The Don Imus debacle

Oh, what a sanctimonious nation we’ve become.

After referring to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as a bunch of “nappy-headed hos,” radio host Don Imus was pilloried by everyone from Al Sharpton to Matt Lauer. There were crocodile tears from the players (one even professed to being “physically” wounded by Imus’ words), boycotts by mighty advertisers and self-righteous condemnation from the president of NBC News.

Imus apologized ad nauseam and after an embarrassing week of self-flagellation was fired by MSNBC and CBS anyway. That’s what he gets for apologizing. Maybe if he’d gone the Ann Coulter route and stood by his comments he would still have his job.

Of course, no one is defending what Imus said. It was an idiotic and offensive thing to say and yet another example of the descent of our culture and of public discourse in this country to crass name-calling. And, really, what’s a 67-year-old white guy doing calling anyone a “nappy-headed ho”?

But the hypocrisy surrounding the whole affair is reaching astounding levels. There’s Jesse Jackson demanding Imus’ head, even though Jackson once referred to Jews as “hymies” and New York City as “hymie town.” He apologized, was forgiven, and continued about his career. But Imus, it appears, does not merit the same opportunity.

Then there’s Sharpton and other black leaders, who are condemning Imus’ use of the public airwaves to spout language that demeans blacks and women. Yet Sharpton and others have ignored the steady flow of similar language that has spewed for years from urban-format radio stations, where describing women as “hos” is considered mild and de rigeur.

And the nation’s gay rights groups are pouncing on the incident, firing off indignant press releases, even though this has nothing to do with gay rights. There have been many references this week to Imus as “homophobic,” but little of substance to back up the claim. Yes, he made a joke about “Brokeback Mountain,” referring to it as “Bareback Mounting.” But didn’t everyone make that joke? Imus once referred to an NBC correspondent as, “the enormously attractive Chip Reid, I can say without being accused of being some limp-wristed ‘mo.” He has thrown around anti-gay jibes for years, but Imus is an equal-opportunity offender; it’s part of his act.

Maybe I have developed a thick skin and these kinds of things just don’t bother me as much as they should. Being gay will do that to you.

Even gay actor Harvey Fierstein got in on the action in an op-ed published by the New York Times.

“We are so surrounded by expressions of intolerance that I am in shock and awe that anyone noticed all these recent high-profile instances,” he wrote. “Still, I’m gladdened because our no longer being deaf to them may signal their eventual eradication.”

Don’t bet on it Harvey. You cannot eradicate intolerance and it’s a waste of time to try. You can work for equality under the law for all citizens and then let the chips fall where they may on a level playing field. But all the finger wagging in the world won’t stop people from making stupid, offensive remarks.

Imus didn’t deserve to be fired and all these self-appointed enforcers of politically correct speech need to take a long look in the mirror and then read up on our nation’s history of cherishing the freedom of speech. The Imus episode should have presented an opportunity for dialogue on these sticky issues of racism and sexism. Instead, it has taught us to keep our mouths shut and our prejudices in the closet.

The wild world of radio, home to outsized personalities like Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and a host of others on all sides of the political spectrum, is a place Americans have long turned for uncensored, unvarnished debate. Silencing those voices, no matter how much we may disagree with them, is a mistake.

Posted by Kevin Naff, Washington Blade Managing Editor | Apr. 13 at 7:59 AM |


1 Comment on he says it better than i did

  1. [deleted] says:

    that's all I'm saying…we missed a perfect opportunity to maybe medicate and heal wounds.

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