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In response to something I wrote about the Don Imus saga Friday, Matt, a journalism graduate school friend of mine, replied and made his case quite succinctly. Another friend, Karl, weighed in, as did I. With our back-and-forth in mind, I'd like to add some detail to my point-of-view. If I may make so bold, Matt's entire argument can be summarized in his own words: "By calling for (and ultimately causing) the firing of Don Imus, it sets a bad precedent for free speech." I disagree, and, though I am as firm a defender of free speech as he, I would like to take this argument in a different direction, speaking to both the issues of our freedoms and the role of the people-powered movement in the debate.

Before I do that, however, I'd like to address another of Matt's central assertions, the importance of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in determining Imus's eventual fate. Matt wrote, "What happened here was a vast minority of people took full use of the media resources around them (in this case, Rev. Al and Jesse Jackson) and created a situation where there was a perceived national outcry against this particular discussion. Advertisers and corporate executives were pressured into firing Imus lest they be subject to continued protesting outside of their offices. In the face of this pressure, advertisers dropped out and corporate was forced to fire Imus." Quite simply, no.

Sharpton wasn't responsible for Imus's firing. Nor was Jackson. Nor was I. Don Imus was responsible for what happened to Don Imus. He said something both woefully stupid and incredibly bigoted, millions of people took note of the man's sad track record of similar statements, and they responded. What Imus-defenders may perceive as the start of the story - the response - only occurred because Imus so polluted the airwaves. The fault is clear: It begins and ends with Imus. Now, back to my point, about what I think is the collision between the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things. This intersection is especially apparent in the uproar surrounding Imus's statements.

Imus - and his many, many peers still gainfully employed (Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, for instance) - represent what I'll call "active assholery". In the past, active assholery was met only with what I'll call "passive participation" or, worse yet, nothing at all. In other words, people like Beck would enjoy free rein to pollute the airwaves with all manner of hate speech, while the rest of us had to sit there and take it. If you don't like my choice of phrase, why not use Matt's chosen frame, the free market model? There, our choice was easy: Listen, or don't. Take it, or ... take it. Even the most aggressive tools at our disposal were anything but.

I'm not interested in capitalism winning out. I'm interested in democracy winning out. Expect the market to take care of people like Imus? If that's the case, the market has been doing a terrible, terrible job. In my model, on the other hand, active assholery meets active participation. When confronted with the Imuses and Becks of the world, we no longer have to take it. We can, and should, do something about it. And I fail to see why their rights to speak out trump ours. Referring to the Imus matter, Matt wrote, "The way it was done, in my opinion, subverts that Constitution and opens up a whole different discussion about what free speech truly is." Not so. What would have subverted the Constitution would have been to embrace the old model, to do nothing. By taking back our rights, we actively embraced all that's good about that brilliant document.

Thinking about it through this frame, I see nothing at all wrong with contacting journalists, their employers or their corporate partners and voicing our concerns. How is that different from contacting our elected officials? Sure, the outcome may not be the same, but the intent often is: Seeking responsiveness and the awareness of a particular point-of-view. By likening what happened to Imus to what he believes could happen to me, Matt does a tremendous disservice to his argument. Why? Because, at the core, we're not talking about punishing speech with which people don't happen to agree. We're talking about fighting back against what has been a steady stream of hate speech. Matt's counterexample to the Imus firing - a coordinated right-wing response to my writings - falls flat because my criticisms of those whom the right-wingers admire never, ever wade into the use of flatly bigoted language.

These are the sort of traps we face on a near-daily basis: Contact an advertiser about a prominent media personality using bigoted language and we're taking part in a partisan witch hunt, but make legitimate criticisms of the Bush administration and face ouster simply because we said something with which conservatives disagree. See the problem? As a progressive, I've become used to being confronted regularly with these sort of false equivalencies. And when we're not being held subject to such scrutiny, we're being barraged with muddying arguments like those now being made about rappers' use of the word "ho". This is why, I'm sure, someone will accuse me of being a hypocrite for writing something like this in the past. You told people to change the channel. We're telling you to change the channel. What's the difference? But what I wrote about then - content with which one disagrees - bears no similarity to what I'm writing about now, truly bigoted content.

Who, in the long run, will be more hurt by what Imus said - Imus, or the Rutgers women's basketball team? Certainly not Imus, who, after some time in civil society's penalty box, will surely be back, perhaps on satellite radio (and perhaps, due to the attention now being paid him, at an even higher pay grade). When that happens, there's nothing in Imus's history that tells us his contrition won't be short-lived. The team, meanwhile, will, no matter what heights the women reach in their lives, always face the stigma of being called "nappy-headed hos". This goes far beyond hurt feelings and, in doing so, beyond a simple First Amendment argument. Imus hasn't lost his freedom of speech, He's lost his job. His employers terminated him not because his actions posed a First Amendment crisis; they did so because his continued employment posed a bottom-line crisis. So, in that way, what happened was a victory for the market. And democracy.

Originally posted to BobcatJH on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 02:56 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (7+ / 0-)

    I'd love to hear what you thought about the discussion and the issues I write about.

    The Hughes for America fundraising drive is here!

    by BobcatJH on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 02:51:11 PM PDT

  •  Well try and get beck,limbaugh,or o'reilly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MajorFlaw, vets74

    off the air. It won't work.The repub party will yell free speech and thats as far as you get. The bush machine wanted Imus off the air and that is why he is gone. Just sayin.

    "Though the Mills of the Gods grind slowly,Yet they grind exceeding small."

    by Owllwoman on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 03:02:10 PM PDT

    •  The republicans own Clear Channel (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dougymi, Owllwoman

      Fox is owned by Murdoch. Good luck

    •  BOYCOTT THEIR ADVERTISERS. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jjgtrs

      Stop buying products from companies that give them money.

      Who here at kos would want to buy from companies that support these crazies ???

      Now... we need that information. Who advertises on Limbaugh and his ilk ???

      Jeffersonian Democracy and the Dixie Chicks and Don Imus. Overcome evil with good.

      by vets74 on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 03:26:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  won't work with fox (0+ / 0-)

        they were willing to take a loss to stay on the air in the beginning and I don't think rupert will cringe at all about taking a loss to defend his pet wingnuts.

        A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

        by dougymi on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 04:01:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Imus firing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    historys mysteries, MajorFlaw

    Referring to the Imus matter, Matt wrote, "The way it was done, in my opinion, subverts that Constitution

    Your friend Matt is wrong. The Constitution would only be subverted if the government got involved. Employers can control employee speech in the workplace. Wouldn't someone be fired on almost any job for running around calling people "Nappy headed ho's" or any other likeminded offensive term? How loud would the outcry be if Imus had called an all White girls basketball team a bunch of whores and sluts? I'll bet 90% of the people defending him now would be howling for his head if that were the case. I see a little bit of racism going on here over this defense of Don Imus.

    Republicans were for `partisan fishing expeditions', before they were against them.

    by William Domingo on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 03:15:27 PM PDT

    •  people defending imus ARE NOT rascist (0+ / 0-)

      just for defending him;personally i think imus is boring and his show was awful(plus OVER-RATED);BUT people who came to his defense were NOT rascist just for defending him(some were of course; but not ALL)

    •  If my daughter got tattoos, ugly hair-do, etc.... (0+ / 2-)
      Recommended by:
      Hidden by:
      TeresaInPa, Nightprowlkitty

      then i'd hope she was girl enoough to take criticism.

      Imus said that the Tennessee girls were "cute."

      The Rutgers girls got themselves tough looking.

      Copying such as the Pistons, Nicks, Nets, the old Georgetown teams, etc.

      Dish it out. Take it.

      However, the "ho's" part is careless. Copying Emandem, Snoop, 50-cent, et. al. is a terrible crime. The crap is all over the radio. Every hip-hop station in the country.

      But if you're 66/67 and white, screw you.

      Jeffersonian Democracy and the Dixie Chicks and Don Imus. Overcome evil with good.

      by vets74 on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 03:31:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Are these people racists? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TeresaInPa, vets74

        First there has been the growing pattern of "football racism" across the continent. In late February, Cameroonian FC Barcelona star Samuel Eto'o almost walked off the pitch after being showered by "fans" with monkey chants and peanuts. Last November, Messina's Marc Zoro picked up the ball and threatened to walk off the field because of racist chants from followers of Inter Milan. These are only the most well publicized stories. There are countless tales of players of African origin being treated, in the words of one, "worse than dogs." This has gotten even more play in the United States as US star DaMarcus Beasley has recounted tales of monkey noises and tossed banana skins that trail him every time his foot touches the ball.

        http://www.counterpunch.org/...

        Republicans were for `partisan fishing expeditions', before they were against them.

        by William Domingo on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 03:49:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  And what race is that ??? (0+ / 0-)

          Simply, who is it that you are defending ?

          Daughter, the Tennessee players, the NBA guys, the Rutgers gals, or the old white guy ?

          Next you'll say that anyone who makes light of Michael-pedophile-Jackson is a racist. Or anyone who comments on the crazy language in the hip-hop raps ???

          Jeffersonian Democracy and the Dixie Chicks and Don Imus. Overcome evil with good.

          by vets74 on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 05:13:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  yes I know you don't get it (0+ / 0-)

            understanding why your comment was racist is your challenge.
            I will explain once and hope you think about it, but I am guessing you will never get it:

            whining that rich straight old white males are victims of racism is racist.  Imus is not a victim, he is  a perp. Trying to deflect blame the he rightfully deserves on to rappers is racist.  The real problems of racism are not suffered by rich white guys.  When we solve the real inequity of race maybe we will have time to worry about Imus.  
            Suggesting that one set of women deserve to be called nappy headed because they didn't make themselves pretty enough is sexist.  
            Just because you put vet in your UID doesn't mean people have to be deferential to your idiotic right wing ideas.  "Jeffersonian Democrat" is generally code for "libertarian" and AFAIAC Libertarians, unless they are liberal, aknowlege the fact that this is a Democratic site and smart enough to make reasonable arguments, do not belong on this web site.  Right wing libertarians certainly do not and you seem like another right winger hiding out here in libertarian clothing.

            •  "idiotic right wing ideas" == "Jeffersonian...." (0+ / 0-)

              You're making a joke ???

              It's the language that carries the racist ideas.

              Emandem, Snoop, Nelly, and 50-cent are every bit as racist as Don Imus at the worst minute of his life.

              Emandem is just a hoot. White boy acting the blackest boy in the LA Basin. 100% bull.

              "Nappy" is a style. It was not a perjorative until this media flap connected it to the "ho" word.

              Ain't nothing wrong with nappy.

              Jeffersonian Democracy and the Dixie Chicks and Don Imus. Overcome evil with good.

              by vets74 on Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 06:29:16 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  ugly hair-do (0+ / 0-)

              He mentioned "ugly hair-dos" and tatoos, but by what standards are their hair-dos ugly? By white standards? The girls all had different hair-syles, and only a coulple of them had tatoos. They didn't deserve to be called "nappy headed hos" because some whites don't approve of their hair-style, all different, so how can they ALL be "ugly"?, or tatoos.

              Republicans were for `partisan fishing expeditions', before they were against them.

              by William Domingo on Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 01:47:04 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Free speech and free markets (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TeresaInPa

    Imus was kicked out by the marketplace. People finally had enough of his idiocy, and the racist remarks were just one more straw. Personally, I rejected Imus years ago and have paid no attention to him. The airwaves are not chilled, bigots and snails like O'Reilly are still out their fouling our nests.

    The world is no poorer with Imus gone. He served no useful function. Free speech is not at all affected. Though based on comments I received, "nappy-headed" seems to have become a taboo term. Pity, because it is a good way to describe Gonzalez and his goons. They do have shit for brains!

    I'm a linguist, licensed to use words any way I want to!

    by MakeChessNotWar on Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 04:00:20 PM PDT

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