Howard Stern brings centerfolds to his studio to take off their clothes for the camera. Carlos Mencia energizes his show on Comedy Central with skits like "Wetback Mountain." Don Imus comments briskly that the Rutgers women's basketball team is a bunch of "nappy-headed hos." Two out of these three people are still employed, making millions of dollars.
An example, I guess, was to be made of Imus in the form of his firing. He's just the latest in what has become a recent phenomenon of celebrity "oops outbursts," joining the ranks of Mel Gibson and Rosie O'Donnell, among others. This column is not meant to defend Imus' actions so much as condemn those gut-reaction celebrants of naivete who think that the radio talk show host's comments crossed the line, because I have news for you: that line was crossed a long time ago.
Never mind the fact that Imus' comments were undoubtedly magnified in the wake of the NCAA championship. Never mind the news that he apologized for his actions and that the Rutgers team accepted his apology. Never mind that Imus is, in fact, human, and humans indubitably do and say things they regret from time to time (I'm looking at you, college kids). The most headache-inducing element of this silly non-scandal is that political correctness wipes our memories conveniently clean regarding an individual who has made a public persona out of ridiculing and insulting people on the air.
Several Web sites documented Imus calling the New York Knicks "chest-pumping pimps," saying Janet Reno resembled a rodeo clown because of her Parkinson's disease, and calling the Jewish management of one company "money-grubbing bastards." Yet afterwards, he remained snugly employed in his studio chair under his dusty cowboy hat. The imbalanced and arbitrary nature of this country's idea of right and wrong is simply staggering.
Sure, Imus has been in this business long enough that he probably should have known better. What makes this so strange, though, was that Imus wasn't even targeting the Rutgers team in a callous, deliberate way. The comments were slapdash and in jest (the crew was laughing after Imus said it) compared to some of his fiery tirades from the past. Not to mention, the media are so infatuated with the racial element of the incident that virtually no one has pointed out that the comments were, if one were to look at them in a serious light, more sexist than anything else. In what was meant to be a summary of a basketball game, Imus and his cronies turned it into another cheap stab at women's sports, focusing more on the women's appearances than their performances. I'd bet that if this were about the men's basketball game, the conversation would have stayed on topic.
Should Imus have been fired for his comments? Maybe, but this is a world that lets Howard Stern make a career out of degrading women and getting off scot-free. If a precedent needs to be set regarding what can be said on the air and what can't, this is the wrong place to start. Radio, itself, is the wrong place to start. Imus is a drop in the bucket full of airheaded, scantily-clad cinema heroines and full-chested, empty-headed Lara Crofts with give women a bad name. That bucket's also full of narrow-minded, shortsighted stereotypes which further elongate the battle against racism. If this is the start of a professional and moral overhaul, than fine by me. But there are still too many cooks in the kitchen serving up smorgasbords of antipathy to consider this a victory of any kind.