Gross Media Coverage

There is an inherent understanding in American popular culture today that suggests that the comments of certain individuals are not to be taken into serious consideration. Shock jocks represent a significant portion of these individuals within the media, and usually the illicit discussions of radio hosts, like Howard Stern or Don Imus, are not paid any mind, save for those who use their shows as evidence of our degrading culture. However, after Mr. Imus’s comments regarding the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team were made publicly obvious through the reporting and analysis of ESPN, the entire situation, which should have been handled internally by CBS without any pressure provided by other media sources, was blown completely out of proportion. The media circus that centered around his comments on both his and Al Sharpton’s radio shows only served to make Mr. Imus a martyr for the radical Right Wing rather than to rightfully place him in popular obscurity. Although there is no question that Mr. Imus’s comments were racist, sexist and hurtful, Rutgers University’s reaction to the comments was excessive. Even after Mr. Imus had issued an apology for his comments, Rutgers exploited the situation for publicity by holding a news conference where the university’s president, head coach, and two players essentially stomped Imus into the ground, saying that his comments had ruined their joy in participating in the NCAA Women’s Championship game. This conference, televised live by every major news organization, alienated the university and its sympathizers from listeners of “Imus in the Morning,” and pushed listeners back onto Mr. Imus’s side. This increased the social significance of the situation, and through intense media pressure, CBS was essentially forced to cancel Mr. Imus’ program. The aggression from other media sources and advertisers, while well-intentioned, was too severe, as it created increased support for Imus from some members of the Right Wing. The conservative media backed Don Imus by claiming that it was hypocritical for CBS to fire a shock jock for calling some women “nappy-headed ho’s” when rappers played on affiliate stations use worse words on a regular basis. In addition to making a hero out of a man who simply should have lost ratings, the press, namely ESPN and other sports services, must also be reprimanded for their hypocrisy in the reporting of this situation. While the condemnation of Mr. Imus’s comments was just, some sports writers, such as the Philadelphia Enquirer’s Stephen A. Smith, took their opinions to the point where they were damning their own right of free speech. On ESPN’s SportsCenter, Mr. Smith explicitly stated that he thought, “It’s a shame that these kind of comments are allowed to be made in this country today.” While it is a shame that they were made in the first place, surely someone as outspoken as Mr. Smith (his talk show on ESPN2 was cancelled after a year due to low ratings attributed to viewer alienation) can come to realize that limiting free speech in the media is a socially slippery path to travel on. Towards the end of his column that he wrote for the Enquirer on April 8th, Mr. Smith quoted Spike Lee, “Imus don’t know what I was talking about with School Daze, and it’s evident with unfortunate comments like that. They’ll probably have bigger ratings next week because of it, too.” Ironically, this is exactly the opposite of what would have happened, as the disgusted moderates who listened to “Imus in the Morning” would have been driven away from the show by his comments. Instead, due to excessive media attention, a larger group of people who did not listen to Mr. Imus’s show will now be inclined to listen to him once his inevitable acquisition by satellite radio occurs, and his social relevance will be higher than ever.