While I actually can't care about Imus enough to bother to hate him, I think Rich makes some excellent points in Sunday April 15th's Times' OpEd piece:
Familiar as I am with the warp speed of media, I was still taken aback by the velocity of Don Imus’s fall after he uttered an indefensible racist and sexist slur about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. Even in that short span, there’s been an astounding display of hypocrisy, sanctimony and self-congratulation from nearly every side of the debate, starting with Al Sharpton, who has yet to apologize for his leading role in the Tawana Brawley case, the 1980s racial melee prompted by unproven charges much like those that soiled the Duke lacrosse players.
It’s possible that the only people in this whole sorry story who are not hypocrites are the Rutgers teammates and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer. And perhaps even Don Imus himself, who, while talking way too much about black people he has known and ill children he has helped, took full responsibility for his own catastrophic remarks and didn’t try to blame the ensuing media lynching on the press, bloggers or YouTube. Unlike Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington, to take just three entertainers who have recently delivered loud religious, racial or sexual slurs, Imus didn’t hire a P.R. crisis manager and ostentatiously enter rehab or undergo psychiatric counseling. “I dished it out for a long time,” he said on his show last week, “and now it’s my time to take it.”
Among the hypocrites surrounding Imus, I’ll include myself. I’ve been a guest on his show many times since he first invited me in the early 1990s, when I was a theater critic. I’ve almost always considered him among the smarter and more authentic conversationalists I’ve encountered as an interviewee. As a book author, I could always use the publicity.
Of course I was aware of many of his obnoxious comments about minority groups, including my own, Jews. Sometimes he aimed invective at me personally. I wasn’t seriously bothered by much of it, even when it was unfunny or made me wince, because I saw him as equally offensive to everyone. The show’s crudest interludes struck me as burlesque.
I do not know Imus off the air and have no idea whether he is a good person, any more than I know whether Jerry Lewis, another entertainer who raises millions for sick children, is a good person. But as a listener and sometime guest, I didn’t judge Imus to be a bigot. Perhaps I felt this way in part because Imus vehemently inveighed against racism in real life, most recently in decrying the political ads in last year’s Senate campaign linking a black Tennessee congressman, Harold Ford, to white women. Perhaps I gave Imus a pass because the insults were almost always aimed at people in the public eye, whether politicians, celebrities or journalists — targets with the forums to defend themselves.
And perhaps I was kidding myself. What Imus said about the Rutgers team landed differently, not least because his slur was aimed at young women who had no standing in the world of celebrity, and who had done nothing in public except behave as exemplary student athletes. The spectacle of a media star verbally assaulting them, and with a creepy, dismissive laugh, as if the whole thing were merely a disposable joke, was ugly. You couldn’t watch it without feeling that some kind of crime had been committed. That was true even before the world met his victims. So while I still don’t know whether Imus is a bigot, there was an inhuman contempt in the moment that sounded like hate to me. You can see it and hear it in the video clip in a way that isn’t conveyed by his words alone.
Does that mean he should be silenced? The Rutgers team pointedly never asked for that, and I don’t think the punishment fits the crime. First, as a longtime Imus listener rather than someone who tuned in for the first time last week, I heard not only hate in his wisecrack but also honesty in his repeated vows to learn from it. Second, as a free-speech near-absolutist, I don’t believe that even Mel Gibson, to me an unambiguous anti-Semite, should be deprived of his right to say whatever the hell he wants to say. The answer to his free speech is more free speech — mine and yours. Let Bill O’Reilly talk about “wetbacks” or Rush Limbaugh accuse Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his Parkinson’s symptoms, and let the rest of us answer back.
Liberals are kidding themselves if they think the Imus firing won’t have a potentially chilling effect on comics who push the line. Let’s not forget that Bill Maher, an Imus defender last week, was dropped by FedEx, Sears, ABC affiliates and eventually ABC itself after he broke the P.C. code of 9/11. Conservatives are kidding themselves if they think the Imus execution won’t impede Ann Coulter’s nasty invective on the public airwaves. As Al Franken pointed out to Larry King on Wednesday night, CNN harbors Glenn Beck, who has insinuated that the first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is a terrorist (and who has also declared that “faggot” is nothing more than “a naughty name”). Will Time Warner and its advertisers be called to account? Already in the Imus aftermath, the born-again blogger Tom DeLay has called for the firing of Rosie O’Donnell because of her “hateful” views on Chinese-Americans, conservative Christians and President Bush.
Read the rest at Rozius.