Dialogue On the Imus Controversy

Here we go! Listed below are some of your reactions to my perspective on the Don Imus debacle, posted on Wednesday.

As always, I’ve had to truncate some of your notes to keep things short, to the point and interesting for the third party reader. With this in mind, I’m including only your first names to avoid misrepresenting your full point of view.

Thanks to the hundreds of people who wrote to me. I read what you say.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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I truly appreciate and enjoy listening to you on TV; however, I cannot figure out why you would take the time to write about the Don Imus “non-issue.” You have far more important things to teach and bring to the attention of your viewers. Thank you for giving Catholics a wise voice on television.

GOD bless you! — Shahad (San Diego, CA)

RESPONSE: Shahad, while you were the only responder who asked why I would take time to discuss this issue, I include your note here because you make a very legitimate and important point. I struggle daily to decide what issues to take on. I try to strike a balance between 1) bringing to the forefront stories and debate which don’t usually make the headlines and 2) providing an alternative voice of ethical and religious commentary to what the news world is already talking about. I could do my own thing and avoid the secular headlines all together, but I fear I would be forfeiting many teaching moments and abandoning a big swath of society. I guess you could say I’m trying to engage and elevate culture, in my little way. Did I make the right decision in this particular case? Did I waste your time and mine? I’m not sure. I’m sure glad the news world is not my only job. I enjoy talking about what I consider more substantial issues for most of my day.

Father Jonathan, I am not one of your regulars, but I like a lot of what you say. But I want to say something on this; I understand what you said, but I think something is being overlooked here. In this case, Imus was really quoting some other people who had used the same language in their "music" or lyrics when he said this. Now the only difference between Imus and these other men who use the same language is skin color.

RESPONSE: You were not alone in bringing out this point. Thank you. While circumstances like the one you mention can diminish personal culpability, circumstances never make right what is objectively wrong. In other words, while those words may be commonplace in some circles, they are always disgraceful and should be condemned because they berate a person’s dignity.

Father Jonathan, under our system, corporations are not required (nor should they be) to show "moral leadership." Nor are they required to put anything but profit first. The moral leadership needs to come from those who are offered their product. If no one buys their product, they will change. — Swearingen

RESPONSE: Swearingen, I disagree. The state or federal law may not require “moral leadership,” but the law that is written on the human heart does. You’ve bought into the lie because capitalism is a good thing; it should have no boundaries beyond the demands of the market. That principle, taken to the extreme, is what allows the strongest members of society to abuse their power and turn the weak into objects of their pleasure. I’m all for free-market capitalism, but it must have boundaries. The responsibility lies on the shoulders of both the corporation and the consumer.

Father Jonathan: I always enjoy your view of the current hype that goes on in the world so let me thank you in advance for your insight.

I have a question/concern about the Don Imus situation. As he is not alone in the area of misstatements and racial slurs, I am confused on something. How is it that the blacks can call each other these names and then get offended when a white person does it? — Janet

RESPONSE: Janet, besides what I’ve explained above, your point allows me to bring up another principle. I’ll probably get a lot of flack for what I’m about to say. In a perfect world we could expect a completely balanced application of justice. But the fact is, the shameful periods of racism and bigotry in our country make the playing field anything but level. This means that while any racial slur is wrong, no matter who is the perpetrator, when a white man slurs a black man, the offense is particularly intense because of our history. This doesn’t mean blacks or other minorities are free to say and do whatever they want, it just means, in my opinion, we can’t judge properly if we fail to consider historic perspective. I don’t say this to be politically correct, but rather because I think it is true.

Father Jonathan, the mistake in your argument, and one that I notice that you often make, is the assumption that there is only a single moral position. These companies also have, I believe, a moral obligation to their shareholders — not to make rash financial decisions based on the particular leanings of the men upstairs. Therefore I think that the way the Procter & Gamble spokesman's statement that you deride actually shows some moral judgments — they will let their customers decide if Imus has crossed the line, and therefore not jeopardize their investor's money with ill-thought moralizing. — JD (Denver, CO)

RESPONSE: JD, there are a few points here. Yes, I agree, a company has a responsibility to look out for the good of its share-holders, but once again, there must be clear boundaries to regulate what I called the “legitimate search for profit.” It is the job of the board of directors — not the share-holders — to decide if Imus crossed the line. Regarding your point that I often act as if there were only one accurate moral position, I can understand where you are coming from. I do believe some things are always right and others are wrong, and I make sure people know that. But I think you will also notice in my commentary that I don’t pretend everything is black and white. Many moral issues have shades of gray that we must analyze with great care. I’ll try to be more careful.

Hi Father Jonathan,

While I am upset about Don Imus and the comments he made, I find it VERY interesting that you would put Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson up as the clean-cut spokespersons who did the country a service by leveling sharp criticism at Don Imus. I must remind you of the Bible verses (I paraphrase here) that says, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" I truly believe that Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson should look to their own sins first, as I have too. — Leon M.

RESPONSE: Leon, good point. If you re-read my article, I think you will see that I am not holding up these two men as impeccable models of virtue. I only meant to say that their initial outcry, in this particular case, was justified. Do I often disagree with their style and tactics? Yes. By the way, I think it would be appropriate for the two reverends to make a comment about yesterday’s news that the attorney general of North Carolina has said the Duke lacrosse players were accused wrongly of rape and kidnapping charges. It seemed to me both of them were to quick to come to the defense of the accuser, and in this way, defamed these three men.

Father Jonathan, I found your article amusing from the standpoint of your attempt to define moral leadership after what the Catholic Church has done to the youth of this country. I was also looking for some bit of a concept that would be expected from you as a follower of Christ — it's called forgiveness. I guess Christ's example for far greater offenses is not good enough for you. Your stance is a big disappointment to me as a Catholic, and you have again provided another occasion where I am embarrassed to be a Catholic. Shame on you. — John

RESPONSE: John, yes, you are right; the actions of some leaders of the Catholic Church have diminished in the eyes of many the moral credibility of all of its members. Instead of sulking in our soup, however, I think the best response is to get out there and try to do good work, avoiding the pitfalls and sins of the past. Your comment about forgiveness has much truth to it as well. In cases like that of Imus, it is easy to rush to judgment and go for the throat. My article, however, was not a rant against Imus, nor a call for his resignation. It was only about the moral vacuum we see in much of the media establishments today, where the dollar trumps everything else. Hope that helps, and let’s pray and hope for the best for Imus and his family.

Father Jonathan,

I enjoyed your article on Don Imus.

But what is this sidetrack you took on corporate America defending the wrong values? Please, Father, get a grip. We live in AMERICA, the home of FREE ENTERPRISE and CAPITALISM.

The combination has given us the highest standard of living in the world. It has provided OPPORTUNITY and a livelihood for millions over the years.
It guarantees us the best products at the lowest prices through competition.

What is wrong with Procter and Gamble saying they don't want their target audience offended? What else should they say?

In my opinion, nothing. They have said it all.

Procter and Gamble is not a home for the clergy. It is a piece of corporate America. Have a nice day. — Paul (Lewisburg, PA)

RESPONSE: Paul, it wasn’t a sidetrack. It was the point of the whole article. I hope my response above to JD answers your question. A company should seek profit and individuals can seek wealth, but if capitalism is left on its own, with no boundaries or rules, unbridled human nature will turn a good into evil.

Father Jonathan,

Thank you as always for your work. I think it is a beautiful idea for corporations to see the virtue of thinking first of the public good and second on their profits. Since they don’t seem to be too interested in that — because of the inherent greed reflex in capitalism — I think it is up to us as their consumers to use capitalism to show them their profits are tied to the public good. The fact we haven’t already does not say much about us or our values as a society.

God bless! — Mike P.

RESPONSE: Mike, but don’t go overboard. Some people point to the abuse of capitalism as an excuse to reject it all together. Private businesses are formed to make money and create wealth. If executives do this in a way that promotes the well-being of their workers and consumers, they are doing a great service to society.

Father J,

I have an 8-year-old daughter that, like many kids, gets teased at school. My response to her is, not to value the comments because of the source. The comments inevitably come from someone who is not her friend, so why let them get into you by their words. Mr. Imus’ words were terrible, but I think he is irrelevant, so who cares! And if more people thought he was unimportant he wouldn’t be on the air. — Kurt (Ridgecrest, CA)

Obvious PS, love your blog. My perspective is a bit to the right of you and I do not always agree; but anyone who is willing to address and dialogue on moral issues is way cool — and a real breath of fresh air in today’s PC culture.

RESPONSE: Thanks, Kurt. And it sounds like you are doing a great job raising your daughter to love in a world where hatred has the megaphone.

Father Jonathan,

This will be short ... You are right. The only thing that dictates a proper response in the arena of right and wrong is money. So sad what our nation has become. Can anything really be done to overcome our sad state of affairs? — Vernon (Morehead City, NC)

RESPONSE: Vernon, yes, I think a lot can be done, each of us within our particular radius of action. Are we doing everything within our power to build a society where truth and love reign? Are we using our talents wisely? Start within the family and work outwards.

I find it hypocritical that CBS and NBC which controls some of the record companies I had contacted earlier are now concerned because some old white guy was trying to be funny and use the “common and acceptable” language of the day to describe a girls basketball team. I don’t get it, when rappers such as Akon, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Ludacris and others use the same language and worse in crudely graphic songs it’s called “dance music” and “free speech.” Which is it? Is it crude and unacceptable behavior or is it free speech and song lyrics? You can’t have it both ways. Maybe Mr. Imus should have rapped his remarks and no one would have said a thing.

Thank you for letting me vent. — Al M.

RESPONSE: Yes, yes, yes…. Al, the black community needs to stand up with greater unity and decisiveness against these destructive elements. Some black leaders have made considerable efforts, but as a whole they have not succeeded in abolishing this smut.

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