Saturday, April 14, 2007

100% Imus-Free Zone...d'Oh!

And I was doing so well, until now...

The Chronicle asked readers Friday if Imus deserved to be fired, and this was one of the responses:

As much as I disagree with this sort of hate speech, firing Imus is a very slippery slope. When the executives who run our media get to decide what we can listen to, we are headed for big trouble.
Can you imagine what America would be like if powerful executives at enormous corporations got to decide what would or would not be broadcast?

Oh, wait...

This sort of muddled thinking is not uncommon, but it is kind of a problem. On the one hand, it enables Imus' defenders to claim there's some kind of free speech issue with not providing a lucrative public platform to a habitual racist and misogynist. We saw the same kind of thing in response to Spocko's campaign to inform advertisers about the racism and violent fantasies of Melanie Morgan and Michael Savage; liberals were trying to 'silence' conservatives--so the party line went. And it was, of course, complete bullshit, just as it is now: we have a constitutionally protected right to free speech, but there's nothing in there about the right to a talk radio slot. In the end, the network executives do have the right to decide what to broadcast on their network.

On the other hand, this naïve belief that there is something like 'free speech' on the airwaves is what hinders any attempt to make the airwaves more free. If you don't understand that, yes, the network executives do have the right to decide what we can listen to, then you can't possibly grasp why consolidated ownership of the mass media is a very bad thing. If you don't recognize that corporate executives (and advertisers) dictate content, then you'll never realize that there is a vast range of voices (of opinions, of backgrounds, of types of experience) effectively shut out of the airwaves.

Update: In comments to this post by Steve M (who, by the way, has written a whole slew of great posts about Imus and his history of reflexive racism & misogyny), I respond to Frank Rich's rhetorical question ("Does that mean [Imus] should be silenced?"):
'Silenced'? What the fuck? This kind of thing drives me up a fucking tree...Imus hasn't been 'silenced'; he lost a talk radio slot, which is not the same thing at all.

He can still start a blog. He can still write letters to the editor. He can stand up in the middle of any town square and rant and rave to his heart's content. He can go to city council meetings and take his turn at the mike during question time. In other words, he has every single fucking right every single American has.
That's a point a lot of people seem to be missing. If he wants to speak out, Imus can do it; he just can't do it over the airwaves and get paid a dumptruck full of money for the privilege.