April 18, 2007

Most Say Imus’s Punishment Was Appropriate

FigureAmericans, both black and white, generally agree with the punishment radio host Don Imus received for the racist and sexist remarks he made about the Rutgers University’s women basketball team. Nonetheless, there are substantial racial differences in views of Imus’s punishment, and an even bigger gap in opinions about news media’s coverage of the story.

Majorities of both whites (53%) and African Americans (61%) who have been following the Imus story say that the punishment he received was appropriate. But roughly twice as many whites as blacks believe his punishment was too tough (35% vs. 18%). On April 12, the talk show host’s morning radio program was cancelled by CBS. A day earlier, a cable television simulcast of the program on MSNBC was cancelled by NBC.

Fully 62% of whites say that news organizations are giving too much coverage to the Imus story. This compares with just 31% of African Americans who believe the controversy has been overcovered. A plurality of blacks (44%) says that the amount of coverage has been appropriate, while a sizable minority (18%) says it has gotten too little coverage.

Imus-Type Comments Heard Frequently

FigureMore than four-in-ten Americans (42%) who have been following the Imus story say that, based on what they know about the radio host’s comments, they often or sometimes hear that kind of language used in their daily lives. African Americans – particularly black men – are far more likely than whites to say they frequently hear such language.

Overall, 55% of blacks who have heard a lot or a little about the story say they often or sometimes hear the sort of language that Imus used in denigrating the Rutgers players; by comparison, 38% of whites who have heard about the Imus story say they often or sometimes hear such language. There also are significant gender differences, among those in both races, in views of how often such language is used.

For example, about a third of black men (32%) say they often hear the sort of language that Imus used; this compares with 20% of black women. Among whites, 22% of men, but only 13% of women, say they frequently hear such language.

There also are large age differences in these perceptions, with young people much more likely than older Americans to report often or sometimes hearing this type of language. And younger African Americans, in particular, say they frequently hear the type of language Imus used. Fully 74% of African Americans under age 40 say they often or sometimes hear such language, compared with 44% of whites in the same age group.

Who Uses Offensive Language

FigureAmong those who have been following the Imus story, 38% say that “most” or “many” black males make racist or sexist remarks without thinking about it. By comparison, about a quarter of this group (27%) says that most or many white males use such language without thinking.

This is an issue on which blacks and whites generally agree: 39% of blacks say most or many African American males use racist or sexist language without thinking about it, while somewhat fewer blacks (31%) believe that white males use that kind of language unthinkingly. Attitudes are comparable among whites – 37% of whites say most or many black males make racist or sexist remarks, while 26% of whites say many or most white males make such comments.

Notably, a majority of African Americans under age 40 (53%) say that most or many black males make racist or sexist remarks without thinking about it. A smaller number of younger African Americans (39%) say most or many white males use such language.