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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media


As this takes the stands, Don Imus, long jawed talk radio grunter in exile, has put his supplication before Al Sharpton behind him. His bosses at MSNBC and CBS have done the right thing by firing him after some initial hesitation. Anyone who has listened to the Imus morning show is familiar with the cokeheaded elocutionist’s format, which is tantamount to the drunk uncle’s Christmas party soliloquy supplemented by the I-Man’s yes men serving in their complementary role as chuckleheaded paycheck collectors. Imus had to go, and went.

The statement that produced Imus’ trouble, of course, regards the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, specifically the quality of its components as “nappy-headed hoes.” Anyone in the least familiar with women’s basketball knows that prostitutes, nappy-headed or otherwise, do not compose the average collegiate squad’s makeup to the extent that, say, a zoning board or squad of investment bankers does.

This, though, is not just what disturbs us. Imus’ current predicament is the latest installment of a controversy that recurs every few months or weeks, enough to grant it a recurring theme in our culture: the public figure who “says something he deeply regrets”, when it is obvious he in no way regretted it at the time, who then prostrates himself before the public begging forgiveness. Anyone with an IQ compromised by exposure to Michael Richards’ racist rant on Youtube knows that he meant it, and how, and don’t you forget it if it’s not already seared indelibly into your memory. Rush Limbaugh meant what he said about Michael J. Fox; Bill Maher meant what he said about Dick Cheney. Mel Gibson, Jews. We don’t include Ann Coulter, because she never made any attempt to apologize for her comments about John Edwards (and we’re not sure this isn’t a refreshing attitude in its way).

What do they share in common? There’s no question that freelance idiocy contributed enormously to each incident. But we wonder whether these gaffes are solely due to individual imbecility, if there isn’t some cultural crimson tide washing these chromosomal novelties into the sewer and us with them, to dwell with the C.H.U.D. of malapropism propounders past, whether the American conversation at the dawn of the 21st century isn’t instead a continuous repetition of WHO LET THE DOGS OUT? WHO WHO WHO WHO with the occasional profanity pealing through the din. A public intellectual environment such as we have now only encourages the Imuses of the era to slather wrong-headedness thick.

Let’s face it, though. Imus is an easy target to beat up on. No man blurts in a vacuum. To some extent we, the American consuming public, are his enablers. We are laughing at the drunken uncle’s jokes, or at least heading into the other room to play with the nephews and pretending he doesn’t exist. Understand that as long as there is a market for this sort of “hot talk,” as it is known in the radio industry, there will be many more Imus moments. You, Stern listener, you, “Opie and Anthony” fan, you are to blame. Don Imus? Pity him; and walk past.