I've been posting rather a lot about the Imus fiasco over at my place, and I got a comment which really annoyed me, saying that this story needs to go away so we can concentrate on more important subjects.  First of all, I think it's silly to think that the blogosphere (or even the media, for that matter) is incapable of following more than one story at a time.  Second of all, the most important story out there (in my opinion) is still unfolding without any help from us – I don't think Henry Waxman or John Conyers are likely to slack off on pursuing the White House's RNC-mails because they're just so damn mesmerized by the Imus coverage, and the Imus story will be long gone when their subpoenas bear fruit.  Third of all, racist comments by major, influential, and highly connected media figures are not trivial.  This is not Anna Nicole Smith's babydaddy we're talking about here.

But the most important thing about this situation is that it's a potential turning point.  Right-wing hate-talkers have been chugging along, spewing out racist, misogynist, homophobic, and eliminationist rhetoric for decades now, with essentially no consequences at all.  Well, no negative consequences, anyway.  As Atrios has repeatedly and exasperatedly pointed out, there is literally nothing any of these people say that can get them fired, or cost them the esteem of the media elite.  And as Digby says:

Whatever the reason, it's quite clear that mainstream media have either ignored, pandered to or actively embraced hate radio for almost two decades now. Nary a peep has been said about the relentless, daily drumbeat of demogoguery and loathing of their fellow citizens that these talk show hosts vomit onto the public airwaves for anyone with a radio to hear….

…The media thought it was all in good fun (and good for their bosses) just as they do today.

This is why Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin keep turning up on TV, and Glenn Beck is on Good Morning America and CNN Headline News, and Rush Limbaugh is treated as a serious person rather than an odious buffoon.  And Michael Savage and Melanie Morgan are still on the air despite saying shit that would make Imus cringe.

But now MSNBC has cut its ties to Imus, on top of the two-week suspension by CBS. They have, in effect, declared that what Imus (and McGuirk, and "Sidiot") said was unacceptable, and they do not want their brand associated with it.  Whether they realize it or not, they have established a precedent, wherein saying hateful things means you are no longer welcome on their airwaves.  Even if you're famous, even if you bring in the cash and the high-profile guests.

So now, the next time any of the aforementioned hatemongers call someone a fag, or call for the torture and execution of liberals or Arabs, or make fun of someone with Parkinson's, there will be even more pressure on their parent stations or newspapers or syndicates or affiliates to dump them because MSNBC did it to Imus.  It doesn't necessarily mean that they will, but it will damage their brand if they are unwilling to follow MSNBC's example in response to comments worse than Imus's.

The First Amendment guarantees the right to say hateful things (within limits), but it does not guarantee the use of a giant megaphone, and it does not guarantee mainstream respectability.  My fervent hope is that this sorry incident will be the start of a major shift, where the nominally mainstream media stop making excuses for hate merchants ("it was an isolated incident"; "it's just part of their wacky, "provocative", non-PC persona") and start shunning them, cutting off their legitimacy and their oxygen.  And this, in turn, will sap the legitimacy of the propaganda outlets that continue to employ and promote the Savages.

Like I said, it's just a hope at this point.  I don't think Imus has the full backing and protection of the conservative establishment, so this could very well turn out to be an isolated incident.  But at least the potential is there, the hint of a germ of an idea that actions may actually have consequences, and hate speech does not have to be excused or laughed off or tolerated.

NEWS FLASH: White House "mishandled" some of their staffers' RNC-mail accounts (hat tip *xyz).  Raise your hand if you're even remotely surprised.