Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Don Imus Firing--Lack of Redemption or Justice?

When the Don Imus story broke last week, I purposefully held back on writing anything. Truth be told, I was sorting through my own thoughts as to whether or not he should be fired.

In case you have lived in a cave the past two weeks, Don Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy-headed ho's." After receiving a two-week suspension from CBS Radio and MSNBC, both programs fired Imus this week. Was this justice, or should Imus, who repeatedly apologized, have been given a second chance?

The question I had for myself was, if I leaned towards a second chance, was it because of my Christian background and belief in forgiveness and redemption? Or was it because I was a white male and didn't feel the true reprehensible nature of his words because of my "power" status in society? This was a real question that I debated in my own mind.

Imus' remarks were racist and derogatory towards all women. Imus has always said rude and cruel things, but usually they were directed towards those in power who were much better equipped to handle such things. This time he picked on the powerless--18-22 year old kids who should have been celebrating a great achievement, but instead find themselves belittled and made fun of for their race, gender, and physical appearance. There is nothing worse than a bully, which Imus proved to be on this occasion.

Imus was, I believe, fired for several reasons. First, the press conference that the Rutgers women's coach and team put on made Imus look incredibly small. The coach was incredibly well-spoken. Many of the members were outstanding in different ways--pretty, intelligent, talented. To their credit, they held back calling for his job and were willing to meet him. This only exposed Imus' own smallness.

Second, corporate sponsors began to flee the show. Talk radio is about making money, even if freedom of speech is allowed. But there was a sense from hearing the NBC News president speak that this was more than about money. The fact that corporations and network news executives will no longer put up with this kind of speech is telling how much America has changed in the last 50 years. Fifty years ago, racist and offensive sexist language was rampant at many levels of corporate America.

But the thing that seemed to really cause Imus to lose his job was his lack of support amongst his NBC colleagues. It was clear that he had few friends and few defenders. He simply had been cruel to too many people. There were reports that he used much racist language in private, making his apology ring hollow for many. This goes to show us that if we want people to support us during difficult times, we must build up a resovoiur of support.

I am a Christian, and I believe in forgiveness and redemption. I believe that Imus was sincere in his apology, and perhaps for the first time, wanted to change. He is a seemingly complex man, who has done much good with charity work. If we were in his shoes, would we not want a second chance too?

Truth be told, I cannot sort out my Christian background and superior, white male position enough to know which is influencing me. At the beginning of the week, I thought that he should be given a second chance based upon his seemingly sincere apology and willingness to make restitution. However, by the end of the week I became much more sympathetic to the position that he should be fired. For me, the tide turned when I heard about his pattern of racist remarks in private. It is one thing to make an on air mistake, even a large one. It is another to have a life time pattern of cruelty, both on and off the air. Tucker Carlson said that Imus was one of the most unpleasant men that he had ever known.

Imus tried to have it both ways--claiming to have an entertainment show and "shock jock" status, but then having senators and presidential candidates on his show with serious political discourse. As an American I defend his right to freedom of speech, but no one in position of power ought to use that power for cruelty to get a laugh, particularly against the powerless.

If Imus decides to put on a different show, and he can find a willing on-air partner, he should be given a second chance. Doesn't God do so with us? Justice was probably done here, but we should not be so quick to call for justice for others. As Jesus said, whatever measure we use to judge others will be used to judge us. I am saddened at his firing, even if deserved. I pray I never find myself in the same position. And if I do, I hope that I have built up enough of a resovoir of good will that others will say, no this is not who James is. He made a mistake, but we know his heart. Isn't that what you would want too?

Please let me know your thoughts. This is an important discussion.


The Queen said...

Your opinions and thoughts were well stated. I can see that you have wrestled with this and have come to an informed decision factoring in not only the facts, but your position within society. I respect that.

As for my own feelings, I think society wants a head on a platter for most offenses. Sometimes the public outcry for justice is not equal to the offense committed.

This was a complex issue and the fact that the girls were articulate, attractive, and hard-working made the decision seem like a no-brainer. Would the outcome have been the same if had they been the opposite?

Good thoughts... thanks James.

vintagebee said...

I can agree with most of your thoughts on this matter.
I think it is a good thing that an apology was issued by Imus, but were his intentions sincere? Only God and he can know that. (I hope they were.)
In my opinion, there were probably more financial motives for his firing, but I can't say that I don't agree. I don't think this is an isolated incident; it happens all the time in the media.
It has brought up quite the stir from certain civil rights activists. (not surprised) I'm not sure that there is a bigger picture here though. What Imus said was uncalled for, but really getting down to the root of the matter, the media is LOADED with negative stereotypes on african americans. (I'm sure I don't need to name those.) ....and that could bring up a whole other dicussion.

Tough issue...

James said...


Thanks for your response. Yes, society is quick to demand retribution and punishment.

We live in a litigous society (sorry, John!). It seems that we are all waiting to be offended. And yes, many times, the punishment that is called for far exceeds the "crime." Witness some of the outrageous jury awards of recent years.

As to whether or not the outcome would have been the same if the Rutgers team had been less "articulate" (that has been a buzz word too, Cynthia), attractive and hard-working, that is a good question. We must come to value people because they are God's children, not because of what they look like or what they do.

James said...


I agree that only God knows Imus' sincerity. For my part, he seemed sincere, as if waking up for the first time to the hurt that he caused.

Words have real power, and we must learn to use them to heal, not destroy.

Money always factors into these decisions. And to a certain extent, they should, because this is partly a barometer of public opinion as to the seriousness of the offense. It should not be the only factor, however.

Thanks for your thoughts. It's good to have you join the discussion.

Anonymous said...

You're saddened at his firing? Perhaps I am more cynical than you of the human spirit of a man with a long history of similiar behavior and crassness, but I am not as easily convinced that his sudden "sincerity" is legit. What are you reasons for believing this guy? He's in entertainment, it's his job to make you believe him. What he said was derogatory and inappropriate and I think if it were your daughter involved, you might not be so quick to believe in his "changed ways". Even so, if he is sorry we should soon see a new and improved Imus from here on out, that would be the proof.

James said...


I am always saddened when people make mistakes and have to suffer for these. I thought that the execution of Saddam Hussein was a sad occasion, even though he clearly deserved his death because of the hundreds of thousands of people that he killed and terrorized. Is not God saddened when he has to discipline us, even though we deserve it?

I do not mean by this that I condone Imus' long history of insulting people. Or that he did not deserve to be fired. His firing is a corporate decision.

My fear, however, is that the policies and decisions of the corporate world are automatically carried over into the church. We need purity, yes. But we also need to be quick to forgive, and to not seek to judge people's hearts.

God used peeople like David (an adulterer and instigator of a murder), Paul (a persecutor of the church and an accessory to murder), and Peter (who denied Christ and thus the "Christian faith) as church leaders. No matter what happens out in the world, in the church we must be a people of love, forgiveness and redemption. Even if such actions are directed against our own children. After all, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing."

Thanks for the thoughts. This is a difficult subject.

Vasquez Adoption Experience said...

One issue no one has yet brought up is the idea of what is okay by one race but not by another.

Being of both Mexican and Italian background, I know there are certain stereotypes that go along with seemingly all nationalities except Caucasian. Growing up, I've been called a great many of these that correspond with my backgrounds and I've always felt they were not okay by anyone (of my similar background or not).

That said, I believe Imus was wrong in what he said, but if Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson wants to take someone's head they better get in line. Hip-Hop and Rap artists have been saying similar things and worse since the mid-80's with the blanket of free speech to enjoy as a cover.

Using what Imus said plus the "n" word and many other demeaning and deplorable is a longstanding tradition in that community of artists and sadly role models for an entire nation of youth.

Minorities say it's a matter of who can say what because of skin color or background, but I say there's never a place for anyone to say those things.

Other shock jocks like Howard Stern and Mancow Muller get away with crud like that all the time and while Stern hitailed it to satellite radio, he and others provided less than intellectual radio than Imus and barely received a smack on the wrist for their antics. Sure, Imus should have apologized (and did), and while it's not for me to decide whether or not he meant it, he did it and that counts for something. Sure, fine him or suspend him for a while to show the world we're not in favor of that, but to take it to the degree it has gone without punishing others is silly.

It's silly because just like the other MTV Hip-Hop and Rap garbage out there (and the list is long), if I don't want to hear it, I can change the channel or do something else. The same could be said for Imus' show, but the public needed a scapgoat, and they got it.