Friday, April 13, 2007

Story of the Week - April 9-13

Shock and Outrage

Raise your hand if you were a regular IMUS in the morning listener.

Now raise your hand if you watched more than 2 minutes of ANY Rutgers women's basketball game this season, including their loss to Tennessee in the finals.

Now if you raised your hand for both of those things, stand up.

I thought so.

There aren't many people in the middle of that Venn diagram are there?

So, if you didn't watch the Rutgers women and/or you don't listen to Imus, what the hell is going on?

Well, Imus said what he said, and then he apologized, and then Al Sharpton got hold of it and started making noise. A lot of noise. Al Sharpton's basic function in this country is to make noise and appear as outraged as possible. Sharpton made enough noise this time to get Imus suspended for two weeks. Then he and Imus argued on Sharpton's radio show. Apology not accepted, as Sharpton moved to have companies pull sponsorship. And the frenzy began, ending with Imus' complete ouster from, well, broadcasting.

I don't feel bad for Imus. I certainly don't feel bad for Sharpton. I don't feel sorry for women or blacks who might feel victimized by Imus' comments. And I don't feel bad for the Rutgers women's basketball team. Most people can't remember who beat you in the NCAA Finals, but everybody knows you went to the Final Four. And now Vivien Stringer is America's favorite coach. She just bought herself 5 years of top recruits.

There are no victims in this story - except maybe the American people.

By making all of this noise and essentially creating a complete media frenzy, I think Sharpton (and friends) deprives us all from having intelligent discourse and making conscious decisions about what we watch, listen to, and deem important. That is the real tragedy of this story.

The comments about the women's basketball team were 30 seconds of a 5 hour broadcast. They could easily have passed unnoticed from Imus' microphone into the ears of his mostly white, mostly male, listeners. Some of those white men would have agreed with Imus, others would have thought "I thought Florida already won the final four?" and others wouldn't have heard it at all. Other listeners, including some of the old white men, could have heard the comments and been disgusted, turned off the radio and stopped listening to Imus. Some may have told their friends "hey, don't listen to Imus. He's a racist and a sexist and you shouldn't support his show." And if enough people stopped listening, MSNBC would have cancelled the show. I guarantee it.

Instead, we get the media circus. We get talking heads of all shapes, sizes and colors coming on TV and proclaiming shock and outrage at Imus' comments. Shock? Really? Clearly you haven't listened to Imus in.......ever! This is a crusty, narrow-minded old white man, a part of the least tolerant segment of our society. And that segment will find another morning show they like.

What I think should have happened is this - he should have apologized, he should have sat out his two week suspension, and come back to the airwaves with a cleaner version of his show. He could have had the opportunity to bring on guests and engage in real debate about race and media, even (gasp!) give Sharpton the opportunity to reach out to Imus' more narrow minded, whiter base. Instead, Sharpton blew up everything, took it too far, and will continue to be seen by Imus listeners as an arrogant, opportunistic punchline.

I'm sure CNN and FOX News both saw the Imus gaffe as an opportunity to swipe ratings and advertising dollars from MSNBC. And they can thank Sharpton for getting the ball rolling. Sharpton would like MSNBC and WFAN and whoever else to replace Imus with a black or Hispanic host. That has about as much chance as Sharpton's 2004 presidential campaign. In forcing Imus' firing, Sharpton may have lost a new ally in his own fight.

To me, the worst part of the whole story is the fact that it takes time away from more important stories, and true outrages that need the attention of the media.

For example, three members of the Duke men's lacrosse team were absolved of all charges against them and the Durham, NC district attorney has been charged with ethics violations. These guys are actual victims and they deserve at least as much attention now as they did when they were wrongly accused of rape.

Also, The US Army is extending tours in Iraq for 100,000 soldiers. As if the army wasn't overextended enough already fighting a war without a clear enemy and no end in sight. Congressman Charlie Rangel, of Harlem, has been shouting for years about the racial and socioeconomic disparity in the armed forces. His main point is essentially that poor black and Hispanic men are doing most of the fighting and dying in Iraq, and that the privileged white men in the White House don't care about the troops. Rangel has a pretty good point and he deserves a bigger stage. Where is Al Sharpton on this one?

I had an interesting perspective on this whole story as it developed on Wednesday and Thursday. I was pretty much in the middle of the frenzy, making calls to sponsors, escorting Sharpton around the building, and watching the general hysteria of each development. And I hated it. There was too much good, talented energy focused on basically destroying a man's career and tearing the country apart across racial and gender lines. Something wasn't right.

And then, a bit of real news crept in. There was an accident involving New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. Instantly, this was more important, and the energy got refocused. Where is he? Is he hurt? Is it critical? Who's in charge of New Jersey? Was it an attack? In minutes, we had answers.

The governor was on his way to host and mediate a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team at Drumthwacket (the official name of the governor's mansion in Princeton). While Corzine underwent surgery to fix a broken femur, 12 broken ribs and fractured vertebrae, the Rutgers women accepted Imus' apology. And the healing process begins.


brookLyn gaL said...

I agree with most of your points, particularly that there are other more important stories out there. (I feel this way about a good portion of news that is reported these days.)

However, I disagree on a few points. I feel terrible for these women. I personally would feel really miserable of someone called me a ho in a public forum. The fact that the story got so much hype makes it even worse for them.

I also think that it's a good thing that Imus was fired, and I'm not sure why it took so long. I understand that he's a guy who made a mistake, and that he would certainly take it back if he could. I think it was right for the women to accept his apology. However, if we keep letting people say things (and there have been many racist comment cases lately) without severe punishment, people will start to think it's ok to make racist and sexist comments. Many of them clearly already do.

By turning a blind eye, or by giving a light slap on the wrist like suspension, we condone hatred and discrimination.

Harrison said...

Check out the Ostroy Report. Mr. Ostroy agrees with you, especially on Sharpton.