In Defense of Imus

Given the recent controversy surrounding Don Imus, I’d like to take (what seems to be) the very unpopular stance: Don Imus didn’t do much wrong. I say this for two reasons. Firstly, all he ever did was say something; Imus merely made an offhand remark on air. He didn’t punch anyone or kill anyone, he didn’t do anything physical and his comments didn’t incite any action as well. Imus didn’t call for black female basketball players to be hung, but based on the reaction, you might have thought so. Imus was well within his first amendment rights and he made an off-color joke (or what was intended to be a joke). Not only that, but Imus apologized for the comment within two days and the Rutger’s basketball team even accepted the apology!

Sure, many have noted that Imus has a history of racial insensitivity and this very accusation leads to my second point: why is the public so outraged at Imus when many other talk show hosts make more extreme and detrimental remarks all the time? Take Rush Limbaugh, for example, who gets 13.5 million viewers a week (at least triple that of Imus). Limbaugh has mocked Michael J. Fox’s condition, called the 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton, the one person effectively off-limits during the Clinton years, the “White House dog,” and has himself made (what many consider) racist remarks, such as when he said Donovan McNabb got too much credit because he is black. He has also said, for example, that “the NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies." But maybe Limbaugh deserves most credit for decrying the supposed immorality of illegal drug use when, it turns out, he was abusing painkillers the whole time!

So it is for these two reasons, that Imus’s remarks were not malicious or didn’t result in anything that harmed the team and that when compared to other radio hosts, Imus doesn’t seem so bad, that I think Imus should have been let off the hook. I am certainly not condoning racist remarks and it is true that Imus has a history of making racist and sexist remarks, but at the end of the day we have to realize that his comment had no real effect on the team other than to stir up controversy. There are other figures I’d rather see taken off the air.


mmd said...

"Imus was well within his first amendment rights" - the First Amendment only applies to governmental interference. Since Don Imus was fired by his employers, the non-governmental companies CBS and MSNBC, the First Amendment is not applicable under these circumstances.

Demosthenes said...

I read this in an article somewhere, and couldn't find it to properly attribute it, but think it bears repeating. One of the aspects of the Don Imus controversy that has been underlooked is the timing: just as all charges are dropped in the Duke Lacrosse case, the same voices that shouted the loudest for their heads have turned on Imus, whose comments certainly violated good taste and humor, but certainly would not have drawn much attention otherwise. Al Sharpton, who played a similar role in hyping up the Tawana Brawley case in the 80's, did a great deal to prevent a reasoned analysis of the Duke Lacrosse case from the outset, jumping on it as a pulpit from which to gain attention. Perhaps we need to be a bit more forgiving of one man's stupidity and a bit more suspicious of the motives of others.

Batman said...

I think there is a fundamental difference between Imus’ and Limbaugh’s remarks. Limbaugh insults public figures, which makes his statements acceptable. Imus’ offended an innocent group of girls, who are not public figure, clearly making his racist comment intolerable. (New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) is a case where the difference between public figures and not public figures was well defined.)