Funny Versus Offensive. Hypocrisy and Imus Make It Tough To Draw the Line.

David Kiley

Ford Motor Co. has withdrawn a Super Bowl ad that apparently offended victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Before that, Anheuser-Bush dropped plans to run an ad that spoofed last year's Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction when the prudes at Fox and the NFL decided no one needed to be reminded. A couple of dee-jays in New York have been fired for a song parody about Tsunami victims. Lawmakers and conservative commentators are calling for the head of Ward L. Churchill, a University of Colorado professor who compared World Trade Center victims from 9-11 to Nazis (a badly written and clumsy analogy in an essay that sought to make a perfectly debatable argument).

Meantime, this morning on Don Imus's morning radio show, which attracts guests the likes of Senator Orrin Hatch, conservative commentator and gadflies Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough, Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, Imus's producer chimed up with ridicule of the new husband of the woman who accused NBA star Kobe Bryant of raping her. "After Kobe, that's gotta be like putting a golf ball through a basketball hoop."

On another occasion, prior to a guest spot by then Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards, the producer chimed up with, "It won't be over until Mrs. Edwards sings," a jab at the Senator's wife's weight. It wasn't the only taunt of Mrs. Edwards. Sadly, the Senator still did the appearance. The Imus show is filled with such childish, frat-boy "gags" and sketches filled with off-color and sexually charged language about Hillary Clinton (the bits about the New York Senator are frequently over-the-top), Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer to name a few. More than a few times, the Imus bunch refers to these women as "skanks." This is a national morning drive-time radio show that also frequently attracts the well-known priest and rabbi team--Fr. Tom Hartman and Rabbi Mark Gelman. The show's sports announcer, Sid Rosenberg, is obviously there to play the role of full-time dirt-bag. Imus gasps over the childish, sexually charged comments of this guy and chides him. But the message is clear. It's just those comments that landed him the gig. The Kobe Bryant schtick preceeded an appearance by John McCain by 25 minutes.

Making an edgy, adult joke without offending someone is like passing Social Security reform that makes everyone happy. Advertisers are trying to find ways to compete for our attention and sell their stuff. That's business. Navigating the treacherous terrain, coming up with compelling ad storylines and satisfying the "Appropriateness Police," while our national officeholders appear regularly on a show that champions "dick jokes," makes it difficult to know where those lines are.

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