Once again, a riveting crisis is gripping the nation. Now that we all know who the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby is, we have a new media obsession—radio shock jock Don Imus.
Is anybody surprised by Imus’s demeaning comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team? I have always found him to be deliberately outrageous, anti-Semitic, and generally offensive. If I hear his voice when I turn on the radio, I cut it off.
Like millions of Americans, I have watched the almost non-stop coverage of the Rutgers women’s basketball team. They are the classic Horatio Alger story. On the court, they were underdogs but won national fame by reaching the NCAA women’s finals. Off the court, they have responded to the Imus controversy with sensibility, intelligence, and thoughtfulness.
So, now we are confronted with a classic dilemma. Imus has made a racist, sexist slur on the public airwaves. But remember the First Amendment. What does CBS radio and MSNBC do? Well, MSNBC has already announced it will no longer carry his broadcast. Good.
But as a radio broadcaster myself, I respect freedom of speech, and I understand why broadcasters would defend their First Amendment rights. (Of course, there’s also another issue at stake: that is, Imus and others like him make millions of dollars a year for broadcasters. Media companies are businesses, after all. And don’t forget, controversy sells.)
But I do have a proposal: We can respect Don Imus’s freedom of speech, and the freedom of speech of others who copy him, like Howard Stern—a whole genre of broadcasters. But let’s balance it with our own freedom of choice. Let’s boycott the products of those companies that choose to promote Imus and his ilk on the air. Some companies have done that now with Imus. If he stays on CBS or any other network, watch or listen to some different network. The best way to silence an obnoxious bully like this is the remote-control switch.
The Sicilians used to have a very effective way of dealing with miscreants in their midst. They would simply turn their backs on them and refuse to speak to them. This is an excruciating punishment. I know what it is like to be shunned by the establishment, because I went through it in Watergate.
Then there’s the Washington establishment. For years, every political candidate has beaten his way to Imus’s door. Everybody selling a book has begged to get on his program. That needs to stop. Politicians and authors—all of us—ought to turn our backs on the shock jock bigot.
This will give a wonderful test of the character of this country. If listeners continue to listen to Imus and consumers continue to buy products advertised on his show, then we are responsible for Don Imus—and for insulting those beautiful young athletes at Rutgers.
So let’s leave it to the good sense of the American people and the free market. Mr. Imus has his right of free speech—I have my freedom of choice, and I have already made it.