Don Imus’ swift, inglorious end

The Don Imus debacle speaks to a much bigger problem than just his comments.

If any casual observer of the news were asked, “What was the most important event that occurred last week?” – most would conclude it was the firing of radio host Don Imus. The story was impossible to avoid in cable television news.

Everyone had an opinion, and by the looks of it, everyone had a chance to voice it on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or even ESPN. Other matters that were of national interest – like the bombing inside of the Iraqi parliament, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ role in the firing of federal prosecutors or college students being gouged by lenders – failed to make an impact compared with Imus’ racist and sexist comments.

Those three words that became Imus’ pink slip – repeated ad nauseam through other media outlets and not to be repeated here – were so great a matter of public concern they trumped these and every other story.

Vile commentary from radio hosts is nothing new and certainly not for Imus, who has built his career on comments similar to the ones he made that day.

We do not dispute that his words were a valid cause for his firing, but rather, how any outcome but than that one was possible with the wall-to-wall coverage that media outlets deemed he merited.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of stories like these. There are good guys and bad guys. Everyone gets to harrumph and wag their finger.

They’re cheap to produce; all you need is a camera, “experts” and calls to drum Imus – or whoever else it might be – out of a job. No actual reporting is necessary. You might call it “Just Add Water Journalism.”

We don’t disagree with his firing, but make no mistake; this was not a matter of principle for CBS or MSNBC. They fired Imus because his sponsors, frightened for their bottom line with all the bad press, dropped him. Now he is gone, and we are no worse for it.

But what have we gained from this circus? Our nation still grapples with the issues of racism and sexism. Perhaps cable news could contribute resources toward that debate with some actual reporting, instead of just headhunting with their talking heads.