My first thought was "good riddance." I had never listened to Imus in the Morning, but had caught (accidentally) a few riffs of Howard Stern, and rejected them both outright for their mean spirited repartee.
I am no fan of any of these "shock jocks" who love to put down everyone who isn't like them and think it's funny. They remind me of bullies in the schoolyard, a phenomenon I am familiar with from my long-ago youth, and have no desire to perpetuate in the grown-up world.
Unfortunately, many people find these commentators funny, or they feel vindicated in their own not-very-hidden prejudices when they hear comments by the radio personalities that mirror their own feelings and thoughts.
I'm sure Imus is not sorry for what he said about the Rutgers basketball team members. I think he's sorry he got in trouble and lost his job. And I don't think CBS or MSNBC are sorry either. They are just sorry they lost the support of their advertisers. If Imus had "gotten away with" his comments, and had just increased his audience by the notoriety, CBS and MSNBC would have been happy to keep him on board and continue to rake in the big bucks. After all, how many other equally offensive things has he said over the last 30 years and not gotten fired?
We all know that not all derogatory speech is created equal. People on the other side of the racial divide often say things that are biased against whites or other groups and they get a pass. And it's always still open season on gays and fat people, as Harvey Fierstein pointed out in yesterday's Times op-ed piece. Imus is just the scapegoat because he picked the wrong people to pick on, and they called him on it.
Maybe the bigger question is, why do we as a country lionize these people who make their living putting down other people and speaking with offensive language? When did our society become so crass, so crude, that we no longer have any standard of decency?
I'm not saying that we should go back to the days when a married couple on TV had to have twin beds, a la Rob and Laurie Petrie, and when "All in the Family" shocked people by having a toilet flush - imagine - in the background! But I am fondly recollecting the time when George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine truthfully reported there were indeed seven words you absolutely could not say on television. Admittedly, in talking about them, Carlin did say them. But not on television. After watching some recent episodes of South Park and my first ever episode of the Sopranos (we just got HBO) I know that the limits he was talking about are long gone, at least on cable.
And that is just one breakdown in civility in this country. Speech against other groups has never been stronger on the "shock jocks" radio that many everyday people seem to flock to. On one hand, some deride efforts at civility as "political correctness" and yet there is more non-PC talk then ever.
People like Imus cross the line on the radio all the time. It isn't until someone says "No, this is wrong, and we aren't going to take it," that this kind of talk is stopped.
The hostility and mean-spirited commentary spills over from the shock jocks onto other talk radio. Ann Coulter says horrible things about the liberals and anyone else she doesn't agree with; and so do many other commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, and his callers. The hatred that oozes from these people just because they don't agree with others on political issues is unbelievable. And of course, the vituperation can happen on the other side too.
I am totally against censorship; I'm not a card-carrying member of the ACLU, but would be if I got up the energy to join. The government shouldn't be regulating what is said on radio. But the marketplace and the audience have the right to regulate it. And in this case, they did just that.
Maybe it's time people turned off the radio when they hear hateful comments about others. Maybe it's time we stopped writing about them in People magazine. Maybe it's time we just say no to this type of "entertainment."
There is plenty of talk radio that stays within the bounds of civility and still manages to be entertaining: The Curtis and Kuby show on WABC radio, for instance. Two opposing viewpoints, good discussions, intelligent (for the most part) call-ins. But they don't cross the line. Kuby of course is the liberal, and is plenty PC, but even Curtis is respectful of diversity even though his opinions lean in the opposite direction from Kuby.
You don't have to be a bully to have a good radio show. And maybe it's time we went back to an era where people were more careful not to use language that hurts. Perhaps these shock jocks have forgotten that the people they are speaking about are actually people like themselves, people with feelings and hopes and dreams. The Rutgers women's basketball team reminded Imus of this. And the airwaves are cleaner for the reminder.
Now if only the other talk-radio show hosts would think about this as well. Maybe we could finally have a civil conversation about issues in this country instead of a shouting match of bullies throwing words like stones at each other.