American public has right to be heard

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

My morning routine changed drastically this week — maybe for the better.

Several years ago I heard about this talk radio guy named Don Imus who lived in New York and owned a ranch in New Mexico. I checked out his radio show a few times and liked it but never really got hooked. I was a little more into NPR’s “Morning Edition” at the time and the two time slots and my schedule conflicted.

My schedule changed and I was able to get a little NPR early, then tune into “Imus In The Morning.” Soon I was hooked on the show’s irreverent comedy and commentary. The interviews on current events were great and the football talk and sports celebrity interviews they threw in were interesting and funny and the bonus was the book authors and musicians who became the curmudgeon Imus’ stock and trade.

I was well aware his comedy routines and satire were on the edge and some even called him a shock jock. I figured it interesting to watch editorial commentary on the edge from afar rather than to actually be a part of it. So I listened. More recently I taped it off MSNBC and listened to it over coffee and newspapers every morning.

The default setting on my DVR quit taping the I-Man, as he was known by fans, after MSNBC pulled the plug on the simulcast of his radio show because of racial and sexist comments he made on-air the week before. CBS followed suit later in the week and took the show completely off the air.

The comments, which I won’t repeat here, came about in a comedic context in banter between Imus and one of his on-air staff. It was made in the black ghetto vernacular popular today with rap artists both black and white. I believe it was aimed at satiring the win-at-all-cost culture of the collegiate sports world, but it struck a very young and quite innocent Rutgers women’s basketball squad.

There is no doubt the comments were degrading to the team from a racial and gender standpoint. Eight of the 10 players are black. Imus knew what he had done was wrong and admitted it quickly in an apology.

The I-Man was used to life on the edge, though, and I figured he would weather the storm and maybe make some changes to make the show a little kinder and gentler.

When the Rutgers team held a press conference, showing the world who the personalities were who had been caught in the media maelstrom that continued all week, my opinion changed. Those young women didn’t deserve to be dogged by the controversy in which they found themselves.

I felt guilty after that, thinking I had been an enabler for free speech that went too far. I reminded myself that I was in high company. Our governor, our senior senator, former President George H.W. Bush, a multitude of high-powered journalists of all stripes and other powerful people were listening and taking part in the I-Mus banter every morning. It gave me pause.

None of us, I believe, as Imus-enablers are racist or sexist. But maybe life that close to the edge of a stage that big isn’t where our country should be.

I came of age in a time when free speech was being employed by the likes of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin to shock people, through comedy, into thinking a different way. I listened, I laughed, but I didn’t always agree with the underlying message. I defend all the nasty comics’ right to spew whatever they want. But I think Americans need to be brave enough to speak up and tell big media of all types where and when it should be heard.

That happened this week and I concur.

I just wish I could record Morning Edition on my DVR now.

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33 or e-mail:
karl_terry@link.freedom.com