The media dogs have been barking around Don Imus for some insulting comments he made about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The negative attention has been sufficient to cause Imus to lose his job at CBS. I’ve not written anything about it so far because I neither listen to Imus nor look to him for information, so normally I wouldn’t care what he said in any case. But his comments have garnered nation-wide attention, and that in itself makes the situation newsworthy.
The First Amendment says the following about free speech: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” As I read it, Congress is forbidden from telling people what they can or cannot say — and that includes over the airways. A strict Constitutional interpretation of the freedom of speech would prohibit Congress from forbidding or fining people for saying @#$% or &^%$ or even *@%! on the radio or TV, making the old Monty Python song potentially acceptable for airplay. Speaking of what constitutes “permitted speech,” I heard the following sound bite by Al Sharpton on the radio this morning:
It is our feeling that this is only the beginning. We must have a broad discussion on what is permitted and not permitted in terms of the airwaves.
That quote is on the Drudge Report, but interestingly enough, a search for this quote isn’t currently pulling up much. But I find this comment of greater concern to Americans than Imus’ obnoxious comments were. You may say that Imus’ comments were bigoted and inexcusable, and I will agree with you wholeheartedly. But his comments are the act of one man embarrassing himself on the national airwaves by sharing his bigoted feelings with the world. It is his right to say what he wants, even if those words end up getting him in trouble. Sharpton’s comment, by comparison, is frightening in that it represents the thoughts of a single man who believes it is his privilege to dictate to all Americans which thoughts and opinions can and cannot be voiced in public. That is not his role. As much as I am disgusted by comments of the kind that put Imus in such hot water, I’d rather allow him the protections of free speech — even if it means he abuses that protection by spouting inanities — than live in Sharpton’s world of “permitted and not permitted” speech.
The thing I find most interesting about this story is that the media is nipping around Imus’ ankles and barking about his statement, while at the same time giving a pass to others who continue to make far more hateful, misogynistic and racist statements than Imus did. Since Al Sharpton has insisted on inserting himself into this fray, I’ll mention one example of his own race-baiting rhetoric: Tawana Brawley. Where is the media’s condemnation of Sharpton? Where is their outrage at the bigoted statements of Jesse “Hymietown” Jackson? People like Sharpton, Jackson, and numerous rap artists receive a pass from the media, but that same media will continue to bark around Imus for days if not weeks. When I see the media act this way, I am reminded of a particular conversation between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson:
“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
The point of this conversation was that guard dogs don’t bark when their master is about. Who, then, is the media’s master?