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.