Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thin skin

Whimsical Wednesday will have to wait until tomorrow. I want to talk about something a little more serious. A couple of things have happened recently with radio personalities getting into some trouble due to the content of their shows. The situations are a little different from each other, but they bear some similarities that I think are telling.

The most public of the two is the extremely insensitive thing that Don Imus said about the Rutgers women's basketball team. For those of you living in caves with internet access, he called them (and I'm not sure the context, if it matters) "nappy-headed hoes". He has apologized numerous times in public, saying that what he did was "idiotic".

The other one is a little less public, and I only know about it because I happened to be listening to the Paul Finebaum show the day after it happened. One anonymous caller to his show, an Auburn fan, commented on the Nick Saban hiring by saying that (and I paraphrase), "Bama would have been better off hiring [Gene Stallings's severely mentally disabled son] as coach." Finebaum never expressed any approval of this statement, and in fact his only mistake was that he didn't cut him off immediately and get him off the show. Instead, he engaged the guy in conversation for a brief time, and let him continue his tirade.

Now the similarities in incidents are probably not as big as the differences. For one, in the Imus situation, the celebrity was the one making the offensive statement. In Finebaum's case, it was a caller, and Finebaum probably had no way of knowing he would say it before it happened. For another, Imus has apologized profusely and, I believe, sincerely.

However, what I find really interesting is the responses to these incidents. Like I mentioned before, I only know about the Finebaum incident because I was listening to it the day after it happened. That right, the day after. They were still talking about it, and callers repeatedly expressed their outrage and sadness that this particular comment was made. Finebaum never got defensive about it, acknowledged his own mistake in the incident, and basically agreed with all callers that the statement was reprehensible.

The Imus case has of course been relatively big news nationally. He has gone on an apology tour, and now the Rutgers team he has offended have expressed their own shock and sadness over the incident (in agreeing to meet with him).

It just seems to me that in both of these incidents, there are reasons not to consider it such a big deal. In the Finebaum case, it was only a caller. We can dismiss a caller as "just some idiot we don't need to listen to." Alabama prides itself on not being "politically correct", and I'm sure Gene Stallings is a very thick-skinned man. He was an SEC head football coach for crying out loud. I'm sure he doesn't think twice about what some random asshole says about his son. The outpouring of shock and sadness from this rather rough-tongued community came as a big surprise to me. This is not to defend the random asshole, who clearly stepped well past the decency-line. I just think it should have been immediately dismissed and forgotten as not particularly important in the grand scheme of things.

In the Imus case, while it isn't "just some idiot", Imus has in fact apologized. And it's not a half-way insincere "I'm sorry you got offended" apology. It's an unambiguous "I totally screwed up" apology. Over and over again. Maybe I just believe in second chances more than most. I think his mea culpa is sufficient to return him to his previous standing, whatever you may believe that to be. After all, this isn't Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter saying outrageous things and then standing behind them. Imus has actually disavowed his outrageous statement, and that disavowal has in my opinion completely eclipsed the wrongdoing.

I welcome dissenting opinions. After all, being a pasty white guy, maybe I'm just being undersensitive to the whole "nappy headed hoes" thing. Maybe, because I don't have a mentally disabled close relative, I don't know how it feels for someone to be slurred like that. I'm willing to be convinced, I guess.


Anonymous said...

Me think Imus doth protest (or apologize) too much. He's going on the premise that he "goes to black people's funerals" and "invites black people to his ranch". That's not a good apology in my (and a lot of others' books). That makes it worse in a lot of peoples' books.


Richard Pittman said...

Well, I think you have to break that up into two different accusations:

a. He said a racist, sexist thing. To this, he pleads guilty and asks forgiveness.

b. He is a racist, sexist person. To this, he pleads innocent and uses the "I have a lot of black friends" excuse. Yeah, that's kind of sad.