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Vol. 44, No. 4 May 2007 .pdf version
Don Imus reminds us to think before we speak
By STEVE CARP / Las Vegas Review-Journal
I was going to revisit an earlier topic, that being working conditions for writers during the regular college basketball season. Then I happened to hear Don Imus' comments regarding the Rutgers women's basketball team following the Scarlet Knights' amazing run to the national championship game and the subsequent firestorm that followed his remarks.
By now, you're aware of the comments, and they need not be repeated here. But what I want to remind all of you that as members of the media, we too are in the spotlight and what we write and say in our columns carries weight in the court of public opinion.
We might not have the ability to reach as big an audience as Imus, but we are subjected to the same guidelines and face the same consequences as he does when we stray.
Of course, most of us have the good sense to not write stupid things that land us a seat in the managing editor's office. Most of us know better. We're not out to get ratings or shock people at 7 in the morning.
Still, as writers, we are trying to help boost circulation at our newspapers. Sometimes, we write things that turn out to be controversial and advertisers call the publisher and demand a retraction, lest they pull their ad dollars and go elsewhere with them.
Often, these matters get resolved, and life goes on for both the paper and the advertiser. Most good newspapers will stand behind their reporter, assuming that the reporter used sound judgment in his or her reporting and did not deliberately attempt to libel anyone.
Obviously, sound judgment was not used by Don Imus. His comments, which were a combustible combination of ignorance, misogamy and stupidity with a dash of hate thrown in for good measure were fueled by a producer who spews the same hateful bile on a daily basis in a beleaguered attempt to front as comedy and by a former sports talkshow host who was fired a couple of years ago for hateful remarks, only to be brought back and add fuel to the fire with his own two cents' worth of vitriol.
Let what Imus did serve as a reminder to all of us in the media that we need to think before we speak, whether it's orally on the air or as we sit in front of our computer to write. Some of you are talk-show hosts in your communities. Many of you have appeared as a guest on a talk show. Most of the time, it's innocent enough. You come on, talk about the state of the team you cover, try to give some insight as to whether the team will make the NCAA Tournament, have its star player declare for the NBA Draft or whether a coaching change looms on the horizon.
You try to be candid and forthright. But you also try not to put your foot in your mouth, either. At least you should be cognizant of trying not to do so.
Sometimes, the over-zealous host tries to trap you and get you to say something over-the-top. Most of us know how to dodge such questions.
Even on Imus' show, which has been running for 30 years in New York, the smart journalists and politicians know where the lines are and they don't cross them, no matter how hard Imus and his lackeys try to lure them over the line. Talk radio can be a mine field, and one wrong step and you can kiss your career goodbye.
Nobody I know would risk losing everything just to say something outrageous. At least, I would hope not. Still, let's remember that as members of the media, we are visible and what we say is being judged. So if we can just remember to think before we speak, we'll be better off, both in the short term and the long term. Because for all the money he makes, I doubt any of us would want to trade places with Imus today.
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