- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2007

Let us now praise infamous men.

When the dust settled on Imus-gate, one might understandably have assumed that, after CBS Radio administered its coup de grace to Don Imus, agitators such as the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson had bagged their target and would cynically slink away.

Many conservative commentators were quick to make just such a knee-jerk assumption.

They pointed out — along with Mr. Imus himself — that the shock jock was hardly the first to utter the term “ho.” Such crudity pours out of hip-hop radio every day, they quite correctly observed.

Would Al Sharpton and friends denounce the gangsta rappers?

Mr. Sharpton, for his part, promised he would.

“We will not stop until we make it clear that no one should denigrate women,” he said after Mr. Imus’ termination. “We must deal with the fact that ‘ho’ and the b-word are words that are wrong from anybody’s lips. … There are others [read: rappers] that need to get this same message.”

It was the right rhetoric — but can you blame conservative critics if they were a wee bit skeptical that he actually meant it as anything more than a perfunctory nod toward moral consistency?

But it’s now been more than two weeks since Mr. Imus was dumped, and — who’da thunk it? — Al Sharpton is still on the warpath.

Don Imus’ firing was knocked out of the headlines by the massacre at Virginia Tech — but its repercussions are only just beginning to be felt.

Last week, at a conference in Manhattan sponsored by his National Action Network (NAN), Mr. Sharpton assailed gangsta rap, calling it “misogynistic” and accusing its purveyors of being money-grubbing poseurs.

“Many of these rappers did not even come from the ‘hood. They’re just visiting the ‘hood to sell records,” he charged, according to the New York Daily News. “They’re calling people in the ‘hood ‘hos’ … and they’re saying ‘yes, ma’am’ to the people in the Hamptons.”

Mr. Sharpton also held up NAN’s James Brown Cultural Impact Award to Universal Music Group executive Antonio “L.A.” Reid, given the label’s association with rappers such as Ludacris.

For the moment, at least, the confrontation seems to have the hip-hop industry on its heels. After reports that Universal and hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons canceled donations to the NAN conference in protest of Mr. Sharpton’s anti-gangsta-rap campaign, both the label and Mr. Simmons quickly denied this was the case.

The denials were perhaps hastened by another flurry of precision blows from Mr. Sharpton: So they backed my conference originally, he jabbed, because they thought I’d keep quiet about rap lyrics — not because they shared my opposition to inner-city police brutality?

Mr. Simmons, currently hawking a book about spirituality and financial success, had initially tried to de-link the Imus scandal from criticism about profane rap lyrics. “Comparing Don Imus’ language with hip-hop artists’ poetic expression is misguided and inaccurate and feeds into a mindset that can be a catalyst for unwarranted, rampant censorship,” Mr. Simmons said in an April 13 statement.

He has since changed his tune.

Earlier this week, Mr. Simmons emerged from a private “summit” with industry executives and called for a uniform policy for the broadcasting of rap songs. Singling out three racial and sexual epithets as “extreme curse words” that should always be scrubbed from recordings sent to radio stations, Mr. Simmons said: “This is a first step. It’s a clear message and a consistency that we want the industry to accept for more corporate and social responsibility.”

Actually, Mr. Simmons’ was a second step — a feeble one, at that, and one he wasn’t likely to have taken at all had it not been for Mr. Sharpton’s deft public jujitsu.

All of which poses an interesting quandary for conservatives, whose instincts, with some justification, have been to pay little heed to the substance of Mr. Sharpton’s campaign and, instead, remind themselves of his long history of racial demagoguery, right up to his cheerleading for the rape indictments of the Duke University lacrosse players.

Yet, here is an instance where Mr. Sharpton, quite fearlessly, has spoken out against elements of the entertainment industry that have coarsened our popular culture.

Indeed, he sounded eerily conservative with this peremptory dismissal of the familiar confusion about the First Amendment: “People have a right to free speech. We also have a right to free speech — to say we don’t like it.”

Natalie Maines, please take note.

Republican presidential front-runner Rudolph W. Giuliani recently recalled, in another context, former President Reagan’s dictum that “my 80-percent ally is not my 20-percent enemy.”

It may well be the case that Al Sharpton is an 80 percent (or worse) enemy of the right.

But it’s also the case that he is right about gangsta rap — and appears to be in a unique position to do something about it.

Conservatives ought at least to say so.

Can we spare the reverend an “amen”?

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