Under normal circumstances, Imus wouldn't have been likely to mention the predominantly black Rutgers team at all. But Rutgers was blessed with a talented group of women on this year's team, and that talent - along with a lot of hard work and determination - saw the women playing for the national championship and getting attention accordingly. Despite losing to Tennessee in the penultimate contest, no one can argue that Rutgers didn't have a stellar season or that its players weren't fine examples of character and athleticism, and the women are rightfully proud of their accomplishments.
The reaction to Imus' comments were far stronger and more well publicized than the game that generated them. CBS Radio and MSNBC announced they were suspending Imus for two weeks and that his future hinged on his "ability to keep his word." A CBS director- who happens to also be a former head of the NAACP - went on record as saying he hoped Imus would be fired for making his controversial comments. The National Association of Black Journalists made it clear it also thought Imus should be let go.
Meanwhile, the women on the Rutgers team said they'd been hurt by what Don Imus said, and one even went so far as to claim that she'd been "scarred for life" by his remarks. Early news reports concerning the matter included quotes that intimated that the high point of their college careers had been ruined by Imus' name calling.
Don Imus himself reacted almost as quickly as everybody else as he scrambled to extricate himself from what was quickly becoming a very big - and ugly - mess. He appeared on Rev. Al Sharpton's radio program where he apologized repeatedly but was out-talked by the self-appointed defender of black America; he endured protests led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Push Coalition. Imus also met personally with the Rutgers University women's basketball team and apologized, a gesture which was accepted (though the acceptance statement also indicated it would take longer to actually forgive Mr. Imus).
In the wake of the incident and the subsequent negative press, advertisers deserted the show in droves. MSNBC didn't wait long before it released the news that it would no longer simulcast Imus' show; CBS fired Don Imus the next day even as its corporate offices were beleaguered by protesters including the Rev. Jesse Jackson himself.
Some of the protesters - Rev. Al Sharpton among them - have suggested that they are less concerned with the specific remarks made by Don Imus than they are with the use of the public airwaves to make such remarks. They seem to believe that certain things are inappropriate for any broad audiences. The FCC, however, disagrees. The government agency does police indecency on the air, but comments such as those made by Imus are handled by the broadcasters themselves. The broadcasters, in turn, may make their decisions on factors that include boycotts, advertisers, protests, and so on. In this case, it appears that that's just what they did. (It should also be noted that these comments were made in the context of a talk show and not educational or news programming which, I believe, also makes a big difference.)
Although I support the free market and certainly encourage boycotts and the like, I believe that there are several very serious problems with what happened to Mr. Imus. I also believe that these problems are going to rear their ugly heads repeatedly and to the detriment of us all.
First and foremost, there is the issue here of hypocrisy. Some years ago, a reporter interviewing Jesse Jackson noted that he referred to Jews as "Hymies" and New York City as "Hymietown." Jackson first denied the remarks, but eventually apologized and much of the fall-out blew over. He remains the head of the Rainbow Push Coalition, and continues to speak out against similar remarks by others as if he was himself above and better than such things.
NBC Today Show anchor Meredith Vieira pointed out the hypocrisy of the matter in an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton in connection with rap "music" that consistently uses words like "ho" and "bitch," and which often goes even further and incites direct violence. (To Sharpton's credit, he said he didn't approve of that kind of thing, but then again, I'm not seeing him yelling on my TV for rappers to be fired or demanding that they demean themselves with apology after apology after apology.) Fox News has promoted a debate between talk show host Sean Hannity and Sharpton which purportedly includes clips of Sharpton himself using negative stereotypes and language.
Even the names of the groups at the forefront of demanding Imus' head on a platter are hypocritical in a blatant way: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would be the first in line to demand something be done about a group calling itself the National Association for the Advancement of White People; the National Association of Black Journalists would likely report ad nauseam about the National Association of White Writers. Even more to the point in this particular situation is the fact that some of Imus' remarks deemed so insulting are taken directly from a Spike Lee movie which I don't recall any black groups protesting!
There's also a clear cut issue of free speech here. Although even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got in on the act - she called Imus' remarks "disgusting" - most Americans have a slightly different opinion, particularly where freedom of expression is concerned. One poll shows that the majority of Americans believe that firing was too harsh a punishment for what Imus said; another unsurprisingly shows that opinions concerning the incident are divided along race and gender lines.
These two polls actually sum up the dichotomy of the Imus issue quite nicely. Some think that freedom of speech applies pretty much across the board while others apparently think that expression must be curbed if anybody finds that expression offensive. Sadly, while the majority of Americans may feel otherwise, the majority of Americans with good-sized public speaking platforms are people like the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. In its own rush to be politically correct, the US House overwhelmingly approved a resolution honoring the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
Now go back and read that last sentence again: The US House of Representatives actually singled out a second place team for no other reason than somebody saying something offensive about them! That goes right along with the complaint that the women have been "scarred for life" and that their accomplishments have been ruined. If you ask me, the rush to comfort these women and to reassure them that they're really not bad people is the truly offensive act here; that the women are apparently eating it all up demeans them far more than Imus' words have done.
Look, ladies, you're terrific athletes and you had a great season. You've obviously got courage to spare, so why on earth are you hanging your heads or shedding any tears over what's effectively nothing more or less than an immature school yard taunt? The best way to neutralize any unwarranted negative comments is to carry on as if they don't matter because, frankly, they don't. Or at least they didn't until everybody started making a mountain out of a molehill. By letting those words matter, you give them strength, and I'm pretty sure that's the last thing anybody on any side of the issue would like to see happen! You're only a victim of such things if you decide to behave like one.
The NAACP has a statement posted to its web site that strikes me as the saddest and most ironic yet. As part and parcel of its comments concerning this ongoing issue, it writes:
Don Imus has every right to say what he said, however objectionable anybody else may find it. The NAACP has every right to use what he said to be the "powerful teacher" to show people how such remarks might hurt others and that racism is a bad thing. What it does not have the right to do - and which, in fact, nobody has the right to do - is to demand that nobody be permitted to say anything that anybody finds offensive. And that's precisely where we're headed. (Don't even get me started on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act!)
With all of the news coverage about the Don Imus fiasco, even my friend's nine year-old son couldn't avoid hearing something about it. He asked his father what the fuss was all about, and my friend explained as best he could. The nine year-old thought for a minute and then looked his dad right in the eye and asked, "But Dad, if he's a shock jock, isn't he supposed to say things that shock people?" Out of the mouths of babes...
We can use situations like this one to educate people as to the untruths of stereotypes. We can even debate amongst ourselves how truly offensive Don Imus' comments were. Unfortunately, that's not what we're doing. We're using it instead to shut down speech we don't like. And sooner or later (reference again the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act), we're all going to pay for it with our own silence on some topic or another we hold far more dear. Can any of us really doubt that that will prove a far greater hurt in the end than any offensive words could possibly inflict?
Enemies: The Reconquista by Matthew Bracken
Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista is the sequel to Bracken's well received Enemies Foreign and Domestic (though The Reconquista can stand alone, Bracken suggests and I agree that the first book offers an important foundation to the events in the second). The first book was good enough that I was anxious for the sequel; after waiting two years, I'm delighted to say that The Reconquista was worth the wait. (Read the rest here)
Lady Liberty is a pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Eternal Vigilance: The Best of Lady Liberty 2002-2004"