In the end, it was not about Imus. It was about us.
Are we really a better country because, after he was publicly whipped for 10 days as the worst kind of racist, with whom no decent person could associate, he was thrown off the air?
Cards on the table.
This writer works for MSNBC, has been on the Imus show scores of times, watches Imus every morning, and likes the show, the music and the guys: the I-Man, Bernie, Charles and Tom Bowman.
And Imus is among the best interviewers in our business. Not only does he read and follow the news closely, he listens and probes as well as any interviewer in America. Because he is a comic, people mistake how good a questioner he is.
Is "Imus in the Morning" outrageous? Over the top at times? Are things said every week, if not every day, where you say, "He's going too far"? Yeah. But outrageousness is part of the show, whether the skits are of "Teddy Kennedy," "Reverend Falwell," "Mayor Nagin" or "The Cardinal."
And when Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "tattooed ... nappy-headed ho's," he went over the top. The women deserved an apology. There was no cause, no call to use those terms. As Ann Coulter said, they were not fair game.
But Imus did apologize, again and again and again.
And lest we forget, these are athletes in their prime, the same age as young women in Iraq. They are not 5-year-old girls, and they are capable of brushing off an ignorant comment by a talk-show host who does not know them, or anything about them.
Who, after all, believed the slur was true? No one.
Compare, if you will, what was done to them -- a single nasty insult -- to the savage slanders for weeks on end of the Duke lacrosse team and the three players accused by a lying stripper of having gang-raped her at a frat party.
Duke faculty and talking heads took that occasion to vent their venom toward all white "jocks" on college campuses. Where are the demands for apologies from the talk-show hosts, guests, Duke faculty members and smear artists, all of whom bought into the lies about those Duke kids -- because the lies comported with their hateful view of America?And hate is what this is all about.
While the remarks of Imus and Bernie about the Rutgers women were indefensible, they were more unthinking and stupid than vicious and malicious. But malice is the right word to describe the howls for their show to be canceled and them to be driven from the airwaves -- by phonies who endlessly prattle about the First Amendment.
The hypocrisy here was too thick to cut with a chainsaw.
What was the term the I-Man used? It was "ho's," slang for whores, a term employed ad infinitum et ad nauseam by rap and hip-hop "artists." It is a term out of the African-American community. Yet, if any of a hundred rap singers has lost his contract or been driven from the airwaves for using it, maybe someone can tell me about it.
If the word "ho's" is a filthy insult to decent black women, and it is, why are hip-hop artists and rap singers who use it incessantly not pariahs in the black community? Why would black politicians hobnob with them? Why are there no boycotts of the advertisers of the radio stations that play their degrading music?
Answer: The issue here is not the word Imus used. The issue is who Imus is -- a white man, who used a term about black women only black folks are permitted to use with impunity and immunity.
"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," says Sharpton. It says something about America that someone with Al's track record can claim the role of national censor.
Who is next? And why do we take it?
I did a bad thing, but I am not a bad person, says Imus. Indeed, whoever used his microphone to do more good for more people -- be they the cancer kids of Imus Ranch, the families of Iraq war dead now more justly compensated because of the I-Man or the cause of a cure for autism?
"We know of no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality," said Lord Macaulay. Unfortunately, Macauley never saw the likes of the Revs. Sharpton and Jackson.
Imus threw himself on the mercy of the court of elite opinion -- and that court, pandering to the mob, lynched him. Yet, for all his sins, he was a better man than the lot of them rejoicing at the foot of the cottonwood tree.