Lately it seems that you can’t swing a dead radio career around here without hitting something labeled “Don Imus.” As much as I’m loathe to jump on the bandwagon on any particular issue (I shouldn’t have to jump, as I consider the bandwagon to be my more-or-less permanent home—comfortably furnished and stocked with Cheez Whiz and Saltines), I feel the need to toss out my thoughts on some moaning that a couple of nationally syndicated radio pinheads were engaged in the other day.
It seems that the pinheads, whose names rhyme with Dopey and Shmanthony, were making a great Wringing of the Hands over the idea that a chilling effect would soon cast a blight on radio hosts across this great land of ours. Freedom of speech was their rallying point, and the general consensus seemed to be that, although Imus might have been misguided, shutting him down due to a few spiteful malcontents like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would eventually lead to the demise of democracy, candlelight bowling, and the American Way.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard talk like this—it seems to arise any time a high profile figure gets fired from a broadcast job for allowing the thoughts in his brain to exit his mouth without being filtered through his pay stub. Certainly the thought isn’t original to the radio duo mentioned above, and it won’t end with them either.
Let’s all say this together so we remember it in the morning: Don Imus’ firing had nothing to do with freedom of speech, nor will it. The First Amendment is still in place, and it’s just as strong as it was a few weeks ago, minus the damage done to it over the last several years by the brain trust that insists on protecting us from terrorists by making us take our shoes off to get on a plane.
The firing of Don Imus will neither produce a chilling effect, nor a “corseting of society,” as one radio guest put it. Well, it might make a few radio-types watch their words for the next couple of months, but by the time the All-Star Game rolls around, most will have forgotten about it.
No, Imus’ firing has everything to do with the fact that he proved himself to be an incompetent on nationwide radio.
Some may wonder how I can call the man incompetent. After all, he’s had plenty of success. He’s had a long career and national recognition. He can afford to wear fancy cowboy hats while hanging out on his ranch where he does admittedly nice things for children with cancer.
It’s simple. He had a job. His job was to entertain people. He opened his mouth a bit too wide and let the fact that he is a misogynistic racist fall out. Lots of listeners didn’t find that entertaining. Many of his advertisers didn’t find that entertaining. Most importantly, his bosses at CBS and MSNBC didn’t find it entertaining, and they fired him. That’s the whole story.
We all have bosses, well…most of us do, anyway, and when we do something at work that bothers those bosses, there is a strong likelihood that we’ll be fired. This applies to the kid pushing the mail cart, the up-and-coming executive, and Don Imus. Fortunately, most of us are faced with a fairly simple set of rules that even we can understand; rules that allow us to keep our jobs as long as we conduct ourselves within broad guidelines. One particular rule that tends to hold true across many career paths is that, while your employer may not fire you for being a misogynistic racist on your own time, talking that way at work is almost certain to get you canned.
So Imus spouted off at work and found himself on the street, same as would happen to almost anyone reading this if they acted the way he did. He was stupid and incompetent, and he paid the price. After all those years in broadcasting, he should have known better.
Freedom of speech? I’m all for it, and I’ll even defend Imus’ right to spout his asinine viewpoints on any street corner in the U.S. Of course, I can think of a few intersections where he might not get away uninjured if he talked that way, and if he’s interested I’ll send him a list of suggestions, but that has nothing to do with the First Amendment.
But he won’t be spilling his swill on CBS’s airwaves anymore, and that is as it should be. If national radio hosts ever make a habit of spouting racism and there’s no public outcry, we should probably take a good look at ourselves. Again.
In the meantime, if Don Imus feels that his artistic freedom has been unfairly stifled by his former employers, I have another suggestion for him: get a blog. Sure, the pay sucks, but you can say anything you want.