In the wake of the Don Imus career implosion, media critics, activists and professional thumbsuckers are debating whether the rules of media argy-bargy have changed.
In a long cover story, Time magazine asks, "Who can say what?" Civil rights ambulance-chaser Al Sharpton says this is the "beginning" of a "broad discussion on what is permitted and not permitted on the airwaves."
On the surface, it does kind of look like a new standard is emerging. After all, by my rough estimate, this was the 1,981,293rd stupid or offensive thing Imus said on his radio show, and yet for reasons hard to fathom this was the one that made him a pariah.
The truth is, however, the rules haven't changed at all - and that's why this story is so maddeningly annoying.
First of all, there are no champions here, no heroes. In fact, there shouldn't even be victims. I agree entirely that Imus' "nappy-headed ho's" comments were offensive and insulting. But what on earth is wrong with the Rutgers' women's basketball team? One player dramatically protested that Imus' insults "scarred me for life."
Really? An aging, dyspeptic poster boy for Viagra says something stupid about you and you're scarred for life? What kind of pride is their coach instilling in them?
Meanwhile, we're supposed to submit to lectures from Al Sharpton about what is "permissible" to say in public life? When exactly did someone invest Al Sharpton with such moral or intellectual authority?
Sharpton has real victims on his rap sheet. He incited Harlem protestors to fight back against Jewish "white interlopers." When one of the protestors invaded a store and set fire to it, killing eight people, Sharpton denied he'd ever spoken at the rally in question. When tapes of Sharpton's incendiary speech were produced, he responded, "What's wrong with denouncing white interlopers?" And let's not even replay the Tawana Brawley episode.
Then there's the smug journalistic establishment, which has been kissing Imus' behind for a decade. Suddenly, they're shocked, shocked by Imus' insensitivity. Please. If they are so concerned with the damage done by hurtful comments, why aren't they begging for forgiveness like Henry in the snows of Canossa for their rush to judgment in the Duke lacrosse scandal?
And liberal politicians, too - most of whom once upon a time lined up to use Imus' megaphone - are suddenly dismayed by Imus' comments. Sen. Barack Obama, for example, called for Imus to be fired for his "ho" comments. OK, but Obama and other leading Democrats routinely meet with rappers, such as Ludacris, who use "ho" - and worse - so much that if you were to delete such terms from some of their songs you'd have little more than a backbeat left.