MIKE GOLD: Casting the first stone
Don Imus uttered a phrase that was heard around the world. Of course, his radio show is broadcast across the world on sundry radio and cable television stations, but you get the idea.
Last Wednesday Mr. Imus referred to the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team as “nappy headed hos.” Sadly, he wasn’t referring to the late Dan Blocker. On Friday Imus apologized for his remarks in no uncertain terms, and his host company CBS said they’d put his show on a tighter leash.
Now, I’m a First Amendment absolutelist, and there’s not “but” at the end of that sentence. If Winston cigarettes wants to resume sponsoring The Flintstones and the broadcasting outlets want to advertise it, that’s fine by me. It’s free speech, and it always applies to all sides of any debate.
That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t react to it. If you don’t like Imus for any reason whatsoever, you don’t have to listen to the show. I don’t because after 40 years it’s grown self-righteous and lame – in my opinion. But that’s my right. You don’t have to sponsor it, you don’t have to broadcast it on your affiliated station.
But let’s remember one thing. Everybody says stupid things from time to time. Anybody who has ever been married knows this. Rev. Al Sharpton, who has called for Imus’s termination, should know this – particularly after the Tawana Brawley situation, which Sharpton properly explained away by saying “because I believed her.” He should grant Imus the same license. He made a stupid mistake.
Predictably, everybody you’d guess is calling for Imus’s well-endowed scalp. He committed the sin of unthinking political incorrectness, and he did so in as little as three words. It’s not as if he’s got an entire career making such offensive statements, like, say, Bill Donohue or Louis Farrakhan or any number of other people I could mention.
A couple years ago, Farrakhan renounced his extreme statements and we were expected to take that at face value, and I did. Should we not grant Imus the same opportunity? Last week, in response to his skewering on the current episode of South Park, Donohue admitted he comes on “a bit strong” and he said he laughed his ass off at the teevee show. Should we not grant Imus the same understanding?
Back in the day, my radio show on (then) WEAW-FM in Chicago was followed by a half hour from the syndicated Reverend Carl MacIntyre, a man so far to the right he actually “exposed” both the FBI and the Boy Scouts of America as Communist plots. One of his listeners tuned in early and heard me playing the Grateful Dead’s version of “Turn On Your Lovelight” and got all offended, saying I was promoting prostitution. Like Sharpton, she filed a complaint with the FCC. Being more liberal times (it was during the Nixon Administration) the FCC overseer ruled in my favor – but only after the radio station spent more in legal fees than they did on my show.
Imus was stupid. Don’t listen if you don’t want to, but let everybody else make up their own minds.