Three not-so-little words have caused quite a maelstrom in the media.
When Don Imus called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos," he started a very heated nationwide debate.
By now, we all know Imus' punishment - a two-week suspension. Critics think that's woefully insufficient.
But by concentrating on Imus' redressing, the biggest punishment is reserved for the public, which won't get much edification from Imus nor about the state of racial affairs in America, once this controversy dies down.
John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the two leading Republican White House aspirants, have stated that they believe Imus is sincere in his apology and that they would go on his show again. Meanwhile, the two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (who appeared once on Imus' show to promote a book), have both taken Imus to task and confirmed they won't be appearing in the future.
All four, no doubt, are speaking from their consciences. They're also taking very safe stances that seem calculated to their bases. Too often, political handlers play the safe card, for fear that courting uncertainty could lead to their candidates' George Allen "macaca" moment living forever on YouTube. So few are willing to speak at length about the racial issues that affect our country because such discussion won't fit nicely into any talking point.
Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have requested Imus' firing. An apologetic Imus has snapped into crisis communications mode. But this is a macro issue. Racial hatred is the stage. Imus is merely a player.
Rather than defend Imus or call for his demise, anyone with clout should take the opportunity to talk frankly about America's problems with race wherever they can. Anything less is a punishment to us all.