Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sticks And Stones Can Break Your Bones But Words Cause Permanent Damage

So Don Imus has been fired.

Can't say I blame CBS. It was an ugly controversy to start with, and it's gotten uglier by the day. And I don't feel particularly sorry for him, except in the way you feel sorry for a befuddled old man who doesn't understand why anybody would have a problem with him saying the kind of thing he's been saying his whole life. I definitely don't feel sorry for him financially -- besides already being rich as hell, I'd be willing to bet he'll be on satellite radio or Internet subscription or some other syndication before too long.

I don't believe he said what he said out of meanness, or even disrespect, except, again, that unconscious disrespect entrenched in the mind of an old man who's always said those sorts of things. It never occurred to him that he might be being offensive. And, if he was, hey. He was a shock jock. It was kinda his job to be offensive.

Up to a point.

And that is the valuable thing to take from this whole brouhaha: We now have something, however tenuous, of a baseline.

See, Imus' remarks were indeed vile and offensive... but he's nowhere near as bad as the Big Guns: Limbaugh, Hannity, Hewitt. Glenn Beck and Michael Wiener/Savage. Coulter. Malkin. People who have agendas, and who spew the most hateful invective, the most noxious lies, the most egregious character assassinations, on a regular basis. People who think that "free speech" is like every other It's Okay If You're A Republican thing -- they can say whatever shit they want, fact-free, insulting, threatening, whatever, but if Democrats do it then they're shrill and angry.

It's far too much to hope that their past barbarisms will come back to haunt them... but it is just barely possible that people will notice their ongoing attempts a little more closely. Because it's not like any of them are going to stop being bigoted, lying, spittle-flecked buffoons.

The cynical self says that the Imus flare-up is merely the latest media crise-du-jour, given no more weight than the latest breathless report on the minutiae of Anna Nicole Smith's saga or tearful hysteria about American Idol and will vanish in the cyclonic winds of public attention.

The optimistic self says that Limbaugh & Co. and rap artists and whoever else has contributed to the general coarsening of public discourse have laid the powder train of which Imus was the flashpoint, and I would welcome the blowback.

Of course both selves are suspicious that Imus' supposed right to CORPORATE free speech will have a chilling effect on all supposed free speech, making it all the more likely that there will be undue attention paid to anti-administration bumper stickers and the like.
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