Imus, Rosie and Free Speech

Now, some viewers are wondering what the fuss is all about regarding Imus and Ms. O'Donnell, why the media is spending so much time on their controversial comments.

The reason Imus is in so much trouble is that he called some black college girls prostitutes and mocked their genetic appearance, very personal, very nasty. And all Americans should be offended. Even Imus acknowledges that.

The difficulty comes when evaluating what to do about media people who make these kinds of mistakes. Al Sharpton wants Imus gone.


AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Presidential candidates, as well as politicians, they should not go on his show. But I hope that we will not have a show for them to go back on.


And Imus himself is fighting for his professional life.


DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I invited Reverend Sharpton to appear on my program. And he didn't have the courage that I had, because I...

SHARPTON: No. I decided I would not...


IMUS: I'm talking, Reverend Sharpton.

(CROSSTALK) SHARPTON: I'm not trying to deal...

(CROSSTALK) SHARPTON: ... his show.


IMUS: I walked in his studio yesterday, and there were hundreds of people there. And my hands weren't shaking. And I didn't get up and run out of the studio every five minutes when the mikes went off. I sat there and I talked to Reverend Hargus like a man — Reverend Sharpton like a man. And he did not — and he did not keep his word.



Now, General Electric, the parent company of NBC, and CBS Viacom, both employ Imus and have suspended him for two weeks. What happens after that is not clear. But GE, in particular, has some thinking to do.

You remember, a few months ago, NBC military analyst William Arkin called American troops in Iraq "mercenaries" and said other disparaging things. Arkin was seen primarily on MSNBC, where Imus lives. And the hate rhetoric from that outlet has increased dramatically over the years.

Now, none of this is good for NBC News or General Electric. And it will be interesting to see what happens.

Across midtown Manhattan, Disney/ABC also has problems in the speech area. Rosie O'Donnell returned to "The View" today, and did not directly address her comments about 9/11 being an inside job or the USA and Britain orchestrating the Iran hostage situation in order to start another war.

Instead, Ms. O'Donnell defended Imus:


ROSIE O'DONNELL, CO-HOST: Listen, here's the thing. There's free speech in America. You can say anything that you want in this country. And to think that you could be penalized for it by a corporation is kind of a strange...

JOY BEHAR: But he's not the first one..



Now, it is possible Ms. O'Donnell is talking about herself here. But it is impossible to know for sure.

What we do know is that broadcasters and the companies that hire them have a responsibility not to spout crackpot theories and not to injure college girls. Words can hurt, and, in Ms. O'Donnell's case, can be used to influence ignorant people abroad: "See, we told you Al Qaeda had nothing to do with 9/11. America attacked itself" — that kind of stupid stuff.

Now, in the end, the marketplace will sort out Imus, Rosie, and NBC News. It always does. But, on the way to resolution, damage has been done.

And that's "The Memo."

Most Ridiculous Item

Desperate men do desperate things. Dan Abrams, who's in charge of the low-rated MSNBC network, actually had the gall to criticize FOX News in the wake of this Imus thing.

Abrams is clearly worried that General Electric will pull the plug on him because he's consistently embarrassing the parent company and his numbers are terrible. Last night, for example, at 8 p.m., MSNBC was last in the key demographic category which, of course is, ridiculous. FOX bashing over there, ridiculous.