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The Phrase That Pays?

Every scandal creates overreaction and strange backlash, and the Don Imus flap is no exception. Now comes a rock radio station in the Poconos that today sacked its morning show host because he went on the air and declared Imus's offending words ("nappy-headed hos") to be "the phrase that pays."

The news stories don't say whether morning deejay Gary Smith was trying to add some commentary along the lines that Don Imus will eventually profit from this whole sordid episode, which would have been an interesting and quite possibly correct analysis. Or perhaps Smith was just latching onto Imus's new notoriety and looking to create some buzz for a local radio show.

In either event, hardly a firing offense, but that's exactly what happened today, as the station, WSBG in Stroudsburg, Pa., fired its deejay. "He used the phrase with full knowledge of the reaction to Don Imus' use of the exact same phrase just a day earlier, which is the reason he was terminated and not suspended," said Nassau Broadcasting senior vice president Rick Musselman in a statement released by the station.

If Smith was sacked for commenting that Imus is reaping a publicity bonanza that may result in large numbers of listeners checking out his low-rated show for the first time, that's a wholly legitimate viewpoint and it's nothing short of stupid to slam him for it. If he was merely repeating Imus's slur for shock value, that's dumb and ridiculously unoriginal, but firing him for it smacks far more of unthinking fear than of any reasoned management decision.

There will be more of this, to be sure.

By Marc Fisher |  April 11, 2007; 5:04 PM ET
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Deejay's aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer so this comes as no surprise. Add to it the hick area that this deejay is from and...there's your sign!

Posted by: Fred | April 11, 2007 8:11 PM

When it comes to the discussion of race in America, there are no shades of gray, only black and white. There's no acceptable commentary -- say something someone might find offensive and you're fired.

Posted by: Arlington | April 12, 2007 9:16 AM

Do not defy the orthodoxy! Haven't you been aware that for the last 40 years certain classes of people have a protected status? See also quotas and affirmative action.

Posted by: Stick | April 12, 2007 9:59 AM

The story doesn't make it clear at all what the DJ's intentions were. My guess is that "the phrase that pays" means a great deal of money will eventually be flowing into the pockets of Al & Jesse, either directly from the companies they're blackmailing (CBS and NBC) or indirectly from the millions of people who woke up this week saying "There's still so much racism in America! I better write a check to the NAACP to make the scary ol Klan stay away."

Posted by: athea | April 12, 2007 10:01 AM

There is a line, Imus stepped over it, and will be given a time out. Would you like there not to be a line?

Posted by: Tomcat | April 12, 2007 10:30 AM

What this guy did was the radio equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. He deserved to be dismissed.

Posted by: Vincent | April 12, 2007 11:31 AM

I think any white person who ever talks about a black person should be sent to prison.

Posted by: KStreet | April 12, 2007 12:54 PM

I haven't listened to Smith's show since the early 1990's when it first came on the air. Not having seen a transcript of the show, he may have asked callers "What phrase did Imus say to get him suspended?". He said his choosing that phrase for the show was "stupid". There is (or was) a lot of racism and discrimination towards "blacks" in the area. Knowing that, he might have thought, that "black" listeners might take offense, if the callers that said the phrase on the air were "white". As Imus pointed out, just because you call your wife a 'ho, does not mean you think she is one. Both DJ's are probably guilty of thinking themselves "hip" not realizing they would be accused of racism.

Posted by: Alyce Rocco | April 23, 2007 5:09 PM

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