Here are some scattered ideas on the Don Imus story (the comments and the reaction) that have been percolating for a while. I try not to merely re-hash outrage; I'll try here to raise questions I think are worth consideration. As expected, Leave the Man Alone has a unique, insightful take on the situation--do yourself a favor and go read what The HCIC has to say about it.
1. Where did Imus cross the line: with "hoes" or with "nappy-headed hoes"? I tend to think the misogyny of "hoes" would be expected from a guy like Imus in an entertainment radio setting; a few people would have been bothered, but there'd be no major uproar. But with the "nappy-headed hoes" and following conversation, Imus went racist, which is more likely to get a reaction. In this case, I think the misogyny fueled the racism and the racism fueled the misogyny, but the misogyny would have likely been ignored.
2. I'm always disturbed when people call for somebody to be fired for words. I'm not saying it's the wrong reaction, but it disturbs me. I've explained my basic worldview just last week: if you don't like what somebody says, the solution is to talk against it, not to attempt to suppress it.
Still, Imus's suspension is not a violation of his First Amendment right to free expression. There was no prior censorship of Imus's words, and there was no attempt by the government to inflict punitive damages on Imus after his words. His free speech rights remained intact--but the First Amendment does not guarantee a forum or audience. Imus's employers are well within their rights to suspend Imus if they feel his words are offensive or reflect poorly on their reputations. The First Amendment does not require any radio station to allow Imus onto its airwaves; during his suspension, Imus is free to express whatever he wants in all sorts of other forums. And furthermore, you and everybody else has every right to respond angrily to Imus's words, even requesting that he be fired ("demanding" seems like the wrong word here--how are you going to "demand" it? How are you going to follow through on your demand if it is not met?). If you think Imus should be fired, you should say so--I'm just rarely likely to wish for a person to be fired over words, however offensive I find them.
3. Is the reaction to Imus's words bringing too much attention to the words, doing more harm than good? I understand the reaction--if somebody is racist, he/she should be called on it. However, sometimes the reaction brings more attention to the issue, and that's not always a good thing.
For example, I believe Holocaust Denial is the most intellectually dishonest, hateful, reprehensible concept out there, and I react with revulsion to the deniers themselves. However, for practical reasons, I do not believe it should be surpressed by the government: suppression merely calls attention to the false and hateful claims while allowing the deniers to play the martyr and claim the moral high ground (as Deborah Lipstadt, who has far more eloquent things to say about the issue than I do, says, "I am uncomfortable with imprisoning people for speech. Let him go and let him fade from everyone's radar screens"). I'm also not entirely sure it should be addressed or debated by reasonable people: debate can confuse people into thinking there is legitimacy to Holocaust Denial, or at least can make people believe there are "two sides" (still, I recognize that sometimes it simply must be addressed). I think the best way to deal with Holocaust Denial is simply to ignore it (to a point, of course--in certain cases it must be directly dealt with).
How many people would have never heard Imus's comments if it were not for the reaction? I would not have. Would you have? Does the reaction just give more publicity to the misogynistic racist words? Would we as a society be better served ignoring insults like this? But at the same time, is it a bad thing that reaction is bringing attention to the insults? Perhaps it is necessary to constantly call out racism in all its form and make people aware of its presence, especially when the speaker has such a public forum to disseminate racism.
These are just some thoughts, some questions, some conversation points.