Radio insults by Don Imus provoke national dialogue
Rutgers players voiced dismay at drawing more national media attention after being slandered than during a remarkable rise to the NCAA finals. Challenge class members to find positive coverage of students, young athletes or minority group members. Invite students to talk about the impact of such articles and why it extends beyond the individuals quoted.
Newspapers and broadcasters work to include diverse voices and faces in all sorts of coverage – not just in reports on different cultures, religions and races. Tell class members to look for examples from this paper that include someone who is not from the local majority population and who comments one something unrelated to their personal identity.
Ask students about the role of journalists in influencing the tone of public discussions, the sense of what’s acceptable, the boundaries for caustic comments. How difficult – and how important – do they think it is for editors, reporters, photographers, cartoonists and others to consider whether language and images will be offensive or painful? Does this paper generally seem sensitive to these concerns?
A brash and bold media giant knocked himself off his well-paid throne with an insulting slur about Rutgers University women who nearly won a NCAA national basketball championship. Don Imus, a nationally broadcast radio host known for offensive comments cloaked as humor, touched a raw nerve among African Americans, women and millions of others by describing team members on the air as “nappy-headed hos.”
A day after NBC dropped its TV simulcast of the radio show heard on more than 70 stations, the host of Imus in the Morning was fired by his network, CBS. Chairman Leslie Moonves cited "the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society." The ax fell after advertiser defections, pledges by past guests not to appear on the show again and emotional comments by the Rutgers players and coach. “Behind the faces of the networks that have worked so hard to convey a message of empowerment to young adults, somehow some way the door has been left open to attack your leaders of tomorrow,” said team captain Essence Carson, a junior.
The outcry stimulated vibrant discussions across America about race, gender, civility, respect and even hard-core rap lyrics – which often demean women with the type of language Imus used, and worse. “What Imus has prompted is a necessary national conversation,” wrote Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon. “Even if he doesn't get it, many of us do." The national dialogue actually opened last November when comedian Michael Richards, best-known from the TV hit Seinfeld, alluded to lynching and repeatedly used the most offensive racial slur while being heckled at a Los Angeles club. “Comics simply aren’t going to get the same slack on race humor” after these high-profile incidents, says popular blogger Michelle Malkin.
Don Imus says: ''It was completely inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid and we are sorry.'' – On-air comment two days after remark
Coach says: “They are young ladies of class, distinction, they are articulate, they are brilliant, they are gifted. They are God's representatives in every sense of the word.” – Vivian Stringer, Rutgers University women’s basketball coach
Black leader says: “Somewhere we must draw the line in what is tolerable in mainstream media. We cannot keep going through offending us and then apologizing and then acting like it never happened. Somewhere we've got to stop this." – Al Sharpton, former presidential candidate
Front Page Talking Points is written by
Felix Grabowski and Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2013
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