I am still trying to figure this one out: Don Imus was fired from his radio show by CBS on April 13 because of what?
1. Political discourse in the United States is much too civil for such coarseness . . . You know, “ho’s” . . . “nappy-headed.”
What would this be, though?
"[Clinton] masturbates in the sinks."
2. Oh, sorry! Nothing to do with locker room language on the airwaves. It was the thought behind it, you know . . . “nappy-haired,” racial put-downs -- can’t have that sort of thing going on now, can we?
“I've been to Africa three times. All
right? You can't bring Western reasoning into the culture. The same
way you can't bring it into fundamental Islam.”
Sheesh! Sorry again! And ok, now I get it. It’s the way he used language to pick on someone not his own size. These poor kids. These nice middle-class Rutgers-attending BB-playing college kids. Hey, even Ann Coulter thought they were angels. Pick on someone your own size, Don. Try taking a hit at politicians -- like brave Brother Rush:
“Everyone knows the Clintons have a cat.
Socks is the White House cat. But did you know there is a White House
dog?” He then puts up a picture of Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the
president, age 13. (Molly Ivins column in Arizona Republic,
Ooooh, you really don’t get it, do you? Chelsea . . . she was a public figure, sort of . . . nearly at least . . . she’s the kid of a public figure. But these Rutgers kids, they were just regular people, and Imus took away their moment, he humiliated them, he intimidated them.
Intimidation. Pretty big word. Guess it takes someone big to do it. Like Bill O’Reilly:
“There ya go, Mike is -- he's a gone guy. (to a listener who had just called in) You know, we have his -- we have your phone numbers, by the way. So, if you're listening, Mike, we have your phone number, and we're going to turn it over to Fox security, and you'll be getting a little visit.”
(Bill O'Reilly, March 2 cited in “When Will The FCC, FBI and the FTC Look Into O’Reilly’s Threats?” Steve Young, American Politics Journal, 25 March 2007).
What Don Imus said on the airwaves was offensive, no question. But for decades now we have been interpreting free speech laws to extend to coarse, offensive language -- even when it’s without noticeable value as political or religious speech. Why make an example of one man at the expense of principle and consistency?
And look at the context in which his remark was made -- a shock-jock entertainment show. Look at the transcript:
Don Imus: So, I watched the basketball game last night between -- a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women’s final.
Sid Rosenberg: Yeah, Tennessee won last night -- seventh championship for [Tennessee coach] Pat Summitt, I-Man. They beat Rutgers by 13 points.
DI: That’s some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and . . .
Bernard McGuirk: Some hard-core hos.
DI: That’s some nappy-headed hos there. I’m gonna tell you that now, man, that’s some -- woo. And the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, you know, so, like -- kinda like -- I don’t know.
BM: A Spike Lee thing.
BM: The Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes -- that movie that he had.
DI: Yeah, it was a tough …
CHARLES McCORD: Do The Right Thing.
BM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DI: I don’t know if I’d have wanted to beat Rutgers or not, but they did, right?
SR: It was a tough watch. The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.
Imus wasn’t intending to be insulting, he was being, reactively, stupidly, “hip” -- trying to imitate a patois he had no feel for.
And what he said, while crude and in public, was in a forum of entertainment which lives or dies by such crudity. If this is regarded as OK 364 days of the year, it’s a little inconsistent to get offended on the 365th day.
Inconsistency in such matters is not a trivial failing. A rule selectively enforced is not a rule -- it’s an arbitrary display of power; it’s political pandering. And arbitrary displays of power -- even wrapped in righteous rhetoric -- have a nasty way of backfiring.
If we need to be outraged, let’s take a look at some real shock jocks -- whose words drive policies that really endanger the country:
Michelle Malkin: And really, the reaction to the suicides should be, “Boo-freakin-hoo.” (about the suicides of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, June 12, 2006).
To put this remark into context, Malkin is on record (incessantly) denying the existence of torture or abuse in US prisons, arguing that civil liberties are not sacrosanct, that foreign nationals are rightly to be interned in war time without probable cause, and that military tribunals for prisoners are pure necessity.
She actually wrote a book defending the internment of over a 100,000 Japanese Americans in WWII, which a group of historians found to be “a blatant violation of professional standards of objectivity and fairness.”
Or, take Pat Robertson: “You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.” (Christian Broadcast Network, 8/24/2006 broadcast of the 700 Club)
Robertson was advocating assassination of the Venezuelan president, Chavez -- a statement that actually might be outside free speech protection, since it can be seen as an incitement to action.
But I didn’t see anyone getting him off the air.
Lila Rajiva is a freelance journalist and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, 2005) and the forthcoming, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (with Bill Bonner-Wiley, September, 2007). She has also contributed chapters to One of the Guys (Ed., Tara McKelvey and Barbara Ehrenreich, Seal Press, 2007), an anthology of writing on women as torturers, and to The Third World -- Opposing Viewpoints (Ed., David Haugen, Greenhaven, 2006). Visit her blog at: http://lilarajiva.wordpress.com/.
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