As the students of VaTech head back to class, I thought I’d get back to blogging on other topics. Never thought I say this, but the events of the past week had me missing the trivial headlines, even the ones about Imus.
I have ZERO interest in talking about Don Imus and those three little words. No matter what I say, it’ll piss people off.
But the Imus case hits awfully close to my classroom, as it involves issues of ethics & social responsibility, with a dose of free speech. So since I couldn’t ignore it, I decided to delay my comments until no one cared anymore. Maybe I’ll give my students extra credit for reading the post and the rest of you will choose to ignore it.
How did a story about an over-the-hill shock jock hijack the MSM for a week or more? You tell me. While Imus’ comments about the Rutgers’ basketball team have no place in civil discussion, they don’t belong on the front page, either. But, you see, the 24/7 media beast has an insatiable appetite for the “easy” story, and this one was way too easy.
Here are the issues I’m talking about in class when the subject arises:
Free speech isn’t free. Imus finally learned that “free speech” isn’t an all-encompassing shield. Words have consequences, especially on the public airwaves where your successes is tied to the commercial sponsors.
Of course, neither his employers nor his sponsors dumped Imus for moral reasons. It was purely economic. Had they been truly outraged by his remarks, they’d have sacked him immediately. Instead, they let their sponsors make the decision amid a PR firestorm fueled by the 24/7 media beast.
Is it censorship? Imus has been silenced, so yeah, it is a form of censorship. And it worries me is that this case could inhibit social and political commentary — especially its satirical forms, though Imus was more about insult than satire.
On the positive side, maybe a few media loudmouths will choose their words more carefully from now on. But others may say nothing at all for fear of offending someone and ending up unemployed. Political comedy and satire in media will be under the microscope like never before. I can hear the editors and producers now: You’d better not say that! Remember Imus?
Crime and Punishment. Was justice served in the Imus case? I don’t think so. The guy screwed up, he apologized immediately, then he got fired. OK, it wasn’t his first offense, but outrageous statements from Imus are hardly unexpected. Those who tuned in knew the Imus schtick. And those who didn’t like it tuned out long ago.
I’ll admit to enjoying the Imus program from time to time, so I’m a little sympathetic to his plight. But I wasn’t sure how to express my thinking until I read Kathleen Parker’s column. She stakes out a sensible position on the whole mess — an Aristotlean mean that we see too little of these days. And you know me. I’m a middle-of-the-road kinda guy.
Jeff Jarvis (Buzz Machine) thinks Imus is boring, and he celebrated his firing for that reason. But he also said this (the typos are his):
I was just passing a bank of monitors here at CUNY and heard the parade of cable blather on the topic. Tom DeLay was calling for Rosie O’Donnell to be fired because she has said things that have offended him. This is what I mean about the dangers of the piranha pool in the age of offense. Just because someone offends someone, that is not cause to fire them make them resign from a show or a campaign. It means you can disagree with them. In fact, today, you have more means to state that disagreement and be heard than ever before. But we can’t fire everyone somene wants fired; we’ll be left with no more stars and no more politicians. And as tempting as that may sounds, it’s no way to run the world.
I’m thankful that this overblown story has blown over. To celebrate, I had planned to link you to SNL’s brilliant skit featuring Jesse Jackson (Darrell Hammond) and Al Sharpton (Kenan Thompson) discussing the Imus affair (April 14). It was hysterical and irreverent, a but clearly more than NBC’s gunshy management could stand. It’s no longer posted on YouTube, I am assuming because someone at NBC objected.
Wait a sec. Isn’t this the same network that took Imus off the air? Hmmm. Well, at least they’re consistent.
But regardless of who removed the clip from YouTube, it seems my concerns over censorship aren’t so far flung. If you find the clip somewhere, lemme know. I’ll add the link.