Before the self-congratulation gets any more feverish, here is one splash of cold water on the destruction of Don Imus. There was a sodden moralism in the comments on this subject in the New York Times and elsewhere that bodes ill for discussion of less worked-up issues. Imus is a known quantity--a drawling wit, vulgar entertainer, holder forth and pretend-lowbrow, a misanthrope and churl who over many years adapted himself to the gutter medium of talk radio. He is also the only interviewer who ever put John Kerry at ease (the subject, once, was basketball). He had corrosive things to say about the Iraq war, and his references to the president were often in a class with his sprawl of words about the Rutgers team. A non-denominational hater and, like certain other misanthropes, fearless as well as feckless. Can anyone believe his replacement will be made of finer stuff?
The occasion was arbitrary, the penalty outsize, the author of the majority opinion that stern moralist, Al Sharpton. In concurring, Barack Obama spoke some politic but unconvincing words about the harm that patter like Imus' could do to the self-image of his daughters. A more constant menace to habits of respect throughout the culture is the self-contempt of the rap verbiage that Imus in his studio daze could not have copied more faithfully if he had been hired to do so. This is a slang any parent of a teenager can recognize has sunk deep roots in the insult arsenal of Americans of all colors. The absurdity of the notion that Imus picked up his language from Ku Kluxers and not from 50 Cent will eventually be noticed.
Another view of the matter has been expounded by a well-qualified judge:
"It's a completely different scenario. [Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We're talking about hos that's in the 'hood that ain't doing shit, that's trying to get a nigga for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them muthafuckas say we in the same league as him."
Snoop Dogg distinguishes the cases. Is that all right then? Imus is totally gone. Snoop Dogg is still with us. Are we happy now?