Ken Tucker
April 20, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Don Imus debate

Taking Don Imus’ long-running radio show off the air is, culturally and commercially, the easy way out. It lets too many hypocrites off the hook. I wish Imus had been allowed to remain in the studio after he apologized, because then one of two interesting, instructive scenarios would have played out:

Imus might have toned down his act, which would have further exposed him as the exact opposite of the slash-and-burn satirist he fancies himself. And the size of the audience for his nationally syndicated radio show probably would have shrunk, revealing a large percentage of the listenership as folks who got off on Imus’ cheap, nasty ”jokes.” With ratings in decline, the show might have died a slower, more painful death, and we the public — not corporate fat cats or sponsors afraid of public relations heat — would have decided Imus’ fate. Or:

Imus might have pressed the reset button and defaulted to his standard wounded/belligerent mode. All those high-profile guests he drew — top-tier politicians and media pundits — would no longer be able to hide behind their patently dishonest ”I don’t listen to the rest of the show; he’s a thoughtful guy with me” line, and we’d see who’s a craven publicity hound and who isn’t. Plus, every time Imus said another hideous thing, the offended group would be able to come down on him like a hammer and explain why that latest insult was infuriating. This could be just one definition of an ”ongoing discussion” about race, etc., that so many are calling for in the wake of Imus’ April 12 firing. Now that’ll never occur. Instead, everything will be compartmentalized and redirected. My friends, beware of calls for a ”grand national debate” on anything, because all that usually means is a lot of hot air emitted by gasbags on TV news channels, the Internet, and newspaper op-ed pages, very little of that air containing any buoyant originality.

So Imus has put his cowboy hat on top of his pickled brain and ridden off — either into the sunset or perhaps onto satellite radio, or some other venue that’s not beholden to sponsors. And who will pay the price for his creepiness? The party line is already forming: Hip-hop music has deadened us all to offensive language — let’s police it! Rosie O’Donnell has loony opinions — let’s fire her! Oh, and I knew this one was coming when I saw MSNBC meatloaf-head Joe Scarborough air a racy, race-satirical clip from Chappelle’s Show: Let’s muzzle all the performers who engage in any kind of thought-provoking, hilarious (as opposed to Imus-idiotic) performances!

Yeah, right — I’m sure demonizing Dave Chappelle’s comedy and Busta Rhymes’ lyrics will really enlighten America, not to mention provide comfort to the slurred Rutgers athletes. If this is the Imus aftermath, I say:

Let the healing stop.

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