IN THE AFTERMATH of the Don Imus matter, which consumed America last week, our European friends dubbed us “crybabies” and “hypocrites” when it came to matters of racism, overt and otherwise. (Those sophisticated Europeans; I guess they’ve all solved their race problems.) I still hope Mr. Imus will endow the Rutgers basketball team with scholarships far into the future and I have absolutely no doubt that in time, he’ll return to the air bigger than ever. Some of us, all but mortally insulted by his gang in the past for no good reason, may have taken some pleasure in seeing him canned. But not really. I don’t find the two reverends who engineered  his downfall to their own greater glory to be much better.  (Many of us will never be able to take the Rev. Al Sharpton seriously until he repents for his role in the Tawana Brawley fake rape matter.)  And I would trust both Sharpton and Jesse Jackson about as far as I could throw them to stand up for true righteousness. I don’t feel I need them now to launch a dialogue against free speech. We must fight to preserve that. It wasn’t criminal for Don Imus to be insulting to the women of Rutgers; it was just his usual venomous attack on African-Americans and on women. But this time because big advertisers weighed in, it cost him. And well it should have. He has said he is sorry; now let’s wait and see. As one great American jurist, Potter Stewart said, “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself” and he posited that in effect, you have the right to do certain things but whether it is right to do them or not is another matter. There is already quite enough government obfuscation and true censorship everywhere these days. We don’t need any book or image burning in this country and we don’t need a lot of brand new Imus-inspired laws against people being as stupid as they want to be. We all simply need to improve ourselves when it comes to insulting others, be they blacks, Jews, Latinos, Asians, Catholics, Christian fundamentalists, Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, transvestites, females in general and others who we may feel are “different.” We can disagree with them and maybe even dislike them, but we don’t have to employ a dialogue of insult. Harvey Fierstein made a sensible plea last week in the Op Ed pages in defense of gays and people who are fat.  You see, everybody wants to get into the act and everybody should.  But don’t go passing laws about all of this; we have quite enough laws. 

THERE IN Swifty’s was the woman who has taken over the important space left by Judith Regan. She is Lisa Sharkey, formerly of ABC’s “GMA,” who will put about 35 HarperCollins books into print this year. And up front were those two blondes, the blue-eyeglassed Anne Slater and the petite Carol Petrie, looking glam as all get-out … Christopher Plummer and Brian Dennehy star in one of the most rewarding productions ever of the famous 1955 classic “Inherit the Wind.” There is audience seating on the stage — for only $35 — and as the audience files in, a quartet of Southern folk hymns gets you in the mood for Bible thumping and counter arguments. Let’s hear it for Dennehy’s big histrionic Bryan and Plummer’s brilliant lawyer Darrow. There is also a wonderful reporter played by Denis O’Hare. Kudos to Santo Loquasto’s set and Doug Hughes’ direction. … At the Museum of Natural History on Wednesday, I get to give the Epic award to Sheila Nevins of HBO. One of the funniest and most dynamic women in TV, Sheila is honored along with Billie Jean King, Nancy Hult Ganis, Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck. The former president of the TV United States, Geena Davis, will also be presenting, so “Hail to the Chief.”…And April 30 at Carnegie Hall, I will emcee the New York Pops with Denis Leary, Meredith Vieira, David Charles, Neil Sedaka and an all star cast of talents. Let’s add Macy’s Great American Marching Band and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Call 212-247-7800.

FOX NEWS keeps running bits of the Geraldo Rivera/Bill O’Reilly shout-down about illegal aliens. Geraldo said it was a drunken driving story, Bill insisted it was the result of all those “criminal illegals” crossing the border. What carrying-on. I didn’t believe for a second that Geraldo and Bill were seriously engaged. It had the feel of a PR setup, ending with Geraldo calmly observing that the screamfest was a fine example of the network’s “fair and balanced” policy. Whatever. It was must-flee TV that you couldn’t look away from.

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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