Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I must've missed something

By now hopefully you are all aware of the remarks made by Don Imus last week on his radio program because they won't be repeated here. That hasn't stopped any other news outlets, but I don't want to fan the flames anymore than they already have been.

Imus' program - self-described as a comedy show - is simulcast on MSNBC and now MSNBC has suspended him for two weeks beginning this upcoming Monday. The latest news is the Proctor and Gamble are pulling their advertising from the Imus show - but who really cares? Now before you get upset, let me finish.

When Imus' comments set off a firestorm of protests, I honestly wondered if people were making much ado about nothing given the fact that he apologized and admitted how stupid it was. Yes, his words were insulting and wholly uncalled for. It was a paltry attempt at humor and probably he didn't give a second's thought before he blurted out those words.

My reaction was based on the feeling that you could hear language far coarser and more offensive words at any given time of the day - on FM radio, on TV, in movies and probably on the playgrounds of a lot of middle schools. But for some reason Imus got caught saying something offensive, racist and sexist - then we all got upset at him.

Maybe it's not Imus' problem - maybe it's our society's problem.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton jumped at the chance to crucify Imus - an older white guy. Rev. Sharpton had Imus on his radio show to supposedly clear the air, but it turned into Sharpton attacking Imus and repeatedly asking him to resign. Certainly not unexpected behavior from Sharpton.

What has been lost in the media's coverage of all this is how powerful words, stereotypes and biases are! Instead we want to discuss Imus' silly cowboy hats or what a racist he is or how awful the Rutgers basketball team must feel. Are we making an uncomfortable situation worse?

The only coverage I've seen in the 5 days since Imus uttered his 3-word phrase that addressed something other than "this happened/how awful" was on CNN's "The Situation Room." They actually discussed how sexist and misogynistic language is pervasive and accepted in our society. Kudos to them - they used Imus as a jumping off point and not just someone to jump all over.

Personally, I don't care what happens to Imus. What I do care about is covering something unpleasant responsibly. Is it news Imus went on Sharpton's show? Sure. Two smart men of opposite races attempting to have an intelligent conversation in the wake of something unpleasant. But the debating was not so much a debate as it was an attack and it ceased to newsworthy unless this was explained. There is so much more to talk about.

What should have been news was how we as a nation and culture speak and interpet offensive words. Intelligent discourse. What is the state of our consciences? What are we offended by? How much will we take and how much should we take? Imus is a jumping off point, not to be jumped on anymore.

The Michael Richards rant last year touched off a discussion of racism in America but we seem to have forgotten that already. Instead of saying "racism is alive and well in America," or "Imus is a bigot and an idiot," we should also be discussing why racism and sexism exist in the ugly reaches of our minds and what can be done about it.

I would have loved to hear Sharpton and Imus discuss some thought-provoking topics instead of "you're a racist"/ "am not." And I would have loved to see the media cover something instead of their bickering.

Jesse Jackson has staged protests outside of NBC in Chicago on consecutive days. Surely that sort of thing has gotten tired and is not newsworthy - especially since it seems like his reaction to everything. We're going to weeks of this sort of coverage while Imus is suspended and while others are calling for his head - but is that the best we can do?

Should we be trying harder to clean up our culture instead of just pointing and screaming when something upsets us? In the news media, events like this give us the opportunity to look at our society and say here is why things like this happen.

In the news media, we have the opportunity to "uplift" society. Let's treat these ugly events by digging deep into the ugliness and exploring it instead of pointing at it and shrieking. That's not newsworthy and it creates needless divisions in our society. Maybe it's not our job to "heal the nation," but we shouldn't be afraid to try.

Before I go, I'd like to point out that Imus appeared on NBC's Today Show and that just seemed like cross-promotion to me. NBC has the "hottest" story out there, so they put Imus on Today and keep him on the air all week. Meanwhile they can drive traffic to their Web site with Imus updates all week long. Is this really news or is it just hot air?


At Wednesday, April 11, 2007, Blogger Amanda M. said...

MK, I totally agree that Imus should be a "jumping off point." All the antagonism by Jackson and Sharpton may Imus into a sympathetic underdog for some white Americans. The Rutgers team has showed a lot of grace by just expressing their feelings and not calling for action against Imus. Let's use this opportunity to talk about this! It seems like we can't even talk about this stuff without being dirtied by the insinuation of racism. Imus got fired by MSNBC today. You could argue that his program did not belong on a news channel. But will any good, will any dialogue come out of his being fired? I hope so.

At Sunday, April 15, 2007, Blogger GN said...

I agree. To me, the issue is not Imus and whether he is racist or not. There are - and always will be - racists and hypocrits out there, and those that just talk before they think. But instead of jumping on the crucification bandwagon and making the debate all about that one person, Jackson , Sharpton and the media should focus on the larger issues represented by Imus' comments. The public would be served better for it.

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