Don Imus, Racist Comments Controversy, "Nappy-Headed Hos"
With Walls Closing In On Imus, A Clintonian Defense Arises
*** See New Posts: MSNBC CANCELS IMUS, Advertisers Begin Pullout, Why Don Imus Is Toast, Sharpton Plays Us All For Fools ***
*** NBC, CBS: Two Week Suspension For Imus -- Boston Fallout Analyzed here ***
Remember the "everybody's doing it" defense utilized whenever Bill Clinton was caught in a particularly troubling ethical fix?
Now, with the walls closing in around him, fossil- talker Don Imus is finding this very excuse used to explain away his bizarre on- air antics (update: here's another piece improperly tying Imus to other talk hosts).
It may be too little, too late, however. Since Friday, when it appeared Imus might survive his ill- considered "nappy- headed hos" comment about the Rutgers women's basketball team, there is finally enough anger from activist groups to generate a firestorm.
With nervous affiliates and sponsors hanging in the balance, his show may very well be winding down for good. In Boston, for example, there are calls for his removal. And it may not look any better in New York, either.
Your Radio Equalizer's position is this: it's hard to understand how Imus has consistently been able to deliver the kind of extremist rhetoric that would easily sink the careers of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and others. As a mainstream media darling, Imus has long been issued a free pass.
Given the I-Man's recent track record, which could lend itself more to senility or drug use than political incorrectness, it's hard to believe he would still have defenders. In the mainstream media, however, the same environment that skewered Rush Limbaugh for taking on Michael J Fox over his political campaigning is desperate to provide cover for the John Kerry- supporting Imus.
Here, interestingly enough, one New York Daily News writer tries to tie this flap to Limbaugh's past controversies. Does anything really compare to this, however?
For example, in the talk fossil's darkest hour, riding to the rescue is Newsweek's Mark Starr, in this piece seen at MSNBC's (!!) website:
What pretty much anyone watching could see in that women’s final was that Rutgers was overmatched in almost every facet of the game, except possibly grit. And it quickly became clear that the team’s frantic effort—it seemed to be trying too hard—wouldn’t be enough even to keep it close.
But Don Imus apparently saw something else. On his nationally syndicated radio show, “Imus in the Morning” (simulcast on MSNBC TV), the reigning king of the radio talk show empire revealed that instead of game upstarts, he saw in the Rutgers team a bunch of “nappy-haired hos.” Imus, much like the Rutgers team he defamed, was probably just overreaching, trying a little too hard to score with the irreverent and edgy humor that is his trademark. He may even have known, as he continued his tasteless riff, that he had crossed the line; that what he said was inexcusable, shameless, racist claptrap.
But just because it’s inexcusable doesn’t mean it’s inexplicable. And while Imus should not be spared any blame, we are undoubtedly complicit. It is our dubious taste that has spawned America's prevailing entertainment culture. We have countenanced the insult industry into which talk radio has devolved.
We have allowed humiliation to become a centerpiece of network TV programming. And we encourage cutting-edge humor, without much concern that women and minorities endure most of those cuts. These dubious entertainments all share one currency: unabashed delight in cruelty and debasement. And we the audience laugh and laugh and laugh until somebody hits us over the head and we realize—or somebody tell us that we should realize—that this time it was way out of line and actually not all that funny.
Then, of course, we get all huffy playing “gotcha”. We encourage these “entertainers” to walk a tightrope along the limits of good taste and then, with unrestrained glee, pounce when they, inevitably, fall off. Gotcha Imus, gonna make you squirm.
Of course, not all are “gotchas” are quite as righteous as that one. Indeed “gotcha” can be a rather cynical game. Earlier this week CBS basketball announcer's Billy Packer was targeted, much like Imus, for comments he made in a TV interview with Charlie Rose. After Rose joked about wanting to carry Packer's bags at the Final Four, Packer retorted that he had heard it before from Rose, adding “You always fag out on that one for me.”
Since that is the sketchy territory where Imus has always operated with great success, he will almost certainly survive this blunder. On Friday morning he got around to the business of a carefully, crafted apology. “It was completely inappropriate, and we can understand why people were offended,” Imus said on his morning show. “Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry." Imus is savvy enough to offer no excuses where none would wash. But what’s our excuse? Please someone explain to me our insatiable appetite for the tasteless and the mean-spirited that assaults us every day in the guise of entertainment.
Yes, according to Starr, we are to blame for Don's overt racism, in a culture that encourages it. Is this really common language on talk radio, however? No doubt this Newsweek scribe doesn't spend much time listening to the medium.
Sorry, pal, there's simply no way to use the "everybody's doing it" excuse here.
Had this been an isolated incident for Imus, who turns 67 this year, he might have a chance at salvaging his career. With one recent flap after another, however, it's time for this over- the- hill talker to hang up his headphones.
UPDATE: Imus to appear on Al Sharpton's radio show Monday. Now, he wants to apologize to the team in person!
NEW: the New York Daily News ponders the I-Man's fate.
NEW: at the New York Radio Message Board, Imus defenders are engaging in a spin campaign, one that characterizes him as merely "edgy" in nature. During past controversies (none of which involved overtly racist language, by the way), were they just as inclined to defend Rush, Hannity, Dr Laura or Bill O'Reilly? Of course not!
AND: comment found on another radio discussion page:
I didn't hear anyone complain when Imus was talking about different methods of capital punishment that could be used on Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney et al.
UPDATE: Imus: "I said a bad thing."
NYT DEFENDS, but also makes a good point about his establishment ties:
Although the Web has been alive with calls for sanctions against Mr. Imus — the clip is available for all to see on YouTube — mainstream media have remained relatively silent. He is, after all, popular, good at his job and, perhaps more important, he generously provides oxygen — and an audience — to the kind of journalistic and political elites who would be expected to demand his head on a pike.
He is, to borrow one of the show’s metaphors, a lawn jockey to the establishment. Few politicians, big or small, pass up a chance to bump knees with Mr. Imus, in part because his show is one of the few places where they can talk seriously and at length about public issues. Senator John Kerry has stopped by. Senator John McCain is on frequently. And Senators Joseph I. Lieberman and Joseph R. Biden are part of a legion eager to sit in the guest chair.
NBC News uses “Imus in the Morning” to promote the brands of Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory. Tom Brokaw was a frequent guest, and his replacement, Brian Williams, has been sanctified by the I-man, as they call him. Chris Matthews from MSNBC has appeared, as have anchors and journalists from CNN and CBS and, on the print side, by reporters and editors from Newsweek and popular opinion columnists from The New York Times.
Popular? With long- declining ratings, he hasn't been a major radio player for years. Good at his job? Who can even understand what he's saying? Despite that, this piece is dead- on when it points out just how Imus became a mainstream media darling.
BOSTON HERALD: flap not going away, Imus and co- hosts have past history of racist remarks.
THE RADIO EQUALIZER: this site is currently ranked #1 at Google under the search term "don imus" "nappy-headed hos".
NEW: at OlbermannWatch, Olby exposed as a hypocrite on the Imus issue. Anti- Imus protest in Chicago.
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Imus images: AP, Boston Herald library, MSNBS: David A Lunde