Monday, April 09, 2007

what I have to say about Don Imus

Racist, yes. Sexist, yes. And, indeed, I fully support firing/suspension or whatever. That's not a free speech issue, that's a free market issue, right?* People demand he be taken off the air because he is offensive. I fully support that. In addition to calling Rutgers' women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy headed hos," he has said he he hired a co-host to tell the "nigger jokes."

FAIR and others have documented numerous instances of Imus and his on-air colleagues expressing overt racism and other forms of bigotry. Imus himself has referred to African-American journalist Gwen Ifill as "a cleaning lady," to New York Times sports reporter Bill Rhoden as "quota hire" and to tennis player Amelie Mauresmo as "a big old lesbo." Imus called Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz a "boner-nosed... beanie-wearing Jewboy," referred to a disabled colleague as "the cripple," and to an Indian men's tennis duo as "Gunga Din and Sambo." In Imus' words, the New York Knicks are "chest-thumping pimps."

Imus' on again/off again sidekick Sid Rosenberg was temporarily fired in 2001 for calling tennis player Venus Williams an "animal" and remarking that the Williams sisters—Venus and her tennis player sister Serena—would more likely be featured in National Geographic than in Playboy. Rosenberg insisted to New York's Daily News (6/7/01) that his comments weren't racist, "just zoological." In 2004, MSNBC had to apologize when the rehired Rosenberg referred to Palestinians as "stinking animals."

But I was just watching Democracy Now! and heard Al Sharpton suggest that the FCC needed to be involved in the regulation of this sort of racist/sexist speech over the airwaves. That I cannot agree to. I don't know where exactly to draw the line in terms of indecency regulation on public airwaves, but offensive humor is certainly within the realm of protected speech. I certainly did not find it funny. And I think CBS Radio should definitely fire/suspend him. But regulation... naa... that's starting to sound a little too Patriot Act for me.

*Please do not think I am a person who typically resorts to "free market" arguments. I only say that because when I tell people I am for firing Imus, I get asked, indignantly, "what about free speech? the first amendment?" My argument is that networks and viewers, according to the market, get to decide who goes on. People don't have an automatic "right" to be heard on CBS Radio.

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