WASHINGTON - Talk-show host Don Imus has been fired from the CBS Radio Network and MSNBC has dropped the simulcast of his "Imus in the Morning" show because the shock jock touched the "third rail" of free speech: he insulted black people, some of whose self-appointed "leaders" have a direct line to the media to express their outrage. In the past, networks have stood against onslaughts from conservative political and religious groups outraged by program content, but they quickly cave when confronted by campaigns led by the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Imus' remarks about black women on the Rutgers University female basketball team were the same kind of stuff (and worse) that one can hear in hip-hop "music." Hip-hop "artists," who are mostly black men, frequently demean black women. Their lyrics approve of rape and other violent acts against black women, who are referred to as "hos" and "b----es," and other names that cannot be printed here.
Imus' comments about the Rutgers women were offensive by the standards that used to exist in America. The hypocrisy comes when people who have "pushed the envelope" beyond what used to be called acceptable boundaries of taste and community standards now appeal to the standards they helped to eliminate. Corporate executives who trade in the worst of the hip-hop filth are not required to apologize or stop polluting the airwaves as well as minds and hearts with their filth. That's because it makes them gobs of money and money covers a multitude of "sins."
The hypocrisy extends to Jackson, who appeared on Fox News. In an interview with John Gibson, Jackson criticized Imus for his remarks. It would have been a good moment for Gibson to ask Jackson if he felt empathy for Imus, since Jackson once called New York City "Hymietown," which many regarded as an anti-Semitic slur, but Gibson did not bring it up.
Like Michael Richards, who launched a racist tirade at an audience member during a stand-up comedy routine, Imus now is doing the apology tour. He groveled on Sharpton's radio show, saying he meant no offense and acted as priest and penitent by declaring himself "a good man."
It will never satisfy until people whose careers are built on taking offense have extracted his last pound of flesh and worn out their welcome on the cable TV shows. That will happen when the media tire of the Anna Nicole Smith story.
Where are the First Amendment defenders in all this? They have fled Imus as if he's radioactive.
Why aren't keepers of the First Amendment flame coming to the defense of Imus? It's because they have a double standard.
Was Imus racially insensitive and offensive? According to my standards, he was. But my standards no longer matter. They have been thrown overboard in favor of a different philosophy. Call it "Anything Goes." Look up the lyrics to that classic Cole Porter song and you have the mentality that passes for contemporary communication and entertainment.
If the Imus case went to trial, no jury would convict him because the prosecutor would not have a universal standard by which to hold him accountable.
Cal Thomas, a columnist for Tribune Media Services, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.