May 14, 2007

The Imus Effect: A Demand For Decency?

Two more shock jocks find themselves on the unemployment lines after offending their audiences with racial humor. CBS News, which fired Don Imus for his offhand comment about the Rutgers basketball team, has now also fired the two hosts of the "The Dog House with JV and Elvis" for a skit that used an Asian restaurant as the butt of a joke about Asians and their accents:

One month after CBS Radio fired radio host Don Imus, it has permanently pulled the plug on a pair of suspended New York shock jocks for a prank phone call rife with offensive Asian stereotypes.

"The Dog House with JV and Elvis," hosted by Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay, "will no longer be broadcast," CBS Radio spokeswoman Karen Mateo said Saturday.

The cancellation of the show on WFNY-FM, nearly three weeks after the hosts were suspended, was another indication of the increased scrutiny on radio hosts and the heightened management sensitivity to complaints in the wake of the Imus firing.

Where Imus just got sloppy, these two made their bed deliberately. They called a Chinese restaurant and tried to order "shrimp-flied lice", and then broadcast it. They also compared menu items to the body parts of the restaurant employees and in general acted like 12-year-olds whose parents left them alone for the very first time.

Should that be a firing offense? When I was growing up in LA, that kind of schtick was the repetoire of almost half the FM dial. Rick Dees made a living off of gags like this, decades before it got called punking or pwning; he had one hilarious call to a promoter in which Dees pretended to represent Michael Jackson. Most times, though, it got pretty tiresome and repetitive, and that's the best that could be said for it -- when it didn't involve racial humor.

How many of us still put up with this kind of joking in our personal lives? Most of us would try to change the subject if one of our friends started spouting off about "shrimp-flied lice" out of embarrassment, and would walk away from acquaintances under similar circumstances. It's old, it's tired, and it's offensive. Almost none of us would make crank calls as a way to get a laugh, and most wouldn't tolerate it from their kids or friends, either. Radio listeners apparently feel the same way.

People will work this into a First Amendment case, but the First Amendment doesn't guarantee people gigs at CBS Radio. CBS gets held responsible for its content by its advertisers, who pay for shows like The Dog House. If people want to engage in offensive racial humor like JV and Elvis, no one is stopping them -- but CBS has no obligation to air it, and people have no obligation to listen.

In Imus' case, CBS went too far in firing him for an impromptu idiocy; a suspension would have made the point. In this case, where the two hosts went far out of their way to offend and act like middle-school pranksters, it may have been more appropriate, at least as far as CBS and their advertisers are concerned. Perhaps people will understand that hoary old gags about accents and racial issues should have died along with the comedians who started using them a lifetime ago. The First Amendment does not guarantee the tasteless a broadcast platform, after all.

Addendum: On my post about Opie & Anthony and their offensive broadcast about raping Condoleezza Rice, I printed a correction regarding Breitbart's text. Andrew Breitbart sent this reply:

At no point in our initial post (see below) did we state that this was a skit, not did we offer the time in which the interview occurred. Here is the initial subhead:

Warning: Extremely Vulgar Language. Shock Jocks Opie and Anthony engage in discussion about forced sex with the Secretary of State. A studio guest begins describing the scenario as the hosts laugh and encourage him. Anthony talks about the horror for Rice as the guest is “holding her down” and assaulting her.

I'm not sure where there is confusion. Perhaps because the Opie and Anthony 'pests' sent out volumes of emails to me and others posting the piece that we stated or implied it was a skit. We didnt'. Nor did we offer a time of the original interview.

It's true that Breitbart TV did not run the date; the assumption was that it had happened the day it appeared, but that assumption was made by me and other bloggers. Also, I didn't mean that Breitbart had called it a skit when I wrote my correction; Hot Air had retracted part of its criticism when Bryan acknowledged that it was extemporaneous rather than written, and my point was that it really didn't matter, since the two hosts were laughing and egging on Homeless Charlie -- and invited him back for another show. Hopefully this clarifies the clarification ...


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (3)

Posted by TomB | May 14, 2007 8:26 AM

What ever has happen to a good, old fashion freedom of speech? It seems like the last bastion of it, the radio talk shows, is falling. Is Stalin era censorship next? Where do I send MY protest?

Posted by Dan Kauffman | May 14, 2007 8:34 AM

"Two more shock jocks find themselves on the unemployment lines after offending their audiences with racial humor"

Somehow I just don't believe the offended parties are actually the regular audience of these shows.

Posted by richard mcenroe | May 14, 2007 9:37 AM

Hey, lissen, buddy, if I want my anti-Asian bigotry I'll watch The View like any other good progressive...