Wednesday, April 11, 2007

La-Crossing Duke and Imus

Charges against the three Duke lacrosse players once accused of rape and other offenses were finally, and properly, dropped today after an investigation by the North Carolina Attorney General. The A.G. decided not to pursue charges against their accuser. The local prosecutor, Mike Nifong, faces a disciplinary hearing before the State Bar.

I will accord Nifong the presumption of innocence, which he rather cavalierly seems to have denied to the accused. Nonetheless, from present evidence, he seems to have demonstrated the qualities of competence, forthrightness, and freedom from political considerations that would qualify him for a senior position in the Bush/Gonzales Justice Department.

All that said, and recognizing the costs and personal trauma wrongly imposed on the players by apparently false accusations and an out-of-control prosecutor, I am not inclined to lionize the players (or many of their teammates) as heroes. Their party, featuring hired strippers, was disgusting, and should be recognized as such, even if their actions were not criminal.

Just the kind of adolescent frat party environment that provides a receptive audience for the raunchier, racist and sexist side of a Don Imus routine. Probably also the breeding ground for future shock-jocks.

Perhaps someone can explain the schizophrenic (with no offense to the mentally ill intended) character of the Imus phenomenon: How can it be that the Imus show (and little else short of Charlie Rose), for all its offensive and insulting shtick, also provides a regular venue for intelligent, relatively prolonged, and relatively unpretentious conversations with so many thoughtful journalists, politicians, and authors? Playboy used to pay a lot for (mostly) bad pieces by marquee authors. What does Imus offer? Can't someone without all of Imus' baggage offer serious, informative, and intelligent conversation in the morning? (Yes, mostly I listen to--and contribute to-- NPR, but during pledge weeks?)

Imus' recent comments--like the Duke party a year ago--were sexist, racist and disgusting, and deserve the strong negative response they are now receiving. But our culture seems to have an inexhaustible appetite for coarse, insulting, and degrading performances by comedians, entertainers, sports figures, and politicians, among others. Maybe we, the public, deserve what we support, and what we get.

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