Friday, April 13, 2007

My Final (I Promise!) on Don Imus

Okay, I lied. I have to toss out one more thought about the Don Imus affair.

I have a few cleaning aids in my house. They reside under the sink, for the most part. Clearly labelled containers of chemicals that use words like "poisonous," "caustic," or "dangerous" in plain sight. They serve a purpose in my house, and that purpose is to clean surfaces in my kitchen and bathrooms. It's a wonderful combination. The cleansing properties of the chemicals coupled with my elbow grease in liberal proportions has a magical effect. My counters gleam, my floors shine, and my family feels protected. (When, of course, I actually do these things. Lately my family has not benefitted tremendously from my elbow grease.)

Naturally there are inappropriate uses for these chemicals. Says so right in the directions. I need to avoid contact with skin and - especially - eyes. Do not drink them. Ever. Aside from cleaning my house, they serve no other useful purpose.

This is precisely why I choose not to listen to people like Don Imus or Michael Savage. Their reputations precede them. They practice a brand of public commentary that is carefully calculated to incite, rather than inform. It matters not that they happen to hold similar views to my own on critical issues. They are firebrands, and I have better things to do with my diminishing time.

I'm not a big fan of Pat Buchanan. He's more of a raspberry seed under the gums than a firebrand, but I still find him to be pushier than I'm comfortable with. I guess this is how you become a public commentator; write a few speeches for dead presidents, torque off large sectors of the populace, and whammo! You're a commentator. Anyway, I followed a link from Drudge to Buchanan's thoughts on why, precisely, this whole affair smacks of "hypocrisy." Buchanan is, it turns out, a big fan of Imus. Listens to him every morning. Enjoys the whole show. In his view, the idea of firing Imus for this egregious insult is hypocritical in the extreme so long as people fail to demand apologies from everyone who excoriated the entire Duke lacrosse team when they were, in fact, innocent.

But Buchanan's argument falls flat. Imus is a public figure who has made a considerable living out of insulting people. It may or may not be true that he is very well read on current events and has a solid understanding of the issues. He may or may not be one of the better interviewers on the air today (in Buchanan's opinion, anyway). All of this is immaterial to the primary issue: Imus is a commodity. Imus, Buchanan, Coulter, Malkin, and countless other media personalities are commodities to be employed, traded, bought or sold at the will and whim of the outlets that employ them. In other words, the issue here is not whether what Imus did was insulting and demeaning. This has been accepted by all but the dimmist of wits across the country. But MSNBC and CBS have responsibilities. Certainly we want them to provide insightful and meaningful access to news and commentary to keep us informed, but that is not their primary responsibility. Their first and most significant responsibility is to provide value (money) to their shareholders. For this reason, and this reason alone, they are more than justified in firing Imus and anyone who looks like him.

Hey, I sympathize with Imus. I really do. I've said more than my fair share of stupid things in my life, and I've only been fired for them once. Once was enough, and I like to think I've learned my lesson. I no longer say stupid things to the people who can fire me for them. But when your primary job is talking, you might be a bit more careful about what you say in which forum. I think it's all to the good that Imus seems genuinely contrite about what he said. However, that doesn't seem to have mellowed his nature in any way, nor does he seem repentant enough that we can expect him never to repeat himself at some point. I suspect the bosses at CBS read him exactly the same way. He might well do it again, and in the current politically-charged arena, that just isn't smart business.

We can complain all we want about MSNBC firing Imus but holding on stubbornly to Matthews and Olbermann. But I think they understand their audience, and that's their business decision to make. I don't have to agree with it, but I'm not the CEO and I don't answer to MSNBC shareholders.

I hope Imus lands on his feet. There is a place and an audience out there for Imus and everything he stands for. I'm just not one of them, and I hope never to feel a need to become such.

No comments: