News Articles

Insensitivity Pays

8/17/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Pollsters, seemingly weekly these days, ask the public what they think of the president (hate him) and Congress (hate them more).

Then many polls ask Americans if they think “the country is on the right track,” an odd phrase that we suppose is vague enough that it serves as a catch-all for everything else people feel about how things are going in the 50 states.

Most recently, the Zogby poll determined 64% of us think things are on the “wrong track.” A June Washington Post-ABC News poll discovered 73% of the respondents said the country is “pretty seriously on the wrong track.”

We're not voting here, but most of the news accounts of the right track/wrong track question seem to suggest what's bugging Americans are strictly governmental issues. We wonder if it isn't something more sociological than that—that somehow things just aren't fair, from Paris Hilton's jail time to Barry Bonds' home run “record.”

We thought about all this again last week when CBS settled legal issues with former shock-jock Don Imus, who in April really shocked everybody when he referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

He lost his job at CBS-owned WFAN-AM and MSNBC quit running a video version of his radio show every morning. With settlement of contractual issues—neither side will say what that settlement spells out—Imus is free to find a new gig somewhere else.

It's that kind of thing that we think make some people say American is on the wrong track. We celebrate villains, or at the very least, we too quickly give them the opportunity to get rich and famous again.

Broadcasting & Cable has a long and sturdy tradition of defending free speech and we have no problem with just about anything that is uttered on the airwaves, as long as the speaker knows that irresponsible, hateful talk will be dealt with by responsible management. Imus was an idiot to have said what he did. But management didn't do much when he made similar remarks in the past. That's what shock jocks do, and they bring in millions of dollars in revenue.

The Imus dismissal in some places is now being seen as a free speech issue in which he, not the women's basketball team, is who we should feel sorry for. But we don't. It is fine with us that Imus and CBS settled, but it strikes us as unseemly that there appears to be a long line of radio executives who want to pay him handsomely to do it again.

In a sense, we think he needs to serve more time.

No one is forced to listen to Imus—we know the change-the-channel argument. But millions will listen, just as they do to Rush Limbaugh, who not long ago reported the demise of a women's radio network owned in part by Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem and referred to their station as WPMS, and then added, “Their period's over.” So clever!

The FCC doesn't have to have rules that would inhibit Limbaugh from that kind of immature, vile talk, nor should they. But you'd think managers of the stations that carry his show would at least be offended and let him know about it loudly. Then again, if it's just money that matters the nation really is “pretty seriously on the wrong track.”

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