It is more important now than ever to remember and appreciate the values of the First Amendment in light of the repercussions of comments made by radio talk-show host Don Imus. He did not have a radio audience in the Los Angeles area for his former show, “Imus in the Morning,” but by now nearly everyone knows who he is and the comment that not only ruined his career but also reminded everyone that racism is alive and well.
Yet racism appears to be what Imus pandered in. He often found himself at the center of controversy due to comments he has made on air that most people would find offensive and unacceptable. The question is whether that means Imus should have been fired for this event, which is indicative of his history with everyone he comments on, including himself.
The right to free speech should be protected, even for those that we disagree with and feel offended by. Imus, it has been stated, crossed the line when he called the female Rutgers basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” As a woman, if I was called a “ho” by someone who knew nothing of me, I would be offended as well. The unfortunate truth is that I have been called that by people who don’t know me. I’m sure that we have all been called nasty things by people that don’t know us. It seems to happen all the time in the parking lot at CSUN.
As private citizens, the women on the basketball team had no real forum to respond to such a comment until the media and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton became involved and started to demand Imus’ firing. Imus became the poster child for racism and, while he later apologized, his statement was mean-spirited and unacceptable in contemporary society. The public outcry warranted that there is some recourse for his actions.
The firing of Don Imus as punishment flies in the face of the history of so many battles that have been fought for the freedom of speech. Speech is protected for those that we disagree with, not for those that we like to hear from.
I have read things by people that state, “Big Brother is here.” They fear that when someone says something inflammatory, it will be censored by government. If one thinks back to the “boob debacle” with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, it does appear as thought the Federal Communications Commission does have the authority to censor certain events, whether seen or heard.
However, it truly is the corporate sponsor that wields the power to censor. When sponsors become fearful of a potential loss in sales because they support someone who is briefly unpopular, they pull all their money, which is the same as shutting that person’s career down indefinitely.
Is there a need for public outrage over the comment made by Don Imus? Absolutely. If there wasn’t a reaction, then it could create a slippery slope where he feels comfortable with continuing his racist and misogynistic messages to the public.
But with the firing of Imus by NBC and CBS, it can be perceived as a cowardly action to appease the sponsors. There is no dialogue, simply the message that Imus did something that the corporations didn’t agree with, so his punishment is termination.
This could be a period of time where dialogue is opened up and people could have the chance to make positive changes. Imus could have been that vehicle for change.
Unfortunately, that opportunity is gone, since he no longer has a place on the public airwaves to fix some of the damage he created. I almost hope he’ll go to satellite radio and create a new message – one of inclusion. However, even if he continues to spew hateful things, it is not my place to ask that he be taken off the air. I can just change the station.