Yelling fire in a crowded theater

For those who live in a hole, have no access to the internet, television or radio, or simply don’t care (and if you don’t care, then you probably aren’t even reading this…), Don Imus is (or rather, was) a radio personality who referred to the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” on his April 4 broadcast.

For those who live in a hole, have no access to the internet, television or radio, or simply don’t care (and if you don’t care, then you probably aren’t even reading this…), Don Imus is (or rather, was) a radio personality who referred to the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” on his April 4 broadcast. He is what is commonly referred to as a “shock jock,” meaning his job is to entertain, or “shock,” his audience. He had held his position as a radio personality since the ’70s, starting off with drug and alcohol induced humor (which is no surprise seeing as how it was the ’70s) and then gradually moved into what he was doing up until last week.

Until he was fired by CBS for calling the basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

Don Imus shouldn’t have been fired, and I am not just playing devil’s advocate. While Don Imus’ comments were stupid, insensitive, derogatory and many other things, they were not reason enough to fire him. Period.

The Constitution is a document that gives us the rights our Founding Fathers wanted us to have. They had reasons behind said rights, and they put them into the document as a guarantee that the citizens of the United States would have them for as long as the United States was around. As far as I know, we haven’t been taken over by China. So yes, we still have the Bill of Rights, in which the First Amendment states and which we should all know, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Read: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.” Like it or not, Imus had, and continues to have, the right to spout whatever drivel he wants. Everyone does. Nowhere does it say that the speech can’t offend, nowhere does it say “only when the majority agrees.” The First Amendment doesn’t work that way, and that isn’t its purpose. Its purpose is to ensure that everyone can say whatever he or she wants.

Did the Founding Fathers have Imus and his derogatory comments in mind when writing this? Probably not. They probably didn’t set out to give people the right to hurt or offend others. The only prohibitions that the Supreme Court has set for freedom of speech are, for example, falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater, or if what you are saying is slanderous or libelous in nature. Why? Because if some moron yelled fire in a crowded theater they could cause physical harm to many people. If slandering someone, you are damaging his or her character. Did Imus’ comments physically harm anyone? No. Did his comments damage anyone’s character? No. Imus didn’t do either. He insulted people. Big whoop.

With that said, we shouldn’t be worried about what Imus said–we should be worried about how many advertisers pulled their ads after MSNBC suspended him, basically forcing CBS to fire him. That isn’t their job. Proctor & Gamble, Staples, Bigelow Tea, General Motors Corp., and American Express are just a few of the companies that pulled their ads after Imus was initially suspended for two weeks. A few days after the mass advertising exodus, he was fired.

Advertisers pay to have their ads heard by millions. Imus’ show pulled in an estimated 2.25 million listeners, so it was far from unpopular. He was one of radio’s top 25 personalities, so yes, he had an audience. The advertisers were getting what they were paying for. By pulling out of their slots, they are basically dictating what we say and what we hear.

We should also be worried about people like Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whose opinions for some reason or another seem to carry more weight than anyone else’s. Not too long ago, Sharpton attacked the Duke lacrosse players who were accused of raping a black stripper, labeling them guilty as soon as they were accused. Just recently, those three men who were accused were proclaimed innocent. Where is the public outcry against Sharpton, who defamed these men over falsely made accusations? Where is his apology to those players, and where is his outrage at the woman who blatantly lied and ruined those men’s reputations? Sharpton’s accusations will be much harder to live down for the men he deemed guilty than it will be for the Rutgers’ team to live down being called “nappy-headed hos.” The reverends aren’t dealing with a fair deck here. There is a difference between what Imus did and what Sharpton and Jackson did.

Look at the big picture. If you start chipping away at the First Amendment because what you say may offend someone or you simply don’t like what is being said, you won’t have a First Amendment to chip away at any longer. If you let a corporation or certain people dictate to you what you say and what you hear, what is left to be said?

People, use your heads. Use your voice and decide what is right and what is wrong for yourselves. If you don’t agree with something, write in to newspapers. Call in to whoever will listen, and speak your mind. The First Amendment is why I can write what I can only guess will be an unpopular opinion. But I can string two sentences together and I have the Bill of Rights on my side, so I can. People should be fired because they aren’t doing their job. Imus did his. He shocked, and he had an audience. He kept people glued to their radios and he helped sell product. His job wasn’t to be politically correct or respectful or “culturally aware.” His job was to entertain, and for some he did. What you need to do is your job. Protect your rights, protect others’ rights, make your voice heard and allow others’ to be heard, even if your voice or theirs is one that is unpopular or, God forbid, uncouth. The people who listen to you will make up their own minds about you, as well they should. But that’s the thing: we all have our voice. Sadly, Imus’ was silenced.