Idol Chatter

Don Imus was fired–and I think it’s a travesty.

I don’t have the same point of view as my esteemed Idol Chatter colleague Nicole Symmonds, who wrote that “you couldn’t have said a more racially-charged comment,” and “the apology is not accepted.” Writing before Mr. Imus was fired, she called for his show to be cancelled.

I disagree sharply. I don’t think Imus should have been fired, as it sends the completely wrong message and serves to sustain a media culture that raises up politickers and posers rather than authentic leaders who can bring the effective kind of spiritually empowering message that we so desperately need to send, especially to our young people.

Let me be clear: Nothing Mr. Imus said was funny, nor right, nor righteous, nor deserved, nor respectful, nor appropriate. There was just nothing good about them. The girls he insulted are college women who are overachieving and inspiring. And this isn’t a question of liberal vs. conservative or religious vs. secular; if Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell were playing politics like this, I’d criticize them as well.

Consider the way this has gone down, and tell me if these young women haven’t been used for the benefit of others, pawns in a political game:

• Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson (among others) have attracted their share of the spotlight, even though their divisive approach exists more to serve them than it does the young ladies, the country, or our young people. Where are the leaders stepping up to state that Mr. Imus doesn’t have any relevance unless others give it to him? Where are the leaders stepping up to say to a nation of young women (and all young athletes) that when we let the words of another person take away our esteem and confidence, it is us who are giving them that power, not them taking it?

• NBC and CBS distanced themselves from Imus by firing him, seeming to display a strong moral standard from the corporate office. The problem is that they act as if they never knew (or approved) of his show, which regularly features comments that would be offensive, if they were at all relevant. The truth is, they’ve profited from Imus’s show and now feel as if they would no longer profit from it, so a business decision was made. The time for moral leadership would have been to have decided years ago never to fill that airtime with such irrelevant and offensive banter in the first place.

• Many news networks, newspapers, magazines ,and blogs have enjoyed increased exposure and traffic by bringing more attention to this, rarely offering solutions or answers but certainly attracting market share by sustaining the story. I suspect that by the time Sunday comes, there will be even more views expressed on the Sunday magazine shows.

• Several of the candidates running for office have chosen to use this incident as a platform for advancing their own cause. Worse, there will be those criticized in the media if they don’t speak out on this, further elevating what should never have been the status given Mr. Imus’ words.

In my mind, the angst that will forever be a memory for the Rutgers’ team was created as much by the cultural and media forces working in response to Mr. Imus’s words as much as it was a product of his words themselves.

If only there would have been those (from Rutgers) who’d have quickly stepped up to simply say, “Don’t make a story out of this; make a story about our team, their play, their character, or their academics, but not about this. We won’t let his lessen the luster of our season. He’s irrelevant to us, so don’t give him or his words any wider microphone than they’ve already had, and our girls know they’re not victims unless they allow it.”

What if these classy young ladies at Rutgers–many who’ve professed their Christian faith on recent news shows) could have stood up and told the world: “Yes, this man said things that were intolerable and completely unredeeming. But you know what? We’re not perfect, either, and on this week after Easter, we know that Jesus died for us and forgave us for everything we would ever do wrong, and we offer forgiveness in that spirit–and by that power–to Mr. Imus. We don’t offer it because he deserves it, or because his apology is ‘enough.’ We don’t offer it because he’s appealed to the right media mediator or said the contrite things. We offer it because God has offered it to us. It is unconditional. It is grace. It is undeserved.”

But the overwhelming pressure of media powerhouses and organizational operatives was too strong for this group of wonderful students. Let’s start training the next group–wherever they are–to stand as strong against the news-and-protest side of our culture as they do against the entertainment side. And, let’s help them find the leadership organizations and houses of worship that will draw them away from the politickers and posers and towards those who truly exist for their benefit.

The most wonderful miracle–the hallmarks of the spiritual high ground, including contrition, repentance, forgiveness, and unity–didn’t happen here, and it won’t as long as wonderful chances for authentic spiritual leadership can’t make it credibly into our current media culture. And simply firing Mr. Imus doesn’t rise to the level of what’s needed to truly help that cause.

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