Community Norms vs. Free Speech: Don Imus

Just a brief comment on the current Don Imus controversy.

This morning as I was driving to work I was listening to one of the Philly hip hop radio stations as they were discussing Don Imus' racist and sexist comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Most of the callers were outraged by the remark, and thought Imus should be fired. But the DJs, who I believe were both African American, said they didn't think so. As one of them put it: "We don't really want to go down that road, because if you fire him, it will restrict the kinds of things we can do on our show too." The other DJ then chimed in: "Yeah, you have to respect free speech."

As I heard that statement, I thought, "well, would it be such a bad thing if Don Imus getting fired led morning talk radio to clean up its act?" The current norms -- after 20 years of Howard Stern -- are pretty sad, whether we're talking about the white DJs on the pop/rock stations or the black DJs on the hip hop stations. Sleaze, strippers, and mean-spirited gossip are just about omnipresent. How to change those norms so that racism and sexism become less endemic across the board is really the question, NOT freedom of speech.

The journalist Gwen Ifill, who was the victim of another nasty Imus remark back in 1993, has this to say. Also see Tony Norman's column.


Amrit said...

Hi Amardeep.

I think most people these days don't understand the meaning of "freedom of speech". In the name of freedom I have seen people saying the nastiest things and supporting the most abominable causes you can think of. I know that self-regulation is the best way to curb racism and other violations but we don't live in an ideal world.


Sourav said...

The most outrageous thing I ever came across was the USA for Indonesia parody by some Miss Jones on Hot97. I don't listen to much radio, but I came across it on the Internet. That was not only demeaning and racist, but pathetic and blatantly insensitive considering that millions died.

A friend of mine complained to [I forget where you place complaints related to such stuff], and all he got back was an official reply stating that radio stations are themselves responsible for what they air. That was even more surprising - that you can get away with all this. On the other hand, some CNN anchor was fired after 9/11 for saying that the terrorists were brave.