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Michael Smerconish Headshot

First They Came for Imus

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Let's get the essentials out of the way.

Don Imus said something indefensible. He needed to be punished.

The public flogging he has suffered, plus the two-week suspension his bosses initially announced, should have been sufficient. I do not believe that MSNBC (where I often appear) or CBS Radio (my employer) should have fired him. And I cannot fathom how Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson became the arbiters of appropriateness, given Tawana Brawley and "Hymietown," respectively.

Only Imus knows for sure what was on his self-admittedly drug-damaged mind when he said those things. His apology sounded sincere. I myself do not believe he said something racist per se. It was a reach for a cheap laugh, not something said to be injurious to the Rutgers women.

Ah, but the floodgates are now open. The cyber-lynching by faceless, nameless bloggers of talk-show hosts like me has begun.

Individuals who hide behind the anonymity afforded by the Internet are seeking to squelch the First Amendment right of people whose identities are readily known and who, unlike their cowardly critics, put their names and credibility on the line each and every day on matters of public concern. Left unconfronted, it is a dangerous practice in the making.

The very day Imus was fired at CBS, I was alerted to a posting on Media Matters for America, a sophisticated Web site instrumental in stoking the flames for Imus' departure. The posting, titled "It's not just Imus," identified me as one of seven talk-show hosts in America who bear observation:

". . . [A]s Media Matters for America has extensively documented, bigotry and hate speech targeting, among other characteristics, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity continue to permeate the airwaves through personalities such as Glenn Beck, Neal Boortz, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Michael Smerconish, and John Gibson."

I have done talk radio for about 15 years, have written two books, authored hundreds of columns, and have appeared on every major television program in which politics gets discussed, from The Colbert Report to Hardball With Chris Matthews. This week alone I was responsible for 17.5 hours of content on my own radio show, wrote two newspaper columns, guest-hosted Bill O'Reilly's radio show nationwide, and found time to make television appearances on The Today Show, The Glenn Beck Program, and Scarborough Country.

Needless to say, I was anxious to see which of my words, among the millions I have offered over all these years, have been documented by these blogger-watchdogs as "bigotry" and "hate." What exactly puts me in a category with the likes of Michael Savage?

Well, let's evaluate the quality of the evidence. For me, they identified three examples:

Exhibit A. "Substituting for host Bill O'Reilly on the April 4, 2006, broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor, nationally syndicated radio host Michael Smerconish repeatedly discussed 'the sissification of America,' claiming that political correctness has made the United States 'a nation of sissies.' Smerconish also claimed, several times, that this 'sissification' and 'limp-wristedness' is 'compromising our ability to win the war on terror.' "

Guilty as charged. America is getting muzzled. Those among us who assert their own brand of political correctness while sacrificing the rugged individualism that has been the hallmark of our nation, are seeking to mute the words and actions of others, make them conform to a standard of correctness that is not just silly but also toxic. In the past, this sanitization of that which we say and do would have been debate-worthy, but in truth, only a minor irritant to our quality of life. But I believe that in the post-9/11 world, these trends represent a cancer that has metastasized into the war on terror, where it threatens our very survival. We debate the comfort level at Gitmo while Nick Berg gets decapitated. We've become sissies in that regard.

Exhibit B. "On the Nov. 23, 2005, broadcast of The Radio Factor, while guest-hosting, Smerconish took issue with a decision by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to provide a designated prayer area at Giants Stadium. The decision was in response to a Sept. 19 incident involving the FBI's detention and questioning of five Muslim men who were observed praying near the stadium's main air duct during a New York Giants football game. Smerconish stated: 'I just think that's [the men's public praying] wrong. I just think they're playing a game of, you know, mind blank with the audience. And that they should know better four years removed from Sept. 11."

Guilty. When five Muslim men in attendance at the Meadowlands in September 2005 for a Giants-Saints game that was also a Hurricane Katrina fund-raiser, with George H.W. Bush in attendance, saw fit to pray in an area near food preparation and air duct work, I think it was a case of mind blank. That's a form of terrorism in itself.

Exhibit C. "On the Nov. 23, 2005, edition of The Radio Factor, Smerconish interviewed Soo Kim Abboud, author of Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers - and How You Can Too. . . . Smerconish asserted that "if everyone follows Dr. Abboud's prescription . . . you're going to have women who will leave the home and now get a great-paying job, because you will have gotten them well-educated.' He continued, 'But then they're not going to be around to instill these lessons in their kids. In other words, it occurs to me that perhaps you've provided a prescription to bring this great success to an end.' "

My favorite - and truly an assertion that shows how asinine this situation has quickly become. Guilty!

Two Philadelphia-area Asian sisters wrote a great book explaining the success of their upbringing. The bottom line was their parents' hands-on approach. I not only hosted them on the air, but also honored them at a book club meeting with several hundred attendees. It occurred to me that if their advice were followed, it would create more "high achievers" with better educational opportunities and job offers, which would, ironically, take them out of the home where they could instill those same values to their own children. But now, that insight is sexist.

How long before they start burning my tapes?