Sharpton's empty threat
I have zero sympathy for Don Imus, but in the Rev. Al Sharpton he has found a critic-cum-father-confessor with his own blabbermouth problems.
It isn’t just that Sharpton still bears the baggage of the Tawana Brawley case; in railing against Imus for his offensive comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, Sharpton is hinting at reprisals by the Federal Communications Commission that are unlikely and probably unconstitutional.
On CNN Sharpton said: "The FCC [has] rules. You cannot sit up on public-regulated television and make just racist remarks ..and claim that's free speech."
Well, not really. Racist actions by television stations do come under the FCC’s purview—in 1971 it revoked the licenses of a Mississippi station that refused to provide access to African-American candidates for public office—but racist speech is a different story.
The FCC does sanction “indecent” speech on the airwaves, but “racist speech” is not a priority for the agency and is likely protected by the First Amendment even on the regulated airwaves.
Unlike England, which criminalizes the incitement to racial hatred in broad terms, this country errs on the side of free expression. Imus is in a lot of trouble, but I don’t think he has to worry about the FCC knocking on his (or his employer’s) door.