially and sexually derogatory set of remarks about the Rutgers' women's basketball team.

When I read the story this weekend, I thought about blogging about it, but didn't want to give the ass any further publicity than he's already received. On the other hand, to sit quietly and not say anything, also isn't appropriate. He deserves all the scolding society should muster, because what he said was beyond the pale. The women of Rutgers basketball team are hard working, talented women doing something they love and furthering themselves and their school through their athletics. These are people who deserve praise not attack. That he thought it was okay to say such nasty things about people who absolutely did not deserve it speaks to his weak moral character (it also says something about our culture, but that's for another post).

Having expressed my own disgust at his remarks, the situation raises an interesting question. Should he lose his job?

On the face of it, I'm uncertain. On the one hand, he is using a public commodity (the public airwaves) to expound his vile and filth. Is it appropriate for someone to use a scarce public resource to demean and degrade people? No. On the other hand, there's that whole First Amendment thing. He has the right to express racist and sexist views as much as I have a right to express my disgust at them.

So, should he lose his job? As I consider it, I think yes. If he expressed this on his blog or to his friends in a living room, fine. First Amendment all the way. But, there is something deeply troubling about using a scarce public resource to expound hate for profit. Our public resources can and should be used to uplift society, not drag us down.


MSNBC and CBS have both suspended their syndicated broadcasts of the show for two weeks (geez, now there's punishment . . . .). Imus reports that he believes the suspension is appropriate, and that he is sorry for his words.

It's worth noting that Imus has a long history of making racially derogatory remarks. He then apologizes profusely and says he won't do it again. Will it be any different this time?

I would like to see his many celebrity and political guests refuse to be on his show. McCain was asked if he would appear again (he's a frequent guest), and he said that he believed in redemption. But, how many times must Imus request redemption, before one starts to wonder if his heart is really in it?


TRH said...

Interesting post, with which I largely agree - but I'd offer one 'amendment.' The first amendment doesn't seem to be at issue here, since it prohibits congress from abridging free speech, and they show no sign of passing a law against Imus, (alas).

The distinction between censoring speech and censuring speech is an important one that we may have lost sight of. There is much speech out there that ought to be censured, or condemned. Because we tend too quickly to treat talk as less consequential than other actions, we lose sight of ways that talk can be violative. When it is violative, we ought to have the moral courage to stand up and condemn it.

(On the bright side, talk can also be supportive and give solace).

Jenny Stromer-Galley said...

Thanks for the post, Tim. I'm not a first amendment scholar, so you may be right (I need my brother the lawyer . . . or my friend Emily who teaches "Freedom of Speech).

Although elites and pundits are still lining up for his show corporate sponsors are leaving in droves, and I read tonight that NBC has decided to cancel the show altogether. CBS has so far stuck to its 2 week hiatus.

I'm pleased to see corporations, such as American Express, Proctor and Gamble, and Staples say that they don't want their products associated with the sort of base, morally depraved remarks Imus can't seem to help but give.

TRH said...

Here are some thoughtful readings regarding 'free speech issues' --

_There's no such thing as 'free speech..._, - Stanley Fish, (Oxford University Press, 1994).

'In praise of censure,' (chapt. 25, in _Under God: Religion and American Politics_, Garry Wills, Simon & Schuster, 1990).

Both of these scholars point out that often we invoke the 1st amendment in cases of contentious or offensive speech, but the first amendment is only sometimes pertinent to these discussions.

"Amendment I -
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Now, while Congress is thus prohibited, this leaves the rest of us with the task of deciding how to respond to speech that we take to be 'over the line.'

Stanley Fish has interesting related comments to make about academic freedom, and whether it is a license to say anything in the classroom, or if it has some limits.

Both of these scholars take very seriously the idea that language is action, and thus take speech seriously in its worst (and best) manifestations.

Rod Carveth said...

I'm not going to cry crocodile tears over the simulcast of Imus being cancelled (see my own comments on, and I'm not sure I would miss Imus if his radio show got canned. Besides, if CBS cancels him, he'll probably just move to satellite radio.

But, I am bothered by the selective outrage here. Rap and hip hop lyrics are often even more denigrating than what Imus said, yet they haven't generated the media firestorm Imus' comments have. Nor have comments by radio/TV personalities like Rush Limbaugh (who has referred to Barack Obama as "halfrican" and "the magic Negro") or Glenn Beck (who referred to victims of Katrina as "scumbags") spurred the same intensity of calls for their dismissals.

Imus certainly deserves to be shamed. But, he's not the only one guilty here.

Anna said...

I was fascinated that I got an email from Hillary's campaign encouraging me to send an email through her website to the team expressing support for them.

It's part of my on-going background fascination with the differences in the email messages Obama and Hillary are sending people who've signed up.

Jenny Stromer-Galley said...

Anna, I received that too, and thought it interesting. No other candidate that I'm subscribed to receive email alerts from (Republican or Democrat) has jumped into this one.

I wonder if her aim is to court African-Americans, women, or both? And, I wonder why Obama's campaign has avoided this publicly . . . .