Saturday, April 21, 2007

Here’s A Question For You

On his radio program April 4th, Don Imus was conducting business as usual. Imus is frequently referred to as a “shock jock,” which is defined as “a radio disc jockey or host who features offensive or controversial material.” More recently Imus has not been a disc jockey, and he may never have been a disc jockey in the traditional sense. He is the host of a talk radio program and rose to prominence by being a “shock jock.” However, to call Imus a shock jock based on the more recent content of his program would be to totally mischaracterize the show. “Imus in the Morning” was a well-produced, highly creative, very informative, and mostly incredibly entertaining radio program. The show had news segments, interviews with authorities and personalities and politicians, comedy segments, sports reports and so forth, and sprinkled all through the broadcast were remarks by him or someone else on the show that were most often humorous, though sometimes a little rough.

The I-man and his on-air staff poked fun at a lot of people; no one was immune. And, yes, sometimes the remarks were crude and/or off-color. Personally, I was at one time a regular listener when it was available on a local station, and I liked the show. Sometimes I didn’t like a particular segment, sometimes I disagreed with a political position, or maybe thought he went a little too far for my particular tastes, but Imus certainly did not have a patent on that. If his show had been as tawdry and vulgar as much of rap, some rock, and a lot of comedic programming, for example, I wouldn’t have listened to the program.

In his three decades Imus has poked fun at, been critical of, been nasty to, and insulted lots of people, famous and not-so-famous, black/white/Asian/Hispanic, rich and powerful, even friends and associates. The President of the United States is not immune; ask either of the Bushes, or Bill Clinton. When he disagrees with someone, dislikes what someone has done or said, just like a lot of people you probably know who aren’t on the radio, he sometimes lashed out with harsh words. It’s what he does. It’s what he’s been doing for 30 years.

Those familiar with the Imus show saw that day’s fare as more of the same, just a normal day on the air. Along the way while talking about the success the Rutgers girls basketball team he interjected one of those edgy remarks, commenting that the girls team was a bunch of “nappy-headed hos.” That’s not a nice thing to say, of course, but it wasn’t an unusual sort of comment, from Imus’ point of view, and not an unusual comment from his listeners’ point of view, either. On a broader scale, it wasn’t special, at all, it was just one more off-the-cuff remark lasting less than five seconds, and then the staff was on to other topics.

Imus’ radio audience totaled only about 1.6 million a week on only 60 stations, and fewer than 400,000 television viewers. That’s not a lot of people, as big radio and TV shows go. Rush Limbaugh, for example, garners more than 13 million listeners a week and Howard Stern has more than 8 million. So, while Imus has gained influence in political circles, his show reached a relatively small group of people. Millions of people—tens of millions, I’d bet—had never heard of him, let alone listened to him or watched him on television.

So, here’s the question I alluded to in the title: With his relatively small sphere of influence, combined with the likelihood that none of the Rutgers female basketball team even knew who he was before April 4th, and probably didn’t listen to his show that day, why does anyone, especially the Rutgers girls, give a damn what he says about anyone?

The reaction to Imus’ dumb remark is out of all proportion to its impact on the universe, which wouldn’t have noticed had not a few agenda-driven people started screaming bloody murder, and built a band wagon too tempting for others who ought to know better to jump on. Such immense over-reactions and idiotic Chicken-Little behavior are shameful and humiliating characteristics of our society.

If people were really concerned about how Imus' comments would hurt the girls at Rutgers, they'd have kept their big mouths shuts, and let well enough alone.

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