Imus scandal prompts debate on “forgiveness” in the Information Age

“I would have fired Don Imus years ago. Because he’s boring. And if he should have been fired as a racist, that, also, should have occurred years ago. Howard Stern has been exposing his racism for more than a decade (odd, by the way, that few if any news reports went to Stern for this perspective). I’m no fan of Imus. I panned him in TV Guide years ago. I won’t miss him now that he’s gone. I think what he said was as stupid as it was offensive — that is, colossally on both counts.But I do think we need to stand back for a moment, just a moment, and examine the process of public scalpings in media, on the internet, and in politics today. This was Don Imus’ macaca moment and it was amplified to an 11 by the piranhaesque repetition of it on cable news (and, in this case, less so on the internet) and then by the calls for his execution from all the usual executioners.”

(Via Buzz Machine)

In response to the Imus debacle, Jeff Jarvis brings up an interesting question: how forgiving should the media be of public figures? As the 2007 State of the Media report has argued, the advent of 24/7 cable news has thus far led to much more news repetition than a real 24/7 news cycle. So when Imus (or Lott or whoever) makes such a statement, its impact is magnified one hundred fold throughout the media (make sure you watch the Daily Show’s take on Buzz Machine).

Jarvis believes the Imus remarks bring that discussion to the forefront. Imus’ remarks may reveal his true character and its treatment in the media may have been justified. But in the future, the public will have to examine very closely whether a tasteless comment is indicative of a character flaw (or, on a deeper level, a systemic problem) or if it’s just a “mistake.”

In any case, I’ve been loath to comment on the Imus debate for a variety of reasons (including that I think, on the face it, there didn’t remain much to be said) but I think Jarvis’ observation is an astute one.

One thought on “Imus scandal prompts debate on “forgiveness” in the Information Age

  1. Right. A “macaca” moment shouldn’t mean any remarks that are offensive — it should really apply only to cases like these, where the “mistake” truly does reveal deeper prejudices.

    It’s easy to imagine a non-racist person taking a joke too far or saying something offensive without thinking it through. But that’s not the case with Imus (or ex-Sen. George Allen, either). So it’s a good point: It’s not about firing anyone who says something offensive. It should also reveal the speaker’s “essential character,” and it should be part of a pattern of offensive speech.

    If, like Imus, those conditions are all met, fire the bastard!


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