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Hello, Imus Be Going


A few words in defense of political correctness: Let's acknowledge that casual bigotry is at least as evil as the overt kind and that a good argument could be made that it's more so. Casual bigotry is the door cracked open just enough to let its more vicious relative into society.
I was interested to see Norman Lear weigh in on the topic of Don Imus in this forum without mentioning Archie Bunker. You will remember that Norman's great sitcom, "All in the Family," touched off a national debate on the subject of Archie's so-called benign bigotry. Some argued that by giving Archie a national forum, "All in the Family" served the social good by shedding daylight on our complicated feelings about race. Others argued that Archie's bigotry, wrapped in gruff humor, legitimized a certain low-level of hate radiation.

Similarly, Kinky Friedman, in today's New York Post, writes eloquently on behalf of his friend Imus, calling him a "truth-seeking missile" and insisting that there's something weird--"not kosher," he says, Ha!--about an America in which "one guy gets a Grammy and one gets fired for the same line."

I'm a bigger fan of Kinky's than I am of Imus's. But I'm pretty sure that as a Jew from Texas--Kinky's band is called the Texas Jewboys--he's smarter than that. Texas is one place among many in America where in some precincts Jew is a verb. As in the time when I, a temporary resident of Dallas, was told by a proud prospective buyer of my car that he had "jewed" another car owner down by several hundred dollars, before giving me a wink. The point of that wink was to suggest that he knew that I knew that he knew I was Jewish and so his usage was, you know, kosher.

It's marginally OK for Kinky Friedman to call his band the Texas Jewboys. But it's also the kind of casual bigotry that allows a good ol' boy to use offensive speech because, well, we all know he's not really a bigot. Don't we?

"He is an independent thinker and a courageous social critic. His more outrageous comments are bound to offend one element or another of the population from time to time, but any suggestion that such a rare voice should be silenced indicates a dangerous weakness in our pluralistic, democratic society."

Those are the words of Walter Cronkite, to me in 1990, reporting in The New York Times, when CBS suspended Andy Rooney for publicly airing his squeamishness about homosexuals and his genetic theories about blacks. (Rooney vehemently denied he'd ever accused African-Americans of "watering down" their genes, as he had been reported saying.) Cronkite was, in his way, saying that what happened to Andy Rooney--he was briefly suspended from his "60 Minutes" post--wasn't kosher.

In Rooney's case, political correctness lost out to casual bigotry, just as it had with Archie Bunker: Rooney was reinstated before his suspension was up and the CBS News president who'd held him accountable was shown the door. Even as recently as 1990, apparently, slandering gays and maybe African-Americans as well, wasn't enough to prompt fleeing among advertisers.

Sorry, but Don Imus is no "truth-seeking missile," not by a long shot, no matter how cleverly his powerful enablers in the mainstream media have tried to make it seem otherwise. Not unless we want to believe that it's OK to impugn all black women as subhuman whores. That's what Imus did when he casually slandered the young women athletes of Rutgers University.

Imus was a fringe operator, and fringe operators push the envelope. They make us think. But the minute he became mainstream, Imus lost his license to practice casual bigotry, homophobia, sexism. That's the way it works with power. That's why it may be OK for African Americans to use the N word but never so for whites. The cost to Imus, with his millions in the bank, is not unkosher. What's unkosher is only that it took so long for someone to finally say, "This is evil." I'll shed no tears for him.