Lawyers as Business Advisors
Focusing on the Win

Of Imus and the Internet…

I’ve never listened to Imus in the morning. I saw his "nappy-headed ho" comment rebroadcast several times. The guy is many things. Idiot and entertainer among them.

The most interesting thing to me has nothing to with my opinions about what he said. I do find the drama surrounding his statements and ultimate termination to be fascinating. Here is why.

The Internet and especially blogging allow anyone with an opinion to broadcast that opinion. The Internet creates an opportunity for diversity of opinion as groups self organize around various topics and positions. Our movement from three major television networks to cable TV provides further opportunity for diversity.

You would think this would be great news for the first amendment and freedom of speech. But I wonder…

Not only has our ability to broadcast our thoughts and ideas become pervasive, but also the opportunity for the majority has become far more powerful. Personally, I could care less whether Imus stays on the air or not. I exercise my vote when it comes to Imus by simply not listening. He has nothing to say to me. But reaction to everyday events has become so immediate that there seems to be greater consequences for speaking out than ever before. Think about it. Not only did Imus get an opportunity to make his initial broadcast but hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of people got to weigh in both on TV and the Internet. The obvious consensus that Imus is a bigot took hold within the first twenty-four hours. The discussion concerning whether or not Imus should be fired took hold quickly thereafter. Obviously, a majority of people, including many who would never listen, believe that he should be canned. That consensus certainly impacted the outcome. I don’t believe consensus could have been reached so quickly on behalf of so many people in the world which existed ten years ago.

What worries me about all this is not that people agreed that what Imus said was politically incorrect, but the impact of the popular majority may ultimately have on free speech. On the one hand, the Internet and media availability work to increase speech. On the other, they are a weapon for the majority to punish that speech. In this instance, I agreed with the outcome. But I know there are hundreds of other instances where I might not be so agreeable. Instead of making us more tolerant and providing more diversity, I wonder whether the information age might have the opposite effect. Freedom of speech is all about the right of the minority to express their opinions. While I know that all the interest here were private, I wonder if the practical implications might be that, we take a step backwards as opposed to forwards.

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