- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

If a radio shock-jock’s career thrives on sleaze and controversy, Don Imus isn’t yet headed for retirement. After insulting the Rutgers University women’s basketball team by calling them “some nappy-headed hos” a week ago, he has been inundated by criticism — all of it warranted. Mr. Imus was blatantly offensive, and regardless of whether he intended to disparage the Rutgers women, it’s impossible to imagine how those players — and their coaches, friends and families — wouldn’t feel belittled and insulted.

Both CBS, which syndicates his radio program, and MSNBC, which broadcasts the show on cable television, suspended Mr. Imus for two weeks. CBS’s decision to suspend him was made by executives from CBS News and its parent, the CBS Corp. NBC called the remarks “deplorable,” “racist” and “abhorrent.” CBS denounced the episode and said the company was “disappointed by Imus’s actions… which we find completely inappropriate.”

Criticism has been loud and wide. In his column, The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson takes Mr. Imus to task and levels an attack on all shock-jocks: “Drive-time radio has become a free-fire zone, a forum for crude and objectionable speech that would be out of bounds anywhere else.” The truth, however, is that Mr. Imus’ affront is of a piece with much of what passes for popular entertainment. That includes what media giants like NBC Universal, parent of NBC News and MSNBC, and the CBS Corp., formerly part of Viacom, offer as entertainment for the masses. Responding only to public pressure and failing to pull other entertainment offerings out of the gutter smells like corporate hypocrisy.

Mr. Imus’ use of “ho” as a derogatory word for woman, as Mr. Robinson observes, “was introduced to the popular lexicon by hip-hop music and that appears to have become firmly established.” Indeed, Viacom and its cable networks MTV and BET played a role in establishing such speech. Although Viacom and CBS split in 2006, Viacom founder Sumner Redstone is chairman of the board and controlling shareholder of both companies. “Nappy-headed hos” became a controversy on “Imus in the Morning,” but sadly the remark would not likely have raised so much as an eyebrow if used in a music video.

The fact that the outrage was led by the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who have dabbled in vicious racism themselves from time to time — Mr. Sharpton encouraged a deadly riot against Jews in Crown Heights and Mr. Jackson once called New York City “Hymietown” — does nothing to soften the Imus offense. Messrs. Sharpton and Jackson, who have demanded that Mr. Imus be fired, might now lead a campaign to clean up offensive language throughout the entertainment industry. Such a campaign is long overdue, but we won’t hold our breath.

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