Who's asking: All the talking heads
Don Imus has made a career of being obnoxious. In his private life he seems to be a thoughtful, caring man -- and he wrote a very entertaining novel, God's Other Son -- but his public persona is nothing short of troll-like. He's deliberately offensive, loud-mouthed, and politically incorrect.
I watch him most mornings, at least in part to stoke a sense of righteous indignation that lets me feel smug about my own moral superiority. He and his henchmen say things that allow me to congratulate myself on my own right-thinking ways, and once in a while he says something that makes me laugh or makes me think.
Last week, he and his producer, Bernard McGuirk, referred to the Rutgers' women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." The Rutgers basketball team members are teenaged girls, college students on scholarships with a lifetime of professional achievement ahead of them, and that remark was unconscionably offensive and unkind.
Was it worse, however, than Bernard McGuirk's recurring "Cardinal Egan" character, which often implies that all Catholic priests are child molesters? Was it worse than Imus's frequent guest, Bo Dietl, wondering aloud about whether Barack Obama's ties to the Muslim community made him a disloyal American? Was it worse than the constant derision about any woman carrying an ounce of excess weight?
Hard to say. As a woman who carries some excess weight, I could be offended by Don Imus every day, and I often am -- but I keep listening to him. And I formulate responses to him in my head -- what would I say to Don Imus, given the chance?
This, I think, is the value of characters like Don Imus in public discourse, and the reason he shouldn't be forced to quit. Don Imus says aloud what many ignorant people think, and the fact that he says these things gives other, more enlightened people the opportunity to contradict him. (Of course, the people contradicting him are often as idiotic as he is, but that's the nature of public discourse.)
The public flogging he's enduring now is so much less effective than it would be if the Rutgers' women's basketball team coach and her team captains had gone on the show the next day to ask: "Why did you call us nappy-headed hos? Why did you think that was okay? Are you willing to say that to our faces?"
We have to talk to each other, and stop yelling about each other to people who already agree with us.
But then, who am I kidding? I'm posting this on a blog for people who already visit it, rather than saying it directly to Mr. Imus.
Excuse me, I think I need to go write a letter.
But first, happy, happy, HAPPY birthday to Claire Bea, who is 21 today, and never fears to say exactly what's on her mind.