We Elle Woods and Chery Horowitz continue our journey into the judicial abyss of Pop Culture with the second Pop Culture Supreme Court Case.

Pop Culture Supreme Court Case 2:
In the current media environment, are radio personalities being held to a different and tougher standard than their peers in print and on television?

If by standards, we’re talking about public approval standards, my answer is no, radio, television and print are not held to higher standards. When standards are breeched, there are consequences regardless of the method of communication. Unless you are Ann Coulter, in that case you are pretty much allowed to say anything you want without fear of repercussions because clearly you are the devil and nobody wants to mess with you.

Don Imus- Radio Race Ruckus

“My goal is to goad people into saying something that ruins their life.” –Don Imus

The more visibility you have the more likely you are to suffer repercussions for your behavior. There is no way to slide under the wire or request a do-over unless by do-over you mean rehab. In today’s media, public opinion spreads like wildfire via blogs and viral video. In minutes what may have been a few hundred FCC complaints can turn into hundreds of thousands. Consumer watchdog groups and advertisers are in tune with today’s media and can act more quickly when public opinion shifts. As the third most popular morning radio program with a daily audience of over 350k listeners, clearly Imus had the visibility and his remarks were heard ‘round the web. If he were someone with little visibility or he had an editor reviewing his comments before publication, he may have been prevented from making his comments publicly. But probably not, he is after all, Imus. Even if Imus had an editor or censored his comments they could have been leaked and he may have faced the same scrutiny and eventual firing as in the Isaiah Washington case

Isaiah Washington: Television Talent Taunting Talent
While Isaiah Washington’s homophobic remarks were not spoken on air, the news of his onset comments regarding TR Knight’s sexuality was posted on hundreds of websites eliciting thousands of reactions. More people have an opportunity to hear what celebrities have to say as all of the media groups lead with the same story and set it on repeat. Sadly there is a segment of the population that reveres celebrity status and sees celebrities as idols and role models. Celebrities are more visible than ever and along with that visibility comes great responsibility. Kind of like Spiderman.


Extra, extra: Pen Thinks Before Wielding Sword
The nature of publishing allows for a kind of immediate hindsight. Magazines, newspapers and journals have editors who review content before sending it off to print. It is planned as opposed to live television and radio, which are essentially immediate. While the print medium is accountable to watch dog groups, their subscribers and their advertisers, there is no FCC for print. Magazines and newspapers aren‘t celebrities. Sure writers are famous but they aren’t out front in the public consciousness as much as someone involved in television or radio. If an opinionated reader sends in an offensive editorial and it is printed, that reader doesn’t make headline news and unless his boss gets wind of his remarks and in turn fears for his other employees’ safety or he spews his hatred on fellow employees, it’s unlikely he will be fired.


Are You Meaner Than a Fifth Grader?
All this talk of consequences is giving me a flashback got me thinking, what we are dealing with here are full grown bullies on the grown up playground of life. How far off are we from the real playgrounds filled with schoolyard bullies when someone is punished by being fired for their remarks? What would the consequences for the same behavior exhibited by the above-mentioned celebrities if in fact they were in the 5th grade. So wearing our most responsible looking ensemble, went to the source consequence distribution: we interviewed a real life grade school principal. Here is what we learned:

Me: What are the consequences when a child uses language like Don Imus or Isaiah Washington used, towards another child?

The Principal: That kind of behavior is UNACCEPTABLE!! We would at least talk to the kids about why
they said that and try to get at why they are being racist or whatever, because that stuff is
racist. From there, depending on the age, we would call the parents and work on some consequences. If it were a 5th grader, the consequences would be serious, possibly suspension.

Me: How about when a kid makes an offensive joke? What are the consequences?

The Principal: This is serious stuff – it is a manner of bullying and we don’t allow students to treat each other that way. We try to maintain a culture where kids don’t want to hurt each other and we try to educate them about how it makes a person feel etc.

Mr. Willis to the Principal’s Office


“I hate to think we live in a time when you can get fired from your job because of what you say. [Isaiah Washington] didn’t punch anyone. I think we’ll think differently with hindsight.”

– Bruce Willis to Time magazine

So in response to the quote above, yes, Mr. Willis, you can get fired from a job for what you say but only if you didn’t learn the lessons of human decency while on the playground.


In conclusion: no, radio, television and print aren’t held to different standards – however, the visibility of the speaker may make it appear that way. In this age of wall-to-wall news, off-the-cuff remarks are going to get a lot of exposure, and the nature of print doesn’t lend itself to off-the-cuff remarks. Thus, it’s natural that radio and TV would be seen as having the highest scrutiny.

Fun with the FCC