There's a lazy tendency to slander the past when something happens in the present. In today's New York Times David Carr writes that the firing of Don Imus for his racist remarks is a "sign of the times."
Mr. Imus is an old-school radio guy caught in a very modern media paradigm. When he started 30 years ago, if he made the same kind of remark, it would have floated off into the ether — the Federal Communications Commission, if it received complaints, might have taken notice, but few others.
We need to remember here that "30 years ago" does not land us in 1938, or 1962 in the American South. No, that's 1977. But I've heard a lot of other numbers thrown around, with some people saying "10 years ago" or "15 years ago" at the start of a sentence that ends " . . . no one would've noticed or paid any attention to Imus's remark."
Now, I was alive in 1977. I remember it quite well. At the time, I remember not thinking that I, or someone with a much broader reach than I, such as a radio host, could get away with saying the kind of thing Imus said. But that's just me: is there any evidence we could point to that would support the conclusions of my memory? Yes: the fact that the Imus incident did not happen then.
It's just a little bit too easy, it seems to me, to accuse the past of being a place where all sorts of racist and sexist things were said because, you know, 10 years ago today is like, worth 250 medieval years in terms of all the advances and changes that have taken place! Oh yes! 10 years ago -- when, as it happens, Dom Imus did not say such-and-such, people said such-and-such all the time! Can't do that now! Not with this 24/7 news cycle, or with YouTube! And, sotto voce ("this way of thinking" continues, without needing to actually write it out), can we not agree that, in a way, in a sense, it's actually a bit unfair to Mr. Imus (not that "this way of thinking" condones his remarks which were abhorrent and which remind "this way of thinking" of how things were 15 years ago!), accustomed as he is to that old time radio, to expect he'd be able to adapt to all these changes? Why there weren't even any blogs back then in the before time, that's how pitifully dark it was! When the thunder came everyone just scurried under a bed because the poor things thought something awful was happening; it's not their fault, they were just too dumb to understand!
I don't buy it. Thirty years ago, in 1977, if a nationally syndicated media star, on a show that has also hosted prominent politicians, had said what Imus said -- would have been fired. Maybe quicker!