MUFFY! THERE ARE VULGAR PEOPLE ON THE WIRELESS!
Did anyone understand what the point of this article in yesterday's New York Times was?
It seemed as if it was meant to tell us whether, in a post-Imus world, radio shock jocks are still getting away with the horrible thing Imus got fired for -- but Jacques Steinberg, who wrote the piece, doesn't even seem to understand what that horrible thing was. The point is that Imus got fired for a flippant, R-rated slander of specific individuals America felt didn't deserve to be treated that way; the point wasn't that Imus merely used naughty words, or made intemperate-seeming political pronouncements.
Steinberg doesn't get this, or much of anything else about shock-jock radio -- but then, you can see that coming early on in the piece, when he gives you his best Stanley-in-darkest-Africa imitation:
Th[is] part of the radio spectrum ... remains as arguably and insidiously untamed in the days after Mr. Imus's collapse as it was before, based on a New York Times screening of nearly 250 hours of shock-talk radio broadcast over the last week....
All told, The Times listened to a dozen prominent shows on so-called terrestrial radio for five weekdays in a row.
Five entire weekdays! A dozen shows! Were you terrified for your life, Professor?
So here, in a discussion of Chicago's very popular Mancow (Erich Muller), Steinberg is utterly unable to distinguish different kinds of harsh language, probably because he's too busy reaching for the smelling salts:
One morning late last month, for example, Mancow ... could be heard dismissing a caller as a "brain-dead fetus" and a "late-term abortion that somehow crawled out of the Dumpster" after the man's phone connection gave out.
Mr. Muller ... also suggested on the same broadcast that "radical Muslims" would not stop until they had flattened American religion like a steamroller.
His children, he predicted, "will probably be killed because I'm bringing them up Catholic, and maybe their children will be brainwashed and put into some sort of situation where they're wearing a burka and they follow Shia law, because that's what these radicalized Muslims want."
He also mused about several other matters, including, "I just wonder why we care so much about Virginia Tech kids." He quickly qualified the remark by saying, "Don't pull that out of context," before indicating that soldiers killed in Iraq deserved comparable gestures of mourning.
And that was just one day's show.
Muffy, did you know people were allowed to say things like this in public? Neither did I!
Several questions come to mind here:
* Does Steinberg understand that the bit about burkas is the kind of thing you can hear on any news-talk radio station in America at any time of the day, not to mention on Headline News during any episode of Glenn Beck's show?
* Does Steinberg know that that last bit is fully mainstream -- that a lot of people have said the reaction to Virginia Tech was out of proportion to the reaction to troop deaths?
* Does Steinberg get that, while Mancow said nasty things to that caller, what he said was nonspecific, and therefore, arguably, less offensive than what Imus said about the members of the Rutgers women's basketball team, which targeted them with specific demeaning racist/sexist stereotypes?
I'm not defending Mancow (or other shock-jocks quoted by Steinberg). It's just that there are many different kinds of controversial speech; a taxonomy would have been nice, but Steinberg's reaction seems to be "Eeek! It's all awful!"
Now, I don't know why this stuff is so popular. I don't know why, for some listeners, political talk and shock talk seem to go together perfectly -- that was the Imus combination, and that's what a Spanish-language program quoted by Steinberg seems to serve up (e.g., a song about anal sex followed by a Florida state legislator talking about property taxes). It's an interesting question, one that Steinberg could have examined, but he couldn't, because the whole subject just seems too upsetting for him.