Blogs > Liberty and Power > Another Blow to Free Speech

Apr 14, 2007 10:56 pm

Another Blow to Free Speech

Well it happened radio host Don Imus lost his show over a highly insensitive and racially tinged remark about the Rutgers Woman’s Basketball team. His bosses are claiming the action was taken for moral reasons and the fact that sponsors American Express Co., Sprint Nextel Corp., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and General Motors Corp left the program in the face of pressure from Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and friends had no impact on their decision.

The situation has consumed an enormous amount of broadcast air time and generated tons of printed material. To my mind and in the opinion of many others the most cogent and important comment on this came from Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock who happens to be black. He wrote, “In the grand scheme, Don Imus is no threat to us in general and no threat to black women in particular. If his words are so powerful and so destructive and must be rebuked so forcefully, then what should we do about the idiot rappers on BET, MTV and every black-owned radio station in the country who use words much more powerful and much more destructive?

I don’t listen or watch Imus’ show regularly. Has he at any point glorified selling crack cocaine to black women? Has he celebrated black men shooting each other randomly? Has he suggested in any way that it’s cool to be a baby-daddy rather than a husband and a parent? Does he tell his listeners that they’re suckers for pursuing education and that they’re selling out their race if they do?

When Imus does any of that, call me and I’ll get upset. Until then, he is what he is — a washed-up shock jock who is very easy to ignore when you’re not looking to be made a victim.”

Cross posted on The Trebach Report

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Anthony Gregory - 4/19/2007

Yeah, I think people understate the degree of ethnic collectivism apparent in most warmongering.

Anthony Gregory - 4/19/2007

Are you implying that you have a right to say things without other people taking offense and withdrawing from relationships with you? That's not libertarian.

You can say what you want. But people who don't like what you say don't have to associate with you.

Mark Brady - 4/17/2007

I posted this quote and link because I believe Cockburn has something significant to say about war. He's right--when Imus opened his big mouth and joked about dropping nuclear bombs on innocent Arabs, who complained? There is a huge element of racism and xenophobia in these and similar remarks that are considered quite unexceptionable by so many people.

Lisa Casanova - 4/16/2007

What's there to see here? Jerk opens mouth, jerk embarrasses self and employer, jerk loses job. Boo hoo. The only thing Don Imus is victim of is the lack of the filter that should be between his brain and his mouth. Men who think the word "ho" is acceptable when referring to women hardly deserve to be poster children for the free speech cause. Why shouldn't the consequences of being a boob fall on him?

Keith Halderman - 4/16/2007

Our society is so much less racist than it used to be that Cockburn's statement is absurd. When was the last time you saw a whites only drinking fountain. You do, however. see government mandated cultural sensitity courses all of the time. As far as the culture degrading critics have been making that charge for decades read the early literature on jazz. Also, where do you think Imus learned the word Ho. Yes the joke was not funny and if I were a member of the team I would not have liked it but if Imus was black no one would have had a problem with what he said. Just because there is a double standard does not mean that Imus is a racist. Yes there are racial separtists in this country but many of them are black and their key argument is that each race should have a different language.

Mark Brady - 4/15/2007

Counterpunch Weekend Edition
April 14 / 15, 2007

Imus and the HeeHaw Racists
Ho Industry Whores

"We live in a racist, profit-driven culture that is getting more degraded by the hour. War is at the apex of that degradation, and indeed these ceremonies of degradation are an integral part of the war machine, which drives the whole show along. Back in February Imus snarled into his mike, "It might be good to start with somebody who is willing to take three big ones and drop one on Mecca, one on Jeddah and one on Saudi-one on Riyadh." No one asked him to apologize for that one. Take that, you towel heads."

Mark Brady - 4/15/2007

"Let us remember that Imus said what he did in jest not in anger, it was a parody of black rappers ... "

Was that really what it was? I don't think so. One can parody black rappers or anyone else without being offensive to an innocent party.

Keith Halderman - 4/15/2007

Clearly Don Imus was not free to say what he did because he lost his job. While the government had nothing to do with it, perhaps what happened is even more dangerous. If the standard becomes you can not say something because it may offend someone then pretty soon nothing will ever be said because you can always find someone who is offended. If I as a libertarian say that government is the problem does that not conceivably hurt the feelings of all those who work for the government.

Let us remember that Imus said what he did in jest not in anger, it was a parody of black rappers and also remember that comedy is almost always based on tragedy. The butt of the joke will always have grounds for being offended. What a dull depressing world it will be when we lose comedy.

Jonathan Dresner - 4/15/2007

Actually, even if Imus' ratings remained stable or grew, CBS could justify firing him on the grounds that reaction against CBS's other properties would cost it more than it was worth to keep him. The advertisers could make the same argument: that reaching Imus' audience is not worth losing his protesters as audience.

Markets are social creations, and liable to social pressures. If you want markets to function, you have to live with it.

Anthony Gregory - 4/15/2007

Yes, Jackson and Sharpton didn't violate anyone rights. Don Imus's rights weren't violated.

I don't violate Jackson and Sharpton's rights when I say they're idiots on this, and should go back to being kneejerk opponents of the Bush regime, because then they're right most the time.

Anthony Gregory - 4/15/2007

Well this gets into another question, which is the whole corporatist mess of the networks, and how they push people into smaller avenues of freer competition.

Get the state out of the broadcasting industry, and these issues will be even easier for us to have a-libertarian opinions on. ; )

Anthony Gregory - 4/15/2007

Absolutely right. The heroic Bill Anderson at LRC was following the Duke case for a year before many people had the guts to question the clearly questionable prosecutor in that case. But now that it is clear as day that he and a few others had always been right, I would think there'd be more outrage. Instead, we see people still defending NiFong and saying don't fell sorry for the Duke non-rapists, bla, bla bla.

I think of the PC outrage at Imus as sort of like the rightwing outrage at Janet Jackson's breast five years ago. Don't people realize there's war, persecution, injustice, insolvency and a million lesser problems that still make these transient transgressions of custom and PC and puritanical standards kind of stupid things to worry much about?

Anthony Gregory - 4/15/2007

Right, and I think he shouldn't have been fired, that people overreacted. But his firing was still a market — if a hampered, regulated, corporatist — phenomenon, not really a matter of censorship. No one has a free speech right to speak on behalf of CBS. CBS can fire whoever it wants, and it's not a matter of censorship.

Bill Woolsey - 4/15/2007

While I don't think the government should be fining or jailing people because they make verbal insults, I don't see that there is any value in being able to describe star athletes competing in the national championship as "nappy-headed hoes." I don't think there is anything wrong with commercial institutions demanding that their employees (and even sometimes customers)refrain from being rude.

The way hoodlum (real or pretend) in the inner city use language is beside the point. Aside from hoodlums from the innter city, who says that they way they talk is desirable or acceptable? The problem, of course, is that they don't care about what anyone respectable (including Jesse Jackson) thinks about their lingo.

If Imus really has a point to make about black female athletes, then he can go onto shortwave white nationalist radio. I will oppose any effort to close that stuff down.

Perhaps the corporate music industry should stay away from rap and hip hop. In other words, let it be the province of independents. I'm not sure what difference it would really make.

Lester Hunt - 4/15/2007

Of course Keith and Anthony do have a point: we have reason to resist the PC police, and they were undeniably active here (and they won!). On the one hand. On the other hand, it is easy for an absolutist free speech position (such as mine!) to morph into a "free speech for me but not for thee" position. Jackson and Sharpton have free speech rights too. Is that what they were using, or were they going beyond that point? There is an interesting issue here that doesn't get enough attention: When are these guys merely exercising their own freedom, and when can we say on the contrary that they are trying to abridge the freedom of others? (Note: I'm not assuming that you can answer this question by using basic Lockean property rights.)

Steven Horwitz - 4/15/2007

Yeah, this is NOT a "free speech" issue. Anthony is quite right. As libertarians, we might choose to criticize Imus for his comments and/or his sponsors and those who broadcast him for bailing, but we do so outside the realm of "free speech." Imus has no such right in terms of the property of the broadcasters and advertisers who support him.

Frankly, what's more interesting to me is how up in arms so many got about Imus calling a group of college athletes racist/sexist names, but how few got up in arms about three other college athletes being falsely charged with rape and assault. Being called a racist/sexist name pales in comparison with the prospect of 30 years in jail and having your name permanently connected on Google with gang rape (not to mention your university collectively bailing on you).

Keith Halderman - 4/15/2007

You can not make the argument that his audience rejected Imus. For that you would have had to have him stay on the air and then see his ratings drop. I do not think this would have happened and some indirect evidence for my position exists in the fact that on Thursday and Friday his 18th annual radiothon raising money for several charities supporting sick children took in more money than last year. This happened despite the fact that his wife and not himself broadcast on Friday.

Anthony Gregory - 4/15/2007

Well of course this isn't a free speech issue. The market did indeed bend to social pressure. Sometimes, it is worth criticizing social pressures, too, however. Ultimately, even the state is a reflection of social pressure.

I agree that this is pretty much an a-libertarian issue, but I can see why some libertarians are disturbed by the power of the PC police.

Lester Hunt - 4/15/2007

As a free speech absolutist myself, I've written about almost every speech-related case I've heard about lately. But not about this one. I guess the reason is that I'm not so sure it is about free speech as such. Obviously, the decision to cancel his show was the result of five huge sponsors jumping ship (to me the real moral scandal here was in the bare-faced lie in which the network bosses denied this). The people who run these five companies are very good at figuring out what the consumer wants. The market rewards them for their good judgment on this all-important point, and punishes them mercilessly for mistakes. And they apparently judge that the consumer is fed up with this Imus guy. They think that the consumer is no longer sufficiently interested in paying, by purchasing their products, for his show. That is, it may not so much be a matter of Imus's freedom being breached, as of the audience (indirectly, of course) exercising theirs.