What are the chances I have anything unusually insightful or interesting to say about Don Imus that the interested reader hasn't already seen elsewhere?
I think the interested reader already knows the answer to that question: somewhere between slim and none.
I have resolved, however, to hereinafter pronounce 'Imus' as if it rhymed with 'Camus'. That'll teach him.
Anyway: what l'affaire Imus—say it as if you were making fun of French people—brought to mind was this line from Draft Blogger Code of Conduct:
[We reserve the right to change these standards at any time with no notice.]I.e., "standards" that are flexible enough to justify the retroactive condemnation (or not) of just about any borderline expression, should it be found convenient and propitious to do so (or not). Imus is (or, I guess, was) a shock jock, and driving the discussion up to and beyond the line of decency and good taste is part of the job description for those folks. As others have noted, boorish in-your-face offensiveness is rife in our culture. When one of the practitioners is taken down so suddenly and completely from his multi-million-dollar gig, it's hard for us spectators to do anything but wonder at the arbitrariness of it all.
So the arbitrariness is interesting, but so is the unpredictability. It would be a mistake to portray the destruction of Imus as the result of a well-oiled plan executed with movie-plot precision. The folks who kicked off this particular firestorm, Media Matters, are preening and gloating, waving the severed head of Imus to the screaming mob. But their full time job is demanding the takedown of any media personality displaying less than devout fealty to the lefty gospel. They name their targets beyond Imus: Gibson, Limbaugh, Smerconish, O'Reilly, Savage, Boortz, Beck.
If this were really a fiendishly clever lefty plot, those other guys would be long-gone as well. But sometimes these manufactured outragefests work, other times they just fizzle. Nobody knows why. (Or, as William Goldman famously remarked in a slightly different context: "Nobody knows anything.")
It's also irresistible to compare the (considerably less discussed) recent disparate treatment of Her Royal Perkiness, another multi-million-dollar CBS employee, Katie Couric. She recently began one of her "Notebook" episodes ("a daily essay by the anchor that appears in video and audio form on CBS News's Web site, among other places") with:
I still remember when I first got my library card.… but it turned out that a considerable amount of her essay was lifted from a previous-month's article in the Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey Zaslow.
Plagiarism is a pretty hefty sin even at CBS, at least when you're unlucky enough to be caught. But—you may have noticed—Katie wasn't fired. One of her producers was fired: one of the people who actually write Katie's first-person "Notebook" was deemed the responsible party.
Now, Couric-criticism isn't absent. Virginia Postrel is suitably contemptuous about the business-as-usual phoniness. And Timothy Noah at Slate found it interesting enough to write about (in stopped-clock mode). But in comparison to the Imus Nor'easter, the Couric thing is a brief shower; she'll be on the job for the foreseeable future. (Nothing at all, of course, from Media Matters.)
It's tempting to ask: where's the outrage? How many times does Katie need to be revealed as a glib, empty-headed phony, employed by a joke news organization, before she's sent packing, and CBS "News" is forced to hire some actually competent, honest journalists? But … then I realized that I was being silly to expect that such a thing might ever happen.
Because we reserve the right to change our standards at any time with no notice.