Friday, April 13, 2007

More on Imus story

I don't want to flood the swamp that's stewing Don Imus and his rolling head, but I think I need to spout off for a moment. Has the media gone overboard with this story? Yes, if you consider other stories that went largely unnoticed this week.

Still, some news stations have driven this story forward. After running Imus off the air (with the cannibilistic fervor we often see when the media players descend on their peers), some news programs have taken a close look at racism and sexism in the United States.

Reporters could cover the story as such: An old Caucasian shock jock is axed after he reveals his racism. Standing alone, that report would scapegoat Imus, driving a sword through his heart gladiator-style to entertain a bloodthirsty, modern-day Collosseum audience. But some news sources, such as CNN, have used Imus's personal misstep as a launch pad to broach meatier issues.

Some argue that news gatekeepers played into the hands of special interests by turning the Imus story into a race story. Yes, the debacle only became a hot-button racial debate when the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson scrambled to push it into the limelight. Jackson and Sharpton certainly capitalized -- and, some would say, exploited -- Imus's plight.

But I don't think the media were pawns in their game. Jackson and Sharpton tried to set the news agenda, but producers didn't take notes passively. Some media pushed the Jackson and Sharpton PR spin to a higher level by asking some long overdue questions: Are rap artists just as responsible to eliminate racist and sexist words from the vernacular? Is the fury over Imus's three-word insult hypocritical?

These questions need to be asked. They are too often sweep race under the rug. If no one paid attention to Imus's repulsive comments,we might be considered complicitous to the power structure that brews beneath a few casual insults. For a moment, let's argue that Imus was not worth a discussion about race. Then, what kind of issues DO merit that kind of discussion? Racism would appear to be a can that can be kicked down the road for another day, another producer's rundown and another news station. Economic and social inequalities are everywhere, and race is an integral part of discussing that hegemonic dynamic.

If for nothing else, I appreciated the attention paid to the Imus story because some African-Americans were able to make their views known during TV appearances. Blacks rarely appear on TV as experts. Why is that? Some might argue that the pool of qualified Black "official sources" is much smaller. Others might say that the news gatekeepers are racists who don't recruit minority talent as aggressively as they should. I'm not here to nail down that answer with any degree of certainty. However, I believe the disproportionate number of African-Americans is a result of this country's less-than-perfect reality.

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