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Imus makes free speech a much tougher issue

While the jury will forever be out on what prompted Imus to make such an abominable statement about a group of young, gifted and black student-athletes, who will judge how far someone can go without losing their livelihood? By Miki Turner
/ Source: contributor

Yesterday, I predicted that Don Imus, host of “Imus in the Morning,” wouldn’t lose his job for calling members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” because money speaks louder than words.

I was wrong and right.

Once some major advertisers started pulling their sponsorship of his CBS radio show, which was simulcast on MSNBC, money spoke louder than words and loyalty.


Pulling Imus’ show from MSNBC and CBS eliminates a cancer that has infected the brain cells of his loyal listeners, as well as those who were often the targets of his ignorant rants. But while the jury will forever be out on what prompted Imus to make such an abominable statement about a group of young, gifted and black student-athletes, who will judge how far someone can go without losing their livelihood?

Will anyone ever be called a “nappy-headed ho” in print or on air ever again?

Let’s hope not.

Common people, however, say stupid stuff all the time and get away with it. Why? Because the First Amendment says that they can. Public figures, however, are held to different standards. Those of us who work in the media know that we are in essence the purveyors of America’s moral code. That means we can push the envelope, but we know there’s a limit as to how far we can actually go.

Apparently ho is a no-no.

Not all that surprisingI initially became aware of the Imus incident while reading Richard Prince’s “Journalisms” column late Wednesday night. I was so stunned that I had to re-read that paragraph containing what will possibly become the next iconic pop culture catch phrase at least five times. Within minutes I was on the phone discussing the issue with some old college classmates back East. Like Bryan Monroe, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, I thought surely that Imus must have lost his mind.

No rational, clear-thinking American of any race could ever think that they could go there and that it would be all right. The man must be crazy as hell. And yes, I called him a few things that I can’t write in this space today.

But, while I was saddened that the young Rutgers players had to deal with all this drama during a time when they should have been celebrating their remarkable accomplishments, I cannot honestly say that I was angered or shocked by what Imus said. After having been born at the tail end of the Jim Crow era, and having lived through the Kennedy-King-Kennedy assassinations and the Civil Rights movement, I’m never surprised by anything an older white person says or does.

Some of them simply don’t realize it’s a new day.

And, like Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said on Tuesday, “no one can make you feel inferior unless you allow them.”

There is no way Imus, or anyone of his ilk, is ever going to steal my joy. I’m proud of my nappy hair, but I’m not a ho. So Don, you must go.

What about free speech?I am, however, as a journalist and a private citizen, concerned about the aftermath. Expressing your feelings or your true self can get you fired, sued or both. Frankly, I’ve always had issues with political correctness because people hide behind that moniker and that can be dangerous. I’d rather just deal with a person as they are and go from there.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Yet it’s one thing to call someone an idiot, and yet another thing to personalize it by using a racist or sexist epithet. Words can and do hurt and we all need to be cognizant of that.

Some folks are smart enough to have figured that out. Others like Imus, however, feel as though they are entitled to say whatever they want to whomever they’re speaking to regardless of the consequences.

Is that wrong? This is what America is supposed to be about. It is, but the truth is America has never abided by the laws of her constitution. All men were not created equal. Freelance writer Kenneth Eng found that out after he wrote a piece called “Why I Hate Black People” for AsianWeek.

Those were obviously feelings he needed to keep to himself. He was canned for his freedom of expression.

Is it wrong for some rappers to refer to women as bitches and hos in their music? I don’t like it, but it is their right. So, that must make it right.


Was it wrong for Isaiah Washington to call T.R. Knight a f---t on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” and then stupidly say that he didn’t to a worldwide audience at the Golden Globes last January? Should he have been fired?

How about Michael Richards who verbally attacked an African-American heckler at the Laugh Factory when his jokes fell flat? Obviously that wasn’t the first time he had ever used the N-word. Should we accept his apology?

An Amendment to the Amendment?And how about the N-word? Monroe, who is also the Vice President and Editorial Director of Ebony and Jet magazines, issued a statement shortly after the Richards incident saying that the word will no longer be used in those publications in any context. Additionally, other organizations are fighting to have the word banned now that “my nigga,” which is purportedly the acceptable and inoffensive pronunciation of that word, has become a major part of the vernacular of suburban white kids.

What can we really do about that without violating their First Amendment rights?

Do we need an Amendment to the Amendment? 

I’m glad I’m not God because these questions are too hard to answer.

As the outrage over Imus’ misstep simmers down in the next few weeks, this issue, in conjunction with his firing, will be debated by pundits from Seattle to Poughkeepsie until their tongues fall off. I’m willing to bet that no one will come up with a viable solution because there’s often such a thin line between malice and misinterpretation.

I don’t know Imus so I won’t even speculate as to what was going on in that pea brain of his when those words came out of his mouth. As the late Rick James once said, “cocaine is a helluva drug.”

I suppose, however, we should thank Dandy Don for his faux paux. It has forced some of us to think before speaking and that’s a good thing — especially now that it appears there is a universal gag order in full effect.

We’ll call that Amendment 1A.

Just what we needed. More rules. Thanks very much Don. You $%&*# idiot.

Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at .