By Naveed Mansoori
Don Imus shocked audiences on April 4 when he referred to the women of the Rutgers University basketball team as “nappy-headed hos” on his morning radio show, “Imus in the Morning.” CBS canceled the show, sparking a fury of debate regarding the issue of free speech.
Jeff Schechtman, general manager and program director of Napa County’s KVON 1440 AM, believes that CBS’ actions were harsh and extensive.
“Had [CBS] continued [the show] we would have kept it on the air,” Schechtman said. “We think what happened was massively blown out of proportion. There are a lot of people on the radio who have said a lot worse … we don’t need Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson going around saying what they have been saying.”
Both Sharpton and Jackson have been very vocal since Imus’ gaffe, speaking out against Imus’ shock-jock tactics and leading protests against NBC.
Among Imus’ defenders are Rosie O’ Donnell and Bill Maher, who have both said that Imus’ freedom of speech has been compromised and that his apology should be enough.
Keith Royer, operations manager at Santa Barbara’s local radio station KTMS 99 AM, was tentative in stating that CBS’ decision to cut “Imus In The Morning” was overkill, but did see the empty timeslot as an opportunity to run local programming.
“Don Imus has to figure it out for himself,” Royer said. “I think history will show us whether [his statement] was for some good, whether something unforeseen may come out of this.”
David Greene, executive director of the First Amendment Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression and petition, stated his hopes that this incident wouldn’t spark a heightened awareness about profanity and obscenities on the radio.
“I hope that this event isn’t used as an impetus to drive more commentary that uses similar language,” Greene said. “If they said, ‘Let’s get rap music off the air,’ I think that’s contextualizing the statement in a wrong way.”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has refused involvement in this issue because Imus’s statement does not fall under its definition of “obscene, indecent, or profane.”
The current definition of “profane” employed by the FCC “[includes] language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance.”
David Ensslin, spokesman for the FCC, refused to answer any questions pertaining to the legality of the FCC’s decision.
“All I can say is that we’ve had a lot of complaints,” Ensslin said.
Greene explained that Imus’ statement was offensive and humorless, but said the FCC’s faulty definition of “profanity” did not allow for governmental action to be taken.
“I think the [FCC’s] definition is so terrible [and] so obviously unconstitutional that it’s difficult to see if this falls under it,” Greene said. “One reason I think it’s unconstitutional is because it’s so vague.”
Royer stated that the FCC drew out intentionally loose standards so that any given statement or action could be interpreted by a local community.
Royer said, “I don’t know if there is a community in America where it would be okay to denigrate so much [of] a person or a team, it was just a stupid thing to say.”