Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Free Speech, even when it is stupid, assailed again

So we learn today that Don Imus has been suspended for 2 weeks.... so why is he on air this morning? Well, we can't very well suspend him today, since he's kicking off the 18th annual Radiothon benefiting the Tomorrows Children's Fund, and the CJ Foundation for SIDS

So what the management of MSNBC and CBS radio is saying, in effect, is yes, you've done wrong, but we won't punish you before Monday, because that'll be bad press for the fundraiser we're doing.

I've been reminded to make my position clear: Imus and his on-air cohorts said a stupid, hurtful and unfunny statements in the guise of making a joke. I listen to the show daily, but didn't hear the comment, live, as I imagine most people didn't, but rather the endless YouTube and audio copies on the radio and TV.

The key thing to note: it was an alleged joke. He wasn't tyring to be hurtful, he wasn't trying to incite a riot. This is important. And what else is important? That he says dumb, stupid things everyday, and a few of them are funny, and most of the time they are harmless. But he targets everyone. Every one. There have been no sacred cows; every stereotype is open to his satire.

Case in point: for years, Imus features Cardinal Eagan (formerly, the late John Cardinal O'Connor) in an irreverent, satirical bit. All the while, one of the longest pair of friends of the program have been Msgr. Thomas Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman, known also as the God Squad.

People who don't know the show, who don't know Imus, are passing judgement on him; that is their right, but their judgement must be considered along with those who do know him and his show. I don't claim to know him, personally, but I do know his show. Once again, people are being persecuted for their speech, and in particular by those who are even more guilty of saying mean-spirited statements in anger.

Imus has apologized, publicly. He wants to apologize to the Rutgers team, in person. He neither expects his apology to be accepted, nor the event forgotten. He has pledged to be a better person going forward, and I believe him. Others have the right to doubt him, or even to insist he be fired. Those who want him fired ought to look to their own, favorite broadcast personalities to see what's in their past, what have they said in anger and whether they ought to be fired as well.

Part of Imus' appearance on Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show:

In just over 2 weeks, his show will be back on the air. Here's hoping he can bring the irreverent humor that has made his show so popular can carry on.



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