Don Imus has now received the death penalty on a unanimous verdict on a charge of sheer stupidity.

Unfortunately, in its coverage of this controversy, national news networks went to the usual suspects for interviews, and because of it, the potential for something good to flow from all this was largely squandered.

We agree with anyone who opposes the objectifying of women, particularly as it is expressed in the demeaning of African-American women and the sexualized bigotry that’s rampant in society today.

The Suspects

But we’re baffled as to why the news media, faced with the opportunity to shine light into a dark corner of American life and contribute to a meaningful conversation about these issues, turn the camera on Reverend Al Sharpton, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Network.

In these kinds of racially-charged environments, reporters often shrink from asking questions that seem obvious to the rest of us.

As the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson rightly decried Mr. Imus’ verbal stereotypes and the prejudice pulsing in his words, not one reporter asked them if they regretted and repudiated their own anti-Semitic remarks, which paralleled the behavior they condemned so convincingly but without any subsequent apology.

Accepted Crudity

In his interview, Mr. Johnson pointed out clearly and passionately the idiocy of language like that used by Mr. Imus. But no one bothered to ask him about the role that BET – and the cumulative effect of countless rap videos in which Imus’s description would be considered polite – played in creating a climate that suggests to low-wattage thinkers like Mr. Imus that such crude descriptions of African-American women are acceptable.

Hopefully, now that Mr. Imus has lost both his television and his radio gigs, the news media can move beyond the “blood in the water” aspect of today’s journalism and contribute to a thoughtful discussion of how we can deal with the widespread use of racially intolerant language wherever it orginates and the pop culture that encourages and amplifies the coarsest parts of society.

Localizing The Story

But, first, the media have to move beyond the usual suspects and the usual responses to the new voices and new thinking that populate African-American life in this country. As this week’s controversy shows, there’s an important national discussion still needing to take place.

All of this is the Memphis problem writ large. Here, for example, we have a large, talented and thoughtful group of African-American managers at FedEx and other major companies, and yet, we largely recycle the same old folks that produce the same old civic discussion about our city. If we need anything here, it’s the new leadership and new faces that lead to new dialogue and new behavior.