Everyone who watched the Rutgers Women respond to the shameful remarks of Don Imus knows that they achieved a triumph of dignity and grace in the face of insult, bigotry and blatantly racist/sexist trash talk. Their anger turned to fortitude, a quiet determination to rise above the hurt. As I watched the press conference, I found myself thinking about our own students at Trinity and how confident I am that our Trinity Women would respond in the same elegant way to provocation, no matter how hurtful the taunt.
UPDATE AS OF 6 PM: CBS HAS ANNOUNCED THAT IT IS DROPPING THE IMUS SHOW “IMMEDIATELY”
I disagree with Washington Post Sports Columnist Sally Jenkins who contends in her column today that Imus should be allowed to continue broadcasting. She claims that Imus seems “sincerely ashamed” and should be forgiven. She also reveals, deep into her column, that she’s been a guest on Imus, which certainly seems to color her position.
But I also disagree strongly with several other comments she makes: she keeps calling the Rutgers Women “kids,” a terribly patronizing phrase that keeps infantilizing college students who are, in fact, young adults — and it’s almost as patronizing as those commentators who are now saying it’s just amazing that these young women could stand up and speak in complete sentences. There’s something just plain wrong about the unspoken assumption beneath that line of commentary — there’s that “articulate” thing again. Jenkins also makes a particularly nasty comment about Jesse Jackson, who has had his own episodes of loose talk, but in this context, the barb makes Jenkins’ commentary seem insincere at best.
Jenkins and others have also raised the “freedom of speech” defense to say that Imus should be allowed to keep broadcasting. This argument is simply not correct. The Constitutional protection of freedom of speech protects citizens from governmental abridgement of the right to speak freely, but even that right is not unlimited. The airwaves are already limited by governmental regulation as well as by private restraint about what is or is not appropriate to broadcast.
Air time is paid for by major corporations who advertise, and to their credit, several major sponsors have chosen to stop advertising on the Imus show. Moreover, private corporations like CBS, MSNBC and others can certainly choose to impose consequences on unprofessional conduct, and those consequences can certainly include ceasing the employment of a serial offender against commonly accepted standards for commentary. Imus has a long record of similarly shameful, racist, sexist, homophobic commentaries. He is free to find other outlets for his ugly points of view, but he does not have a “right” to keep getting paid for spewing hatred.