Column/Arsonist or fireman?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 15, 2007

Imus fallout an indicator of society’s view on race relations

No doubt you’ve read or watched the media storm surrounding radio talk show host Don Imus’ now infamous remarks about the Rutgers’ University women’s basketball team.

Imus, who has been in radio for nearly 40 years and was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1989, has made a career out of poking public figures with a stick. He is famously known for his rants – once calling conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh a “fat, pill-popping loser” and even calling television journalist Tucker Carlson a “bow-tie wearing (expletive).”

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Imus continues to apologize to just about everyone on the planet who will give him an open mic, even appearing on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show where took his lumps from Sharpton who called Imus’ comments “racist.” To me, that’s a bit

hypocritical considering Sharpton was successfully sued for racially inflammatory comments he made during the Tawana Brawley investigation in the late ’80s. Quid pro quo anyone?

But the media storm continues to dominate the headlines and airwaves and, with the heat mounting from sponsors, both CBS and NBC unceremoniously canned the “shock jock” after first announcing Imus would be taking a forced two-week vacation.

CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves, in a memo to his staff, said of Imus’ firing, “In taking him off the air, I believe we take an important and necessary step not just in solving a unique problem, but in changing that culture, which extends far beyond the walls of our company.”

I don’t have any expectations that what CBS or NBC did is going to change a thing; and I think Moonves thinks a lot of himself and his network if he believes he’s going to single-handedly initiate a cultural upheaval. It’s going to take a little more than that, Les.

It’s the mainstreaming of this type of demeaning characterization that is the larger issue, not just what some burned-out talking head spewed this time. Obviously, Imus thought his remark was appropriate or he wouldn’t have said it.

Is what he said wrong? Yep. Is he being made into a sacrificial lamb for saying the same thing hundreds of other “artists” and radio personalities utter over the public airways daily? You bet.

Anybody who’s listened to FM radio lately knows what I mean. It’s almost impossible to turn on the radio without hearing profanity, derogatory remarks about women or sexually suggestive lyrics. Imus didn’t start it, but he was definitely a willing participant. Sort of like the kid on the playground who didn’t start the fight, but decided to join in because he saw his buddies piling on.

Imus got his, and rightfully so, but when is American going to do something about all the other bullies?

And for those of you shaking your head saying it was Imus’ constitutional right to say what he wants, you’re right. It’s also CBS’s and NBC’s right to fire him for it, although I think their move is a bit disingenuous considering Imus has been railing on people for years and the networks did nothing about it until now. Why now, you ask? Because corporate America said so, that’s why. The issue for the networks wasn’t black and white, it was green and always will be.

As for Imus, in a few weeks he’ll be on satellite radio counting his money and penning his next book and the lessons learned from the past week will be lessons forgotten.

I hope that’s not the case, but I’m betting Imus being publicly gutted in the name of improving race relations will be like a grain of sand in the Sahara. I hope lessons learned will be lessons remembered. I say that knowing I’m an idealist who believes people, regardless of color, are innocent until proven guilty. But, for a lot of people, both black and white, that rule doesn’t apply.

Unfortunately, I believe society in general will go on consisting of racial arsonists and idealistic firemen until Judgment Day.

I wonder who’ll be cracking jokes then?

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712 or by email: .