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Was Don Imus being a desperate comedian, a daring commentator, or, as he seemed to style himself sometimes in his chummy interviews with the chattering classes, a type of journalist? Does it matter? He was canned over it, anyway. Still, there are different standards for each role, though nobody seems to know what they are. Where’s the line?

Photo: Patrick McMullan

“I’ve learned from this whole thing that you didn’t really need to apologize for mean-spirited, sophomoric comments you said in a public forum until the Internet was invented.”

NORA EPHRON, director
“It doesn’t matter where the line falls because he crossed it. You could draw the line in Kentucky and he crossed it. I mean, he’s been doing this for years. He’s been enabled completely by an army of people who are happy to be on his show, as, by the way, any of us with a book to sell would have been.”

“Comedy is so divided now. There’s black comedy, there’s black-ghetto comedy, there’s black-woman comedy, there’s Hispanic comedy, there’s gay comedy, there’s butch-gay comedy. White people are out. White people can’t talk about anything, do a voice, anything.”

AL JEAN, executive producer, “The Simpsons”
“The line is always shifting, but I think he got into trouble because he gratuitously insulted young women who had done nothing except accomplish something. You should never target people that haven’t done something wrong, let alone something noteworthy. But you do have to pick a target.”

Photo: Patrick McMullan

SARAH JONES, actress
“I just wish he was funny! But this landed like a lead balloon and you were like, “And it’s racist, too! Ew!” I feel sorry for Imus, to be honest. He is an aging sort-of commentator who has lost touch with the pulse of what even his own listeners want to hear. It sucks to have your job riding on how good your funny meter is and discover that it’s kaput.”

ERICA JONG, writer
“Calling women of any color “hos” in a flippant way is not okay. There has been a terrible backlash. People have forgotten all the feminist ideas about the degradation of language. Until recently, I had a shampoo in my shower called Dumb Blonde. Twenty-five years ago, nobody would have named a shampoo Dumb Blonde!”

“The line depends on whether you’re as cute as Sarah Silverman or not.”

MATT BESSER, founder, Upright Citizens Brigade
“At the Laugh Factory in L.A., they banned the N-word. You can say faggot or kike, but not nigger. That’s ridiculous. If I’m playing an improv scene about the KKK, I’m not going to say “N-word”! No one in the KKK would say “the N-word.” It’s a character. Imus didn’t have a joke—there was no angle, or no joke. It was being insulting with no cleverness. I think it’s good he got called out, but people have to blame the person, not the language.”

“You just have to try things out and see if you can get away with it. For me, I’ll do a million abortion jokes until I die. The only thing off limits for me is a joke not getting a laugh. “

TINA BROWN, writer
“It matters what he said. It’s a piece of coarseness that someone in major media shouldn’t have indulged. Between Anna Nicole Smith and Don Imus, I’m tired of the American distraction orgy.”

“I find that there isn’t a line. There’s been such an outcry about this because it fits into a narrative of other similar things Don Imus has said. Suddenly, the one-off remark leads people to look back at other remarks they have made.”

Photo: Patrick McMullan

“How can anyone be upset by the word ho when Anna Nicole Smith, we didn’t even know who the father was? How can you be upset by the word ho when Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton are teen idols? It’s a society where there is no line. And I tell you, these [Rutgers] girls were lucky. They’re all going to have a book deal. It’s going to make their lives better, and they look great in red.”

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