It seems that we are now in the midst of an Imus backlash backlash. Bill Maher criticized the firing on his show Friday, somewhat predictably since he's been forced to walk that plank himself. In today's Times Frank Rich speaks out ($) against the response.
There is undoubtedly a public interest in allowing expression that is frank and uninhibited. But just as surely, it is also valuable to enforce norms that forbid unacceptable attitudes and expressions. The Imus firing is the red-hot nexus between those two imperatives. Bill Maher is right when he points out that if the media hadn't amplified Imus's remarks the Rutgers players might not have even heard about it; this isn't about the feelings of those kids. Neither is it a question of Imus's soul: it doesn't matter whether his intelligent interviews or his charity work or his good soul redeem his sometimes crude remarks. It's about letting America know what is acceptable and not acceptable.
Like Al Campanis and Trent Lott and Michael Richards, Imus must be tossed into the Volcano as a sacrifice. The Volcano is our nation's original sin, and all the anger and grief and guilt and desire for redemption that is expelled from it. His prominence only adds to his utility as an example. If the consequences are disproportionate to the crime, that's all for the better too. (I'm not being ironic.)
Sorry, Imus. It's not about you... it's about us.