Imus in Mourning

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This is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore watching television for KCRW with this nagging pain. I mean, I've got a crick in my neck from shaking my head over the Don Imus affair.

It's been explosive, alright. But when the dust settles, maybe we'll find we've gained from this sorry episode some valuable wisdom. No doubt Imus is sadder, but wiser, having painfully discovered something most of us might have already suspected: namely, if you're a big-time radio and TV host, do not go taking racist, misogynist potshots at unsuspecting young college women who you only noticed in the first place because they're terrific.

There's likely no one in America who doesn't an opinion on Imus' odious outburst, and few who haven't been voicing their thoughts. So now, let me tell you what I think is an obvious lesson, one that transcends Don Imus, and even racism and misogyny... a lesson I think should apply, at least, to everyone who has a public forum: Think twice before saying something mean.

That's a lesson I predict will fall on deaf ears among those who need it most: All the surviving talk-show hosts and on-air pundits whose stock-in-trade, as was Imus', is too often insults and broadsides targeting anyone who differs with them -- or who, like the Rutgers women's basketball team, just happens to catch their eye. Such reckless insensitivity goes back, at least, to the arrival of Rush Limbaugh, a master of the low blow, who, of course, continues to reign supreme after nearly 20 years.

What Imus said on his now-defunct radio show and MSNBC simulcast was more extreme than the sort of thing Limbaugh spouts. But it's the same toxic spew: an epidemic of exercising free speech too freely. I often agree with what Keith Olbermann says on his MSNBC talk show, but still I cringe at his nightly fixture, "The Worst Person in the World." I get that he's exaggerating to make a point. But does this befit a commentator we are meant to take seriously? (And, for that matter, does Fox News Channel blowhard Bill O'Reilly, for all his excesses, really deserve to be branded Worst Person in the World, night after night?)

Where does this sort of talk get us?

I was struck by one idea in particular expressed during last week's Rutgers press conference: The players correctly observed that Don Imus knew nothing about them when he dismissed them with that much-quoted, ugly little phrase.

Could it be that people engaged in public discourse – whether they are pundits, wags or even politicians (and let's face it, these are occupations that are steadily converging) -- might take the time to inform themselves a little bit more about the people they're judging? And maybe temper what they say accordingly?

I realize we're living in a ratings-driven, infotainment world, but could they be a little more careful in their push to stir us up with an opinion or quip? Could they remember that, even for a shock jock, there's more at stake here?

If not, any of them better be prepared to find themselves on the far side of that fuzzy, fatal line Imus overstepped so ruinously. Turns out, anything doesn't go. And already I'm wondering, Who will be next to learn that -- the hard way?

Watching television for KCRW and still shaking my head, this is Associated Press TV writer Frazier Moore.