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The Don Imus Controversy Considered

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The controversy surrounding Don Imus's remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team has much of the country talking, and reflecting. But are people ready to confront the reality that we support, directly or indirectly, similar behavior from many public figures?


A few years ago, I got a call from a Washington journalist who asked if I'd be willing to speak at the Annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner. I said, yes, and even tried to think of some ostensibly clever jokes. I never heard from the man again. And a couple of months later, Don Imus became their featured speaker. Mr. Imus joked about President Clinton's sex life and Senator Bob Kerrey's artificial leg. Then it got ugly. His material sounded like it had been scripted by a bunch of teenage boys during a sleepover. Many of the public figures at the black-tie dinner professed revulsion and surprise.

But professing surprise at something Don Imus says is a little like being shocked when you invite a dog to dinner and he runs away with the rump roast. It's just his nature. I wonder how many people who lambasted Don Imus this week were among those who once acclaimed him for lampooning pomposity and speaking truth to power.

Maybe this whole episode will inspire self-examination, not just about humor, race and sex, but sincerity. Will CBS, which dropped Don Imus, refuse to have their music division sign and promote performers who assail and insult women with precisely the same language? People contend that it's art. Sometimes art has to shock. But I find something as drearily predictable in those songs about bitches, hos, hot ice and dripping blood, as old Marxist or John Birch Society propaganda pamphlets.

Yesterday, Senator Barack Obama announced that he'll return about $50,000 of the $25 million raised so far by his presidential campaign. He discovered that 49 of his contributors are lobbyists. He doesn't want to accept their money. This week he criticized Don Imus' remarks as reprehensible and divisive. And yesterday, at a town meeting in South Carolina, the senator criticized rappers and hip-hop artists who defile women in their lyrics.

He confided that he worries about the effect of such music on his daughters. I think that all of us have become a little complicit in this kind of relaxed attitude toward some pretty offensive things, said the senator. I hope this prompts some self-reflection.

So I wonder, will Senator Obama now return the $1.3 million that David Geffen so recently raised for him because Mr. Geffen produces and profits from the music of Snoop Dogg, Slim Thug and other hip-hop artists who demean women with exactly the same words that got Don Imus fired. Or is self-reflection easier when it costs thousands of dollars, not millions.

(Soundbite of song, "Drop It Like It's Hot")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Snoop, Snoop...

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small