Yesterday would seem to have been the end of the controversy; Don Imus was fired by CBS from his radio show, airing out of New York.

Last week, the controversial host made some “racially insensitive” comments about the Rutgers’ Women’s Basketball team, calling them “nappy headed ho’s”.

At first, Imus’ reaction was to basically state that it was a joke, but a stupid one. When public emotion began to stir up, the “I-Man” made the decision to go on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show to offer a public apology. During the interview, Imus appeared and sounded contrite and regretful. However, in one particularly testy interchange with Sharpton and an African-American lawyer also present in the studio, he had the following exchange:

‘After disagreeing with a female caller, Imus said: “I can’t get anywhere with you people.”

“What do you mean by ‘you people’?” Sharpton asked.

Imus retorted: “Don’t lay that on me — that’s jive.”‘ – Source, mediabistro.com

Then, MSNBC decided that it would no longer simulcast Imus’ radio show. Sponsors like Staples began to pull ad buys. CBS declared that Imus would be suspended for two weeks following a annual charity broadcast by the radio jock for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

But the fervor didn’t stop there. Lead by prominent black leaders Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, more and more people began crying for Imus to be fired. Sharpton went so far as to say that Imus needed to be made an example, to illustrate the consequences for racially insensitve comments.

Finally, yesterday, Imus was officially fired by CBS radio.

What do you think?

Personally, I of course think Imus made some mistakes. The comment was dumb, idiotic, and asinine. However, perhaps an even bigger mistake was the degree and the parties to whom Imus chose to apologize to.

The comments were made about the Rutgers team. The first and ONLY apology should have been to them. End of story, end of controversy. Something like: “I said something stupid, it was an intended joke, I went too far. To the ladies to whom I referenced, I am truly sorry. I would be happy to meet with them in person to offer my regrets again should they choose.” That’s it.

The selective outrage (a great term I heard used on ESPN radio yesterday) to which the complainers are voicing is, I believe in part, sincere. However, I think it is also in some ways a power grab by Revs. Sharpton and Jackson, eager to show political parties coming into an election year the amount of influence they wield.

Don Imus has been making these comments for years. It’s part of his show, a show that up until this week two major networks were totally fine with while they raked in the advertising dollars. For them to turn their backs on him now is the height of hypocrisy, especially CBS, who had declared the 2-week suspension until Sharpton met with them yesterday afternoon, then Les Moonves miraculously emerged and said the Imus was done. Interesting. He hadn’t even STARTED serving his suspension yet.

What does this mean for the broadcast medium? For us as a society? Certainly, it looks as though race is no longer a subject for humor whatsoever, unless the race you choose to make fun of is one no one will be selectively outraged by (I won’t say which race(s), for fear of choosing the wrong one).

This kind of selective censorship is very scary. When the next group comes along (say, those outraged by ridicule of Democrats, Republicans, Catholics, Jews, the young, the old, the fat, the short, the vegetarians, the meat-eaters, those who watch “Survivor” vs those who don’t….and on and on and on, are they any more or less justified than when the issue is race?

However, the outraged are not the only ones to blame. The media, in its perpetual self-sustaining mode, continues to foment and encourage the conflict. Their classic move is to go to one party, get a quote, then take the statement to the other side and say “Did you hear what he said?”, then get another quote, and back and forth. Then you go in studio every hour, has over the rhetoric and ask questions like “Is this a big deal?”, “Can the two sides settle this conflict?”, and blah-beh-dee-blah-blah. And of course you can’t criticize the media, freedom of the press has translated today into freedom to stir up trouble.

Recently, I posted a story about a public library offering family friendly video games for checkout. My friend Keith in effect said that this is a dangerous precedent to set. I now see what he was saying, and I now agree. Offer the games with a checkout policy (follow the rating system on the games themselves and check out accordingly), or don’t offer them at all, otherwise you’re on a slippery slope. Keith was right.

Through his mistakes, his apologies, and his fall from grace, Imus has inadvertently illustrated to us just how lopsided things can get in this “free” society of ours.

So, finally, some questions:

When can we finally move past the issue of race? What’s the end game? the end result? the desired outcome? I’m not asking this to be flip, I truly want to know.

Who decides what we can and can’t say? What are those parameters? At what point does free speech end and corporate responsibility begin?

What topics are off limits? Off limits to who? When are they off limits?

Is racial equality really, as Martin Luther King said, about being judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin? Was he wrong? Should race be a defining characteristic for people?

Are people allowed to make mistakes with the things that they say? What kind, and how severe? How often?

Are we allowed to offend? If not, what are the consequences?

Again, I’m not asking these questions coyly or with some ulterior motive in mind. I would really like to know the answers.

Last question, are there answers?

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