April 13, 2007

Schadenfreude Friday: Chances

Don Imus is an asshat. Of that there can be little debate or doubt. But what does this issue say about us?

I've always disliked Imus. If his coma-inducing rambling monotone didn't turn me off, his feebed-out attempt to look like talk radio's Marlboro Man certainly would have. His inherent talent for talk has long been watered down by racist, chauvinistic opinions which could only have been intended to offend or elicit reaction. Worse than anything, Imus is (and has been) completely irrelevant. Until last week. But why, with his history of demeaning women and, especially, African-Americans, was anyone surprised? From the fervor generated by the media, the unaware would have thought he'd sacrificed babies and kittens to honor Osama bin Laden.

We operate under very real and very perplexing double-standards in this country. As Michael Richards proved, use of the n-bomb is suitable for some but not all. Rap and hip-hop (not all but some) have migrated from an urban culture to a prison culture. In some parts of society, violence against women isn't only tolerated but encouraged; racial epithets are hurled faster than crosses in front yards once burned; lofty goals like education, marriage, success and, worst of all, optimism, are sacrificed for a supposed reality darker and more grim than the one that actually exists for most of us outside our front doors. And a startling number of people - rich, poor, black, white, educated and illiterate - embrace the values of that grim reality. And will it into being. Old white guys with microphones can't say something that millions of others can. He's wrong, clearly, but that doesn't make the other folks right. Until we stop allowing double-standards to exist, we will continue to face them.

The other part of the issue is the rush to judgment.

Despite my best efforts, I'm human and I fuck up. Whether it's in my personal or professional life, I make mistakes. The people with whom I share my life - my wife, daughter, coworkers - expect this because none of us are perfect. And we all have bad days. What concerns me is that we live in a time and place in which one sentence, one minute of one day, one stupid but simple lapse of judgment costs someone their jobs. Imus was stupid. And he had a history of this type of thing. He shouldn't be spared. But we're holding most people in this world to an almost inconceivably high standard. Let's say Einstein got kicked out of school after dropping a Bunsen burner on a professor's foot. Or Abraham Lincoln failed a final or flubbed a speech in college. Or Kennedy got booted from office just because he might have been screwing Marilyn. They never would have had the opportunity, the time, the potential to reach the greatness they eventually showed. I'm not saying Imus should have kept his job. But I do think that, as a culture, we exhibit a rush to judgment that forces people to reconsider ever going out on a limb. And without those limb-goers society really does come to a screeching halt.

Posted by Chris at April 13, 2007 6:45 AM

I agree that Imus is an idiot. Should he be punished? Yes, in some fashion. But, it seems that the media will latch onto something and decide that it is the story of the week. I think if something else had happened for the media to sink it's teeth into then Don may have kept his job.

The only other story was about a baby and Danilynn just doesn't have the same draw as her mother.

Posted by: Debbie at April 13, 2007 7:01 AM

Re: your final paragraph. I always wonder how many spectacular potential leaders are dissuaded from running for political office or taking other powerful positions because of the microscopic scrutiny applied to their lives. I know I wouldn't want it.

Sad, really.

Posted by: Nicole at April 13, 2007 7:35 AM

People suck. The end. (What? I'm cranky :P)

Posted by: Heather at April 13, 2007 7:42 AM

You've said it perfectly here. Yesterday Beaux and I had a long discussion about this story and it's completely frustrating, the double standard, the who can say what mess. Though I still think the most disturbing part of what he said was the fact that he called young women ho's - and I hope that the women inside the culture who can change this, will. It has to come from within, it's not something you or I can fix.

This is a brilliant post, Chris.

Posted by: Sam at April 13, 2007 7:47 AM


Well said.

Posted by: Alissa at April 13, 2007 7:54 AM

I agree, but I also think it had to do with WHO he disparaged. These girls did nothing to put themselves in the public spotlight except win a few more basketball games than the other colleges. It's not like he was ripping on some celebrity who puts themselves out there for the media.

That said, I've seen a few people say things like "but what about free speech?"

No. The GOVERNMENT can't censor speech. Private citizens can be as horrified as they want. Companies can quit sponsoring someone. And their boss can fire them.

Ahh, I feel better. Thanks for letting me get that out.

Posted by: Leah at April 13, 2007 7:57 AM

well said

Posted by: lorien at April 13, 2007 8:36 AM

You should write like this more often on Fridays. With that said...

To quote Stan Lee, "With great power comes great responsibility." Imus knew he was on national radio and television when he spoke. This isn't a case of someone getting out of hand at a bar and making an ass of himself. This is someone who was at their job and did something monumentally stupid.

However, the sad truth is he wasn't fired for what he said. He was punished for what he said with a two week suspension. That is what CBS thought was a reasonable penalty. The lobby groups did not agree, and set out to get him fired by leveraging the power of corporate advertising dollars.

He's an ass, and in truth I'm not sorry that he lost the right to pander his ideas nationally. But at the same time he didn't lose this because his employer felt it was the right thing to do. He lost it because the American public wanted to make an example of him, and that is a frightening thought as we move forward. With public opinion being won and lost in the world of popularity contents, this felt a little bit too much like picking on a kid on MySpace for my liking.

Posted by: SciFi Dad at April 13, 2007 8:38 AM

This is what the media needs to latch on to this week and blow it way out of proportion. After all it is about numbers and money for tham as well so they need something to sensationalize.

But I also think that the people that are calling for his dismissal are almost doing it for posterity or politcs. It seems like they HAVE to jump on the "burn-Imus-at-the-steak" bandwagon or they wouldn't be doing their job. That's what I dislike about people; we get this mob mentality and things get out of control.

Dumb comment? Yup. Dumb reaction? Yup on that too.

Posted by: Kyle I at April 13, 2007 8:49 AM

So the crazy thing is that I have a co-worker that actually thinks this sort of thing is funny. I am appalled that Imus said such a rude thing about women who actually were doing something to move up in life. Talk about ridiculous. Why are we such a negative society anyway.

Well, I am glad I found your blog, cause as it turns out I like your style and tone of writing! Keep it up.

You should get RSS feed, but I guess the email updates are cool too. Good humor with that sign up form! You could probably make some good website content with this humor!

Posted by: Erika at April 13, 2007 9:00 AM

I agree with Leah. I'm tired of hearing about this asshat. Can we all move on?

Posted by: Fraulein N at April 13, 2007 9:35 AM

i don't think this is a rush to judgment or holding someone to impossibly high standards at all. i would never think of calling a co-worker a nappy headed ho at work and i would fully expect to be fired if i did. he was dismissed because his advertisers don't want their product to be associated with that kind of thing and i don't blame them. you can call it a "mob mentality" but in this case that's just another word for capitalism and the free market.

moreover, you can't compare imus' comments to the use of racial and sexual epithets in a rap song, for instance. the problem isn't, in my view, the mere use of the term "nappy-headed hos" -- the problem is that he made a racial and misogynist attack on particular real live women who had never done anything to him. that's not an "oops i used a bad word", that's an un-called-for hateful attack.

and it wasn't accidental either. he made that comment purposefully because it is part of his job to be racist and misogynist. imus is the epitome of a "shock jock" and has made his career making racist, misogynist, anti-semitic comments for money. that's the horse he bet on, he let his winnings ride for years, and he has no right to now complain that the bet finally stopped paying off. (at least at cbs, i'm sure he'll be back soon enough selling prejudice and hatefulness somewhere else.)

it has nothing to do with someone like a john kennedy or einstein going "out on a limb" and being torn down from over-scrutiny before he has the chance to do something great. those men went out on a limb to try to do something good for the world and scrutinizing their personal lives for any infraction has nothing to do with what they went "out on a limb" for. imus hasn't gone out on a limb in any manner except to make money by being shocking. if he takes his shockingness too far and has to face the consequences, that is perfectly relevant and, as i said before, that's the risk he took by TRYING to be shocking.

do you honestly think you'd be so sympathetic to imus if he had called mia a "skanky [insert relevant ethnic slur here] slut" on national radio and the internet just to make a buck?

Posted by: jen at April 13, 2007 9:50 AM

Does anyone remember the government official who lost his job for using the word "niggardly"? He even used it correctly. Still, he resigned or was fired over the kerfluffle that ensued in the media. I have to do some Googling as my memory is failing me...it wasn't that long ago.

And the rush to judgement, selective-outrage...I'm with you Mr. Cactus.

Posted by: northern girl at April 13, 2007 9:58 AM

What the hell ever happened to, "If you don't like it, tune away or turn your radio off!"?

If people were really pissed then nobody would listen and ratings would disappear, and he would be fired anyway.

I agree with you that he's boring and his show is sleep inducing, but he has a right to say whatever the hell he wants, whether we like it or not, and he will be back.

Look at Opie & Anthony. They broadcasted a couple having sex in a church live on the radio, and were fired, and have come back bigger and stronger, and are better for the wear.

Posted by: Adam at April 13, 2007 10:03 AM

while Imus did cross "the line" many times ... what we lose with Imus off the air is a man of great interviewing talent. While he could certainly be cantankerous, he also had an extraordinary talent for making politicians and other guests at ease on the air. People would often say things that they had said in other interviews. He would get them to spill that one additional nugget of info beyond what their handlers had prepared them to say. That was is true talent, and what most of his fans listened for. The rest was just schtick that you could role your eyes to.

Causing offence to someone is NOT, and should not be a crime. When we give that sort of powers to the Sharptons and Jacksons of the world, we are dealing a serious blow to speech in this country. The self-censorship that may now occur because of the fear from what those people will come after next is much worse than any government censorship we could have realistically expected here for the next few years.

If you are offended by something - turn it off. If you are really offended by it, send your own letter of concern in to the shows producers letting them know your concern. If the show has no listeners, it will get taken off the air eventually. Drumming up fear and tempest does not produce a valid dialog.

NOW - to do some good in the world - support Imus' radioathon for kids with cancer and SIDS ... which would have been airing yesterday and today anyway. Regardless of how the man spoke, the man has done much good in his life for kids who have had a tough time ... and the kids should not suffer for that. I'm off to make my donation now.

(Sorry for ranting ... but the issue of freedom of speech is near and dear to my heart ... whether that censorship comes from the government, or from so-called do-gooders like Sharpton, et al).

Posted by: airwick at April 13, 2007 10:04 AM

Imus is, as you so eloquently stated, an asshat. Sadly, I doubt this is the last we've heard from him - I'm sure he'll figure out a way to make some $$$ off all of this publicity.

And speaking of asshats - if you're the governor of a state with strict seatbelt laws, and you're seriously injured in an accident when (rumor has it) you weren't wearing a seatbelt, should you get a ticket? I sort of think so. And not that I'm taking any real joy in NJ Gov. Corzine's injuries (that would be taking Schadenfreude Friday to a whole new low and hey, I voted for the guy), but personally, I'm sick of politicians thinking they're above the law and then getting away with it - I'd say a broken leg, breastbone and several ribs are a pretty solid punishment.

Oh and I agree with your point about people being scared off from public service/doing great things b/c of the intense backlash if they screw up. It's worriesome.

Posted by: erin at April 13, 2007 10:11 AM

Imus' comment was so much worse because it was directed specifically at these women. I think rap lyrics are racists and sexist too but they are in general terms rather than specific. IMHO Imus got what he deserved, what anyone deserves if they make those comments in that context.

Posted by: linda at April 13, 2007 10:33 AM

Now I remember why you're one of my first morning reads. You outdid yourself and I agree with most of what you said.

I avoid Imus and the others like him as much as possible so perhaps I'm not in a position to judge. I do, however, keep up with some of the things he's said and this particular comment may have been the last straw.

I think I'd feel differently (a little anyhow) if his target had been a public figure or one deserving of scorn (say a politician for example). It wasn't; it was a group of young women and it occurred at what should have been one of the happiest times of their young lives. It was not only racist, it was sexist and one of the most meanspirited comments I've heard. And it didn't occur in a vacuum - he has a history.

I wonder how I would have felt if one of my girls had been on that team.

Have a great weekend. Perhaps your weather will improve or miabean will suddenly learn to love snow.

Posted by: ann adams at April 13, 2007 10:44 AM

I couldn't wait until Friday to see what you had to say about this ordeal. Great writing!

If it were my daughter who was on the recieving end of this I would hope that she would be strong enough to know that stick and stones may break bones but words will never hurt her.

Posted by: Steff at April 13, 2007 11:03 AM

"Or Kennedy got booted from office just because he might have been screwing Marilyn." That line woke up...it's not every day that I see my name in one of your posts. ;) I agree with most of what you've said here. The part I'm not getting about Imus is: why THIS time? Why wasn't he fired any other time? And how the hell is Stern still on the airwaves? Why hasn't he been canned for misogyny? I'm not defending Imus--what he did was indefensible. But if there's a cultural standard, then it has to be applied across the board. I was really disturbed to read a quote by Snoop Dogg that basically said it's okay for him to say those kinds of things, but not Imus. No, it's not okay to say them...period.

Posted by: Marilyn at April 13, 2007 11:35 AM

I agree. Also, what ever happened to that old expression "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me."?

Sure we shouldn't spew hate forth, but words only have power if we give it to them in my oppinion.

Posted by: Kelly M. at April 13, 2007 12:21 PM

Okay, I am not a Don Imus fan. I've thought he was little more than a walking corpse for a few years. But...Why should he be lynched when rappers use worse "words" in their tunes, and comedians like Chris Rock say far worse in their "routine"?
Shouldn't we as a group say no to verbal cruelty period?
And it was the height of hypocrisies to have Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton out there calling for his firing. Those two have said far worse way more often!

Posted by: Maribeth at April 13, 2007 12:28 PM

I'm with you. I was working with a media coach recently (not for me) and we had a great conversation about how it used to be if you gave an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, or even the Kansas City Whatever, and you screwed up or didn't express yourself clearly, it was not a big deal. No one outside of SF or KC would notice, and you might even get a chance to explain yourself. Today the story is everywhere in half a day, twisted and blown out of proportion, and you never ever get a do-over. I think it is a problem for our society and it will hurt us in the long run.

Posted by: bad penguin at April 13, 2007 12:57 PM

Imus, while being one of the most boring asshats in the history of talk, is going to get rich from this! Sharpton and the media think they have a scapegoat but all they really have done is made him a martyr. I do not agree with his comment what he said was wrong and even he knew it. I do disagree with the double standards in place in America today though. Lord help us if we say the N word in public like Richards or Imus did, but have you ever been to a Chris Rock show? Lets see how many times he throws out the word cracker or whitey! Why is that alright?

Posted by: Jeff A at April 13, 2007 1:08 PM

First, we have a constitutional right to free speech not a constitutional right to a talk show. I don't know why Imus got fired THIS time. But here's the sad truth: the general public gives tacit approval for his brand of humor or whatever he wants to call it. He has been encouraged (by receiving a paycheck, probably quite hefty) to talk this way for years (30 years?). I am sure he is completely surprised that suddenly the rules changed and what was once 'ok' for him to say suddenly cost him his job.

Don't worry, he'll be back. Maybe it's on satellite, but he's not ruined.

Anyway, there are times when his kind of language is used to provoke thought and other times when it is just offensive. If some comedians use the same language to expose bigotry, it's not the same as what Imus said (again not just this time, but for 30 years!).

It's okay for us to change the rules, to decide that we've grown tired of certain attitudes. It's good to change the discourse. Just because we've done something a certain way for years, does not mean we don't reserve the right to realize it is unacceptable. Things would never change if that was the case.

And for those of you who say "sticks and stones...", you underestimate the power of language. What we say matters. Words are powerful and if you've ever been a victim of abuse, you would know that bones heal far faster than the psyche. If you've never been truly oppressed, you might not realize how difficult it is to "not give anyone the power".

Lastly, I'm going to flip and twist your final argument there, Chris, o ye light of the blogoverse. I actually don't think standards are too high, I think they are too low. If we continue to give tact approval for lazy, ignorant or hateful speech, our standards are too low. What happened to thinking about what we say before we say it? Why don't we hold each other accountable for fucking up? If we did, then overly reactionary shit like this wouldn't ever have to occur.

Love ya and love your ability to actually provoke thought!!

Posted by: Trix at April 13, 2007 1:10 PM

There was actually a really interesting article in the NYT today, about the media frenzy that spurred the firing, if you want to check it out.

Posted by: sandra at April 13, 2007 1:41 PM

I've said this already, but not here, so like NBC in the summertime, it's new to you.

I don't understand why we are supposed to care about Imus?

The guy is, and has always been, a jackass.

His comments were stupid. So what?

Spike Lee is pissed. Who cares? Lee has been hating on whitey for years and we still go to his movies, or at least we would if he made any.

Are we at the point that we are so PC that we are becoming a censored state? That ain't good.

I would rather have a thousand Imusesessses than lose one right.

Posted by: whit at April 13, 2007 1:44 PM

Wow...very, very good point, Mr. C. Imus' behavior certainly wasn't acceptable by any stretch of the imagination, but it does make you think about other areas getting watered down because people are afraid to say something.

Posted by: Zandria at April 13, 2007 2:03 PM

Un, erin, Corzine was run off the road on his way to meet Imus and the president of Rutgers. I don't think he should have been fired and I say this as someone who has never heard more than a few monuted of his show at a time.

Libel and slander are against the law... what he said was offensive to many but last time I checked still within the law. I share Chris's concern that we're barreling head on into an age where one media whore can't ruffle feathers for fear of andother gang of media whores forcing him or her out of a job. As I commented on a different blog today:
It's funny you should mention Jackson and Sharpton... I pretty much tune out whenever they stand in front of the spotlight. Maybe it's just my incredible white privilege speaking but I found Imus's comment way more sexist than racist. But maybe that's because I'm incredibly white and staggeringly privileged. Did I mention I'm white and privileged?

"Imus may never have been my taste, but the fact that he is out of job while Limbaugh is still snorting oxyconton off a gay hooker's ass in the green room is beyond my comprehension."

Posted by: Kar at April 13, 2007 3:35 PM

Well said.

I'm just sorry that all of the media hype surrounding the whole mess with Imus ended up overshadowing the fact that after an entire year the three Duke Lacrosse players FINALLY had their charges dropped and got what was coming to them (an apology from the real "asshat" of the year - Mike Nifong).

Now there was a rush to and lapse in judgement that hopefully will cost a man his job.

Posted by: Rachel at April 13, 2007 3:47 PM

You just know that he'll take a job on satelite radio and make more money than he's ever made. Sad really.

Posted by: Beth in StL at April 13, 2007 7:04 PM

I think Imus is a jerk. I really don't care if he kept his job or not. But this is not a free speech issue. This is a business issue. He did something inappropriate, violated company standards and his bosses fired him. He did not go to jail. He is free to look for another job. He was fired. If I screamed "fuck" I would be fired. I have the freedom to say fuck, but I must be willing to suffer the consequences of my actions. Don just suffered the consequences of his.

Posted by: Lisa V at April 13, 2007 10:12 PM

I don't know much about Imus, other than he always looks like death warmed over, but I don't agree with his firing(s). He definitely should have been punished (and was... quickly). Yes, he should have given a little more thought to what he said (um, people have feelings... and seeing how it takes sponsors to air his shows, and they dropped like flies after he spoke) BUT, whatever happened to "freedom of speech" or "Hey, I wasn't thinking and I fucked up!"??!??

In this day and age, we're coming to a point where we'll get sued because we *looked* at someone the wrong way. Can you imagine? There IS a double-standard in MANY things out there according to race. Do you see me getting upset when I'm referred to as a "cracker" or a "honkey" who doesn't have any "rhythm"? I simply consider the source and move on.

I don't know... I'm a bumbling mess of words and thoughts over this crap -- and CRAP, it is. Chris, you did a fantastic job with this post. Well-written, succinct, and dead-on.

Posted by: ironic1 at April 13, 2007 11:08 PM

I only heard a brief excerpt of some of the things Imus said in regard to the women's B-ball team at Rutgers. I read about a comment he made about the women's hair (in reference to their race) and the fact that he called them "whores". I don't know if the fuss was the combination of insults, or the fact that he was referring to their hair that got the racist remark rebuke. But personally, the mere fact that he called them "whores", regardless of race, is the utterly degrading statement of all.

It's so unfortunate that he made such hurtful comments to a team of college women. The gals don't get nearly the press as guys when it comes to sports, unless it's somehow related to sex-appeal or slander. How unfortunate; it makes me quite angry, really.

I hope the women of Rutgers basketball will grow stronger and persevere regardless of the foolish and heartless blabberings of one man.

Posted by: Dolly at April 14, 2007 5:38 PM

I think that there is too much hate in the world, and a lot of it masquerades as talk radio. Don Imus got what he deserved. But plenty of people out there are hateful, sexist and racist -- and they don't have radio shows. We should not tolerate this kind of stuff, no matter who utters it.

Posted by: Rhea at April 14, 2007 8:41 PM

great post.
i've been thinking the same things all week. i can't stand the guy, but i also don't have to listen to him if i choose not to. that's the beauty of freedom. the off button on the radio, tv, etc... if you don't like it, don't listen/watch/whatever.

Posted by: kate at April 15, 2007 8:02 PM

Hey Chris,

I nominated you for a Hot Dad blog....


Posted by: motherofbun at April 15, 2007 8:53 PM

So what exactly IS an asshat anyway? And how does it stay on? Is there an elasic cord like those cowboy hats you wear as a kid??

Posted by: KT at April 16, 2007 7:18 AM

I blogged on this as well (in several places), because the over-reaction to this was quite extreme I think.

I mean, comments far worse have been uttered by Bill O'Reilly (remember how he said that abducted Shawn Hornbeck "liked" his situation with the pedophile that abducted him?), Sean Hannity (too numerous to mention), Ann Coulter (Ditto), and even as you point out Imus himself has done stuff like this for years.

This big difference her was how the MEDIA latched onto this (there are always groups on either side that whine about what somebody says, but the Media conveniently ignores such things usually), and wouldn't let go. Oh, I am not surprised that women's groups, or black groups raced to call for his firing. Things like that happen all the time. But that is about it. Here the media was relentless and constant.

This is where the "conspiracy theorist" comes in. Prior to this story "breaking" all anybody heard about on the news was AttorneyGate, and how AG Gonzalez, was being "prepped" for his next trip up to capital hill, and how he was struggling with contradicting himself (which of course should happen if you were just going up to "clear up some misunderstandings", now should it).

Imus comes along and "Look - Shiny New Outrage to focus on" and all the spotlight has shifted away, and the (I believe) hope is that everybody will have forgotten how much Gonzalez has said has already been contradicted. How the "front stories" of why these U.S. Attorneys were fired have already fallen apart... more than once.

Yup, look something shiny. The hope of distracting a nation that seems to have a real bad case of ADD.

Posted by: JayMonster at April 16, 2007 9:32 AM

I haven't listened to Imus since before he was syndicated. But if airwick's comment about his interviewing skills is true, I sort of wonder if there would have been a place for his talent in commercial radio *without* the shtick.

Because let's not kid ourselves, there has long been and so remains a huge market for that kind of crass. It is the market which keeps Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Eminem, Snoop Dog, and Ann Coulter rolling in dough.

I've been watching the commentary on this for days and I see an awful lot of people castigating the purveyors of this "entertainment" but not saying much about the consumers and what that says about the sorry state of our society.

Posted by: Lisse at April 16, 2007 11:36 PM

Right on! I think a lot of the attention given to this situation had to do with Sharpton. If the gay movement had such strong leadership, Isiah Washington would have been fired. There is such a double standard, and I don't think we should punish one person while the others get away with so much crap, like Ann Coulter. Plus, we can't support censorship. There's always going to be an idiot out there who will say the wrong thing, and that is their right, just as it is our right to not listen.

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