The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

11 April 2007

Senator Barack Obama, Don Imus, Hillary Clinton, Nappy-Headed Hos


Talk Radio Becomes Major Campaign Issue


*** More advertisers bail out, Drudge: MSNBC poised to cancel show, Imus faces FCC investigation ***

Can you remember the last time something said on talk radio became a major presidential campaign issue?

Proving the medium has more importance than ever before, candidates are actually being criticized for not addressing the Don Imus issue, after his now- infamous "nappy-headed hos" and other racist comments provoked a firestorm.

For her part, Hillary Clinton has exploited the issue in an attempt to gain an edge over Senator Barack Obama, while the Illinois Democrat himself was sharply criticized for avoiding the issue entirely. The ball got rolling this morning with a major Boston Globe piece, which said this:

Obama's silence on Imus alarms some blacks

Candidate faces first test on handling issues of race

By Rick Klein and Joseph Williams, Globe Staff | April 11, 2007

WASHINGTON -- With the Rev. Al Sharpton leading calls Monday for radio host Don Imus to be fired over racially insensitive remarks, Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign avoided the controversy throughout the day.

Not until Monday evening, five days after Imus's comments were uttered and hours after CBS Radio and MSNBC announced a two-week suspension for the radio host, did Obama weigh in, saying in a statement: "The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful, and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds." Obama did not address whether he thought Imus should be taken off the air.

The episode is the first test of how Obama -- who is of mixed-race background -- is handling the contentious issue of race in his presidential campaign. Even as polls have shown other Democrats attracting a large share of the black vote, Obama has steered clear of the kind of activism symbolized by Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who were both highly visible in the Imus episode but whose aggressiveness on race issues has alienated some white voters in the past.

Later in the day, fearful the I-train may be leaving the station, Obama came out swinging, insisting Imus face immediate cancellation. From ABC News:

April 11, 2007— In an interview with ABC News Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., called for talk radio host Don Imus to be fired, and said he would never again appear on his show, which is broadcast on CBS Radio and MSNBC television.

"I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus," Obama told ABC News, "but I would also say that there's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude."

Obama said he appeared once on Imus's show two years ago, and "I have no intention of returning."

Racial Slur Stirs Trouble for Shock Jock

Last week, Imus referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team, most of whom are African-American, as "nappy-headed ho's." has since apologized for his remarks and CBS and MSNBC suspended his show for two weeks.

"He didn't just cross the line," Obama said, "he fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African American women — who I hope will be athletes — that that somehow makes them makes them less beautiful or less important, it was a degrading comment, it's one that I'm not interested in supporting."

Though every major presidential candidate has decried the racist remarks, Obama is the first presidential candidate to say Imus should lose his job for them.

His proclamation was the latest in an ever-expanding list of bad news for Imus.

Sponsors including from American Express Co., General Motors Corp, Procter & Gamble Co., and Staples Inc. — have announced they are pulling advertisements from the show for the indefinite future.

With the limbo bar now in a lower position, it will be up to Obama's rivals to match his words. That could mean a reworking of this previous statement by John Edwards. In addition, it could change the minds of a couple of GOP candidates who said they would still appear on his show.

Regardless of how one might feel about Barack Obama, his termination call may represent the straw that broke the I-Man's back.

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