Don Imus and the Full Cost of Offense

Like those who have spoken offensively before him, radio host Don Imus will pay a price that has yet to be fully seen for his comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team.

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DANIEL SCHORR: Let me stipulate, as a token of objectivity, that I had never heard, let alone appeared on, the Don Imus show.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: But I am aware that outrage is a commodity that brings in the bucks. In the case of Imus, a reported 10 million bucks a year. Racism comes in varying degrees of intention.

In 1984, the Reverend Jesse Jackson referred to Jews as hymies and to New York City as Hymietown. But that was in a conversation with a Washington Post reporter not intended for dissemination. In January 1988, a CBS sports commentator, Jimmy The Greek Snyder, explained that Afro-Americans were superior athletes because during slavery they were bred to produced stronger offspring. And last August, Senator George Allen, at a campaign rally in Virginia, called a Democratic volunteer macaca. That cost him.

But in the case of Imus, offense isn't inadvertent but his stock in trade. The nappy-headed hos comment didn't just happened, it was part of an exchange on the air with producer Bernard McGuirk. Then the roof fell in and Imus embarked on a custom series of apologies.

When he referred to hos, he said, I didn't think it was racial. He said, I wasn't even thinking racial. It was a joke, like a "West Side Story" deal, like one team is tough and one team is not so tough. Ho is slang for whore.

Imus must be wondering why the shock-jock style which serves him so handsomely in the past has now failed him. Let's face it. His success was built on an audience seeking sensation and bad manners. The fault, dear Brutus, lies with the listeners. They served him well and then all of a sudden they didn't.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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