the pulse

Imus slur controversy leaves a few questions

So what lessons can we take from last week's two-pronged dumping of Don Imus, first by MSNBC and then CBS Radio, following his notorious "nappy-headed ho's" comment aimed at a certain women's college basketball team? For starters: It's always about the money.

The truth is that Imus has existed as something of a hack well past his prime for awhile now — one whose dubious popularity didn't justify either Viacom or NBC Universal standing up for him.

Principle? Idealism? Perspective? Surely you jest. That doesn't happen in today's corporate world. The congloms would have gone to the mat for the guy if he were deemed a genuinely valuable asset. That they didn't, meant he wasn't.

The biggest sponsors (Staples, GM, GlaxoSmithKline, Procter & Gamble, American Express, Sprint Nextel and others) already had started to bail. Imus wasn't worth that kind of financial hit and ill will, to say nothing of any potential black community backlash. End of story.

But that isn't the end of the debate over the true depth of Imus' sin and whether it should have been viewed as unforgiveable. The obvious conclusion is that it hardly should have fueled the lynch mob reaction that resulted in the torchbearers storming the gates of the palace calling for his head.

Indeed, the mud slung Imus' way for this typical shock-jock trangression was utterly outrageous. Everyone seemed to jump on the Imus Sucks Express. Those who leaped with such sanctimonious enthusiasm onto this bandwagon cast it in a lamely simplistic good vs. evil light.

There were so many outraged pronouncements slamming Imus from self-righteous, self-appointed arbiters of morality that they had to practically elbow one another out of the way to catch a glimmer of the spotlight. It was, "Hey! I hate him too!" "No! I hate him more!" "Hey! I'm black! You're white! I have to hate him more!"

To so overreact to what Imus said is to give these words far more power than they merit. If you dismiss it as simple idiocy, it serves to expose the offending phrase as pitiable and juvenile. But that isn't what we're about here in America. We're about erecting monuments to stupidity that tickle the clouds. That this ignorant old man can so inflame tensions and stoke outrage speaks to the Grand Canyon that remains our racial division.

Simply put, Don Imus isn't important enough to have inspired anything close to this uproar. It leaves us wondering why this was the one disingenuous apology that didn't serve to quell the furor. Why wasn't he allowed to dance the mea culpa mambo and follow it immediately with the diversity rehab tango, like Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Isaiah Washington before him?

Here is one educated guess: it was high time to extract a pound of racist flesh, and Imus played right into it. Once the machinery for his ouster was set into motion, he was toast.

This is not to insinuate that Imus didn't screw up royally. What he said was insipid, hostile, out of bounds and, by any definition, racist. He gleefully attached the shackles to his own purgatory. But at the same time, he is very much being held up as an example, and a warning.

Rest assured, Don Imus will be back on the air later this year after having done penance with Barbara Walters and Dr. Phil — a "reformed" man. What now makes him persona non grata in the terrestrial radio world makes Imus perfect for satellite. That's justice for you.
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