The confluence of factors that caused Mr. Imus to lose not one, but two jobs, and the media attention that resulted, and continues, are an amazing commentary on life in America in 2007.
First, and I've blogged on this before, is our increasing self-absorption. Last week, there was a significant new twist in the Iraqi conflict - car/truck bombs attempting to blow up major bridges. Did you know? While it was reported, it was drowned by our focus on ourselves and the increasing importance of avoidance of speech or writing which might hurt someone else's feelings.
His statement was worse than most of his insults, and perhaps more insensitive. I've been a listener for a decade or so, and would observe that his harshness is usually personal. That is, singling out some individual for attack - a politician, say, or the head of some business that Imus felt wronged or slighted by. Some of the kerfuffle here probably stems from the fact that Rutgers women were essentially innocent bystanders that Mr. Imus, in a sophomoric attempt at humor, insulted.
Somehow as a society we've become much more interested in these trivial events - who's the father of Anna Nicole's baby? Is Brad and Angelina's marriage already in trouble? than in world events, societal shifts and matters of (at least in the view of this writer) more substance.
Speaking of matters of substance, Imus must be recognized for his frequent interviews with a variety of leaders - politicians, writers, musicians. The politicos lined up: McCain was a frequent guest, as was Chris Dodd; he gave an early national stage to Harold Ford Jr., even VP Cheney showed up, despite being the object of derision. Chuck Schumer recently took a direct hit on failure to adequately oversee Veterans' hospitals. Personally, I'll miss those interviews. They provided a good current events education.
And the judges are:
And who are the arbiters now of acceptable speech? I guess that I shouldn't be surprised that some broadcasters turned to Al Sharpton. But I was nonetheless disappointed. How does he, and old Jesse Jackson, still deserve a microphone?
I was pleased to see some blacks distancing themselves from those two - e.g. Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday who took a principled, and well-presented, stand that Imus deserved what he got. John Saunders of ESPN came at it from a father of daughters view, which I thought totally appropriate. Others too were critical of Imus, agreed that he should be fired, but didn't go out of their way to align with Jesse or Al. (BTW - I refuse to use the term "black community" - I can't imagine how that exists today any more than a "white community" exists...).
The best line of all on this was comedian (and Rabbi, I think) Jackie Mason on Michael Savage's radio show; "going to Al Sharpton's radio show to ask for forgiveness for a racial slur is like going to Bill Clinton to ask for forgiveness for adultery".
There are certainly many who'll be glad he is off the air. Some of the politicians probably felt pressured to appear, and are now relieved. Others that he turned on - I thought he was vicious with John Kerry - are probably elated.
Whether the children?
In the midst of all this though, we must ask about the children that have benefited from his charity raising efforts. I only noticed a few talking heads mentioning that - Al Hunt in particular on Bloomberg TV. While I'll be the first to say that Imus behavior frequently was boorish, and he could be a total jerk and a bully, Pam and I discussed yesterday that the Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways, and that Imus has been doing some of that work for a variety of charities supporting severe childhood illnesses - cancer, SIDS, and so on. Recently he also was instrumental in raising funds for Veterans' hospitals.
Who will carry this on? I didn't get to listen this am - but the news over the weekend was that CBS would at least temporarily broadcast WFAN's Mike and the Mad Dog sports talk show. While I feel that it is the finest sports talk show in the U.S., it is NYC sports centric; and while the hosts do raise some charity $$$, it is a long way from Imus.
Is that all there is?
Would Imus just walk away from this - falling from the top (MSNBC was gaining AM share on CNN and Imus was MSNBC's top rated show)? Satellite radio on the surface looks possible, but the XM/Sirius merger limits the opportunity, and Stern got to promote his satellite show for months on terrestrial radio before the move. I'd look for something creative from Fox - I think Imus will now have scores to settle and something to prove....