Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don Imus and Free Speech

The whole world has been watching, it seems, as one of New York's most iconic broadcasters ended his career in the space of two seconds with the words "nappy headed ho." None have watched the events unfold with a more keen eye than those of us who are broadcasters ourselves, for these happenings hold more import to us than just a fleeting moment or a hurt feeling. No, for those of us in the communication industry, these proceedings not only impact the news, they also impact how much we might be able to communicate in the future.

Now, let me be perfectly clear here. What Imus said was uncalled for, boneheaded, and indicative of his usual blowhardedness. I don't agree with what he said. I don't agree with what a lot of people say.

On the other hand, consider this: Don Imus says three words about African-American women and loses his job. D.L. Hughley and Dave Chappelle go on hour-long racist rants about white people and they... get sitcom deals. Am I the only one that sees an inequity there? My wife and I watched The Original Kings of Comedy last night, which is over an hour and a half of racial humor, particularly against white people. The result: we laughed our heads off. Had we been in the Sharpton camp, I suppose our reactions would have been different.

However, racial issues aren't really the point of concern for me here. I've never had a racist bone in my body, and I think assigning value to one person over another based on something as idiotic as the amount of melanin in one's skin is beyond retarded. The point of concern here is this: what does Freedom of Speech cover?

I won't go into Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson any more than I already have. I think people of all races know that Martin Luther King Jr. would've been ashamed at the way that these men constantly seek out ways to jump in front of the camera and create racial tension where there was none for their own profit and power. I doubt that he would've marched with them. They're just sideshows on the bigger midway in this circus.

Unfortunately, I think we're setting a dangerous precedent here. And while I agree that what Imus said was messed up, I don't believe it's a good idea to jump up and censor someone who says something that makes us uncomfortable. We can't preach tolerance for others when we are intolerant of the views of others. Whether it's Don Imus calling people nappy-headed, Howard Stern talking about rimjobs, Rush Limbaugh downing pills and Democrats, Chris Rock talking about "niggas versus black people," a gay pride speech, a religious discussion, or whatever the case may be, we have to realize that no one is going to agree on everything and that every opinion, however valid, must be allowed to be expressed. The problem with creating rules about what can and cannot be uttered in public is that there is no way of controlling who the author of this rule-book will be from generation to generation. While the author of such a Speech Code may be benevolent in the present time, it takes but one change of government before political speech becomes sedition, religious speech becomes hate talk, hoses get turned on Black Panther gatherings, being a homophobe can get you jailed or any number of possibilities.

We all stand to lose here. Black, white, gay, straight, conservative, liberal... We've now set the precedent for people who consider our ideas offensive to take away our ability to say them. We've established that there are thoughts that are verboten, and we've given those who govern us the keys to add to that list. In the name of harmony, we've silently agreed that the days of a free and uninhibited press are numbered.

Folks, the ugly part of free speech is that we're not the only ones who are entitled to it. In order for us to continue to speak our good thoughts freely, those whose ideas we consider to be evil must also be allowed the same. The fortunate part is that we, with our good thoughts, are also perfectly free to flip the switch on our TV or radios if we don't wish to hear it.

Yet we consistently allow the freedoms to slip. We don't lose our freedoms all at once. Like the frog that is slowly boiled to death, we lose our freedom one right at a time, often without noticing it. There's the Janet Jackson Nipplegate that causes the FCC to "tighten up." There's the 9/11 tragedy that gives our government the chance to enact laws to spy on us. The new restrictions all seem perfectly reasonable at the time. But as has been the case with the 9/11 spying, we often find that what sounded good at first turned out to be a really really horribly bad idea. The same will happen as our inability to speak freely erodes.

So yes, I hate what Imus said. Imus, you're an idiot. Thanks a pantload for screwing your fellow broadcasters.

There. I just did what everyone who disagrees with anyone should do. Not eliminate another's free speech... Just speak up yourself, use your freedom, and tell them they're a jerk and move on with it. If you don't like it...don't read it.

10 Comments:

At 8:24 PM, Blogger Michael D. said...

Amen!

A few months ago, Rosie O'Donnell compared Christians to Islamic Terrorists. As a Catholic, I was taken aback by this remark, but I never thought she should be fired. She, as does Don Imus, has a God given right to be stupid and they both practice that right very well.

 
At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Ike Warren said...

Thanks for some intelligent words on this issue. ABC has not fired Isaiah Washington, a black man, for referring to a gay actor as a "faggot"; people still see Mel Gibson's movies; Jesse Jackson's adulterous face still lambasts others when he is guilty of calling New York "Hymietown"; Ludacris and 50 Cent portray women as nothing more than holes for their desires; and so on. This scapegoating of Don Imus, whose remarks were vile but on a par with those of so many other public figures who are free to continue spouting, has been so ridiculous that I no longer know what to say in response. Glad someone like you voiced it well on my behalf.

 
At 4:14 AM, Blogger bad kitty said...

As a budding librarian, I'm 100% opposed to censorship - even if I don't like (or am personally offended by) what is being said or written about. If that's the case, I don't have to read it or listen to it. There have been plenty in the media who have said many a homophobic slur, coughcoughRushLimbaughcoughcough, but I'm not going to petition to have them fired, I'm just not going to listen, even if it personally offends me.

What Imus said was so incredibly uncalled for/insensitive - there's no doubt about that. The firing is all about $pon$or dollar$, imho. And that is about greed and selfishness in the name of defending the rights of others and that is disgusting.

 
At 11:36 AM, Anonymous MA said...

JD you are right on the money. Sharpton and Jackson are probably 10x more racist than Imus is (and I can't stand Imus!) This whole thing got out of hand so quickly... it really does set a chilling precedent for broadcasting.

 
At 6:35 AM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

Sorry to be the lone dissenting voice...but as my dear old daddy used to say, "if you're good at something, stick with it".

This has nothing to do with censorship.

The First Amendment guarantees the right to say whatever you want, it does not guarantee freedom from consequences for what you say.

The government did not shut Imus down, the FCC did not force his show off the air. No one is preventing him from speaking his mind...his employers decided that it was in their best financial interests to terminate his employment.

That happened because other people exercised THEIR freedom of speech, they said that they didn't like what Imus said, they then told the advertisers for Imus' show that they would not patronize their businesses as long as they continued to sponsor Imus' shows. That prompted the advertisers to cease their advertising relationships which is how the entertainment industry butters its bread.

There was no force involved, no government intervention, no threats of violence (well, there probably were some of those from the loons, there always are)...just a bunch of people letting their displeasure be known (First Amendment again) in the most effective way possible, through their pocket books.

Now that I defended the premise of these TYPES of actions, let me place it firmly in the record that I do not support them in this particular incident. As stupid as what Imus said admittedly was, he was not insulting the entirety of the black community. He, in an effort to be humorous, insulted those particular women specifically. It was not a statement about blacks in general and the race-pimp driven outrage is ridiculous if not pathetic.

How fragile must your cultural ego be to react in such a way? Furthermore, the hypocricy to which J.D. alluded need not be expounded upon because of its obviousness.

As Ann Coulter brought out in her last column, the outrage has been misplaced. What makes the remarks so repulsive is that they were totally and completely uncalled for, the women whom he impugned were completely innocent of anything except being exceptional at playing basketball and he didn't even comment upon those skills, he commented upon their appearance and moral integrity.

The snake oil salesmen of the race baiting industry manipulated the justifiable anger about Imus denigrating young, talented, non-controversial and innocent black women to serve their own purposes...and that, in my mind, is just as egregious as Imus' inane and repugnant comments.

But its not censorship.

 
At 12:40 PM, Blogger J.D. said...

I do agree that the consequences that Imus faced were purely business related. That's not really what I was aiming at, though looking back, I realize what I wrote sort of bent that way.

What I am reacting to the most is what I keep hearing people say. "You can't say that." Those are four words that ought to send chills down people's spines, yet I hear them tossed about more and more.

 
At 12:56 AM, Anonymous Dellane said...

Fortunately the internet smashes to pieces any idea of "you can't say that". Truthfully, there has never in history been more opportunities for anyone to address the masses about whatever topic one wants than there is now. Accordingly, I don't believe the Imus case will have any chilling effect on actual free speech, though it may move the already overly cautious mainstream media to new levels of political correctness. Even so, CBS's decision to fire Imus was right both ethically and business-wise IMO. I am, however, disturbed - as others here are - by the hypocrisy employed by Al Sharpton and his race police followers.

A very random, and not much related aside: Imus and many media outlets who covered his story really owe an apology to the Tennessee women's basketball team as well. I'm not remotely a fan of theirs, but it must suck to win a national championship and be all but ignored.

 
At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Lisa C. said...

Sailorcurt, I agree with you 100%. There was no censorship here. Everyone involved exercised their freedom of speech - Imus, his critics, the advertisers and Imus's employer. This is how democracy works, folks.

And there is a big difference between ranting about "black" or "white" race as a whole and picking on specific black and white people. In this case, Imus did not pick on rich and powerful - politicians, millionaire professional athletes, overpaid actors, etc. He picked on a group of college girls who have done nothing wrong. That's what ultimately did Imus in. And I say, good riddance ! We really need to restore some civility in this country.

 
At 8:55 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

And as we look deeper into the situation, it turns out that the whole flap was started by a liberal media watchdog group. (Aren't liberals supposed to be the champions of free speech and anti-censorship?) Apparently they were taping each and every Imus broadcast and picking them each apart trying to find something they could use to nail him and silence him because they don't like his conservative viewpoints. They heard the Rutgers comments, picked up the phone and sicced Sharpton on them and accomplished their goal of silencing him. So it turns out that this is less about protecting the innocent women of Rutgers than about squelching a voice that doesn't conform to one group's political ideals.

It always comes down to money and power, folks.

As Ike said above, what about Isaiah Washington or the other people mentioned who rail against blacks, whites, homosexuals, Jews...etc etc ad nauseum... Why aren't they silenced too?

And what happened to having a thick skin? How many times do you figure those poor poor girls on the basketball team have had to hear "you suck!" yelled from the stands or taunts and trash talk from opposing teams? Certainly it's wrong to speak ill of them, but does anybody besides me remember the days when people would blow off the comments of the ignorant and go on with the game? If anything, America owes an apology to these Rutgers women for allowing them to be used as pawns in the political game. They deserve better than to be part of some smoke and mirrors.

 
At 8:56 AM, Blogger J.D. said...

And as we look deeper into the situation, it turns out that the whole flap was started by a liberal media watchdog group. (Aren't liberals supposed to be the champions of free speech and anti-censorship?) Apparently they were taping each and every Imus broadcast and picking them each apart trying to find something they could use to nail him and silence him because they don't like his conservative viewpoints. They heard the Rutgers comments, picked up the phone and sicced Sharpton on them and accomplished their goal of silencing him. So it turns out that this is less about protecting the innocent women of Rutgers than about squelching a voice that doesn't conform to one group's political ideals.

It always comes down to money and power, folks.

As Ike said above, what about Isaiah Washington or the other people mentioned who rail against blacks, whites, homosexuals, Jews...etc etc ad nauseum... Why aren't they silenced too?

And what happened to having a thick skin? How many times do you figure those poor poor girls on the basketball team have had to hear "you suck!" yelled from the stands or taunts and trash talk from opposing teams? Certainly it's wrong to speak ill of them, but does anybody besides me remember the days when people would blow off the comments of the ignorant and go on with the game? If anything, America owes an apology to these Rutgers women for allowing them to be used as pawns in the political game. They deserve better than to be part of some smoke and mirrors.

 

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