April 21, 2007
Open Mouth, Insert Foot, End Career
Outside, here in the Northeast, a noreaster is blowing
through. Its been a perfect day to catch up on e-mails
while a fire burns in the Franklin stove and jazz plays on
the stereo. It is a good thinking day. And, since I have been,
I continued to think about the Don Imus fiasco.
Lets start here: I am not nor have ever been a Don Imus
fan. I have found him consistently repugnant and as amusing
as he occasionally could be; his negativity is not something
I wanted in my life. I simply have chosen not to listen. However,
the past days have made it impossible not to listen to Don
Imus and to hear, ad nauseum, his nauseous remark about the
remarkable Rutgers Womens Basketball Team. His
exorable remark, calling them nothing more than nappy
headed hos resulted, rightly so, in a firestorm
of criticism, followed by a suspension that wasnt enacted
because before the suspension could start, he was pulled off
the air, fired and sent down the ignominious road to media
At least he didnt retreat to rehab, though that might
have saved his job [rehab seems to be the move of choice among
misbehaving celebrities and generally works]. There are some
interesting things I have found out about Don Imus since he
was catapulted into the media spotlight: his last two days
on the job were a radiothon that yielded almost a million
and a half dollars for a cancer charity. I also discovered
he runs a ranch out west which works with kids with cancer.
Surprising, I thought, for so distasteful a person. However,
that doesnt change that what he said was exorable and
that he has now been fired. Open mouth, insert foot, end career.
Seems to be a fairly simple one, two, three set of actions.
However, I dont think anything is quite that clean and
simple, particularly after watching the ensuing circus. Imus
has made a career out of saying miserably inappropriate things
about individuals. He has been known to make racist, sexist,
religious jokes that cut to the bone. It is his thing. It
is what has made him both famous and rich, though from looking
at his face, I cant say it seems to have made him happy.
Why now? Why this moment? Why this phrase? Why did this cause
him to plummet down the media mountain?
For one thing he attacked young women, not celebrities, who
were doing a magnificent job of being what they were: college
athletes. In response to his remarks, they demonstrated restraint
and class, which no one else in the affair seems to have managed.
He also had unfortunate timing; we were coming out of the
Easter/Passover time and things were a bit slow. Wed
buried Anna Nicole, Britney seems to be staying sober, our
favorite media diversions werent diverting. So, media
made Imus diverting, so diverting that it almost escaped notice
that there was a suicide bombing within the Iraqi Parliament
in the Green Zone, the safest area in unsafe Baghdad.
Also, scratch the surface of Mr. Imus career and it
appears that he was slipping in the ratings and the advertising
dollars were falling. Against that scenario, perhaps CBS and
MSNBC thought this was a good time to quit and run, particularly
since it was the desertion of the advertisers in the days
post foot into mouth insertion that seemed to have been the
catalyst for the firing rather than genuine moral outrage.
It also shuffled this problem off the stage. He was fired,
the situation resolved. However, there has been
no genuine, national dialogue about this kind of behavior,
which we seem to tolerate nor has there been a real dialogue
about the First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech.
How do these things play together? How do we remain free AND
The essential issues have not been discussed, the superficial
ones examined to fine detail, and we are poorer for not having
used this troubling moment to look inside the American psyche
and discuss it creatively, honestly against the backdrop of
a very disturbing time when free speech is often ugly while
the protection to be ugly seems to be deteriorating.