Tuesday, April 10, 2007

More on Imus

The Wit and Wisdom of Don ImusA guide for Washington's power crowd.
By Timothy Noah


Don Imus' long-standing acceptance by the political establishment is a contemporary illustration of 1940s socialite Perle Mesta's famous advice about how to draw Washington's power set to a soiree: "Hang a lamb chop in the window." Politicians like John McCain and Barack Obama, and famous TV journalists like Tim Russert and Cokie Roberts, are no more standoffish than their predecessors; the only difference is that the lamb chop has been replaced by a microphone. For some years now, the broadcast industry has conducted, via talk radio and reality TV, a series of experiments to gauge precisely how much personal humiliation the species Homo sapiens will consent to endure. The most surprising finding is that even people with constant access to the media will make themselves available to interviewer-comedians like Sacha Baron "Ali G." Cohen or Steven Colbert—performers whose sole aim is to get laughs at these celebrities' expense. If there's an outer boundary to what a famous journalist or politician will put up with, science has yet to find it.

In the direct-humiliation department, Imus falls well short of Colbert or Ali G. Imus in the Morning is a variation on the experiment, wherein the belittling is indirect. Here, the research question is how long respectable journalists and politicians will associate themselves with a radio host who spews continual invective based on race, ethnicity, and religion. Without exception, every political and journalistic celebrity who appears on Imus' show is diminished. Yet they keep coming back. Is it because they don't know what Imus says when they aren't around? That's what they tend to claim. "I don't listen to the show," McCain told journalist Philip Nobile in June 2000. In an April 9 appearance, Tom Oliphant told Imus, "Solidarity forever," but later covered his ass by saying, "I don't know beans about hip-hop culture or trash-talking or, what do you call those things where you run on forever? Riffs." One person who can't claim ignorance about Imus is Evan Thomas, who on April 9 told the New York Times' David Carr that it would be "posturing" for him to refuse to go on Imus' show after Imus got dinged for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos." Thomas puffed Imus in a 1999 Newsweek cover profile ("The Ringmaster"). "With his quick takes and sense of the absurd," he wrote, "Imus is the perfect voice for an age that prizes irony over solemnity." The Newsweek piece made only glancing reference to Imus' penchant for uttering racial and ethnic slurs on the air, overlooking, for instance, the shock jock's admission the previous year on CBS News' 60 Minutes that he'd once told a colleague he hired producer Bernard McGuirk to tell "nigger" jokes. ("That was an off-the-record conversation," Imus protested to Mike Wallace.)
In the unlikely event that McCain, Oliphant, and others don't know who they're dealing with, let's review some of Imus' remarks (if you prefer, riffs) from the past. This stuff isn't hard to find. Many thanks to the Web sites Media Matters for America, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, and TomPaine.com (where Nobile tracked Imus' show) for the quotes that appear below.

On blacks:
"William Cohen, the Mandingo deal." (Former Defense Secretary Cohen's wife is African-American.)

"Wasn't in a woodpile, was he?" (Responding to news that former black militant H. Rap Brown, subsequently known as Abdullah Al-Amin, was found hiding in a shed in Alabama after exchanging gunfire with police. Imus is here alluding to the expression "nigger in the woodpile.")

"Knuckle-dragging moron." (Description of basketball player Patrick Ewing.)

"We all have 12-inch penises." (After being asked what he has in common with Nat Turner, Malcolm X, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Latrell Sprewell from the New York Knicks, and Al Sharpton.)

"Chest-thumping pimps." (Description of the New York Knicks.)

"A cleaning lady." (Reference to journalist Gwen Ifill, possibly out of pique that she wouldn't appear on his show. "I certainly don't know any black journalists who will," she wrote in the April 10 New York Times. The Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page used to appear, but after he made Imus pledge not to make offensive comments in the future, he was never asked back.)

On Jews:
"I remember when I first had [the Blind Boys of Alabama] on a few years ago, how the Jewish management at whatever, whoever we work for, CBS, or whatever it is, were bitching at me about it. […] I tried to put it in terms that these money-grubbing bastards could understand."
"Boner-nosed … beanie-wearing Jewboy." (Description of Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, a frequent guest.)

On women:
"That buck-tooth witch Satan, Hillary Clinton." […] "I never admitted it when I went down there and got in all that big jam, insulting Bill Clinton and his fat ugly wife, Satan. Did I? Did I ever say I was sorry for that?"

On Native Americans:
"The guy from F-Troop, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell." (This is a reference to the zany Indian characters on the 1960s TV sitcom F-Troop. They had names like "Roaring Chicken," "Crazy Cat," and "Chief Wild Eagle.")

On Japanese:
"Old Kabuki's in a coma and the market's going up. […] How old is the boy? The battery's running down on that boy." (Reference to Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who died the following week.)

On gays:
"I didn't know that Allan Bloom was coming in from the back end." (The homosexuality of the author of The Closing of the American Mind became widely known when Saul Bellow published Ravelstein, a novel whose protagonist was based on Bloom, who by then was deceased.)

"The enormously attractive [NBC political correspondent] Chip Reid, I can say without being accused of being some limp-wristed 'mo."

On the handicapped:
"Janet Reno's having a press conference. Ms. Reno, of course, has Parkinson's disease, has a noticeable tremor. […] I don't know how she gets that lipstick on (laughter) looking like a rodeo clown."

Every one of these statements came directly out of Imus' mouth on his program. That's striking because Imus usually leaves it to other show regulars (especially McGuirk, the aforementioned point man on "nigger" jokes) to say the most offensive stuff, with Imus feeding them straight lines. It's safer that way.

11 comments:

retro_liberal said...

Don Imus has been dropped from MSNBC, and, it looks like CBS will drop his syndicated radio program as well. Many people I know, and several media pundits, keep asking why his comments caused such a stir when other radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh get away with racists and sexist comments on a daily basis. I’ve been giving this specific question a lot of thought, and have some theories.

I believe Don Imus isn’t just a “shock jock” radio host, but that he is a pseudo-serious political commentator who reverts back to his roots when it is beneficial to him. He has gotten away with saying such horrible things as listed in the article above by saying “I’m just a shock jock, it’s a comedy show.” However, on many occasions he also promotes how influential his show has been in the careers of politicians and other media personalities. If you have ever watched or listened to Imus in the Morning, it becomes clear that he wants to be taken seriously as a political commentator. His show, until recently, appeared on MSNBC and was clearly promoted under the guise of a news program with political analysis as well as commentary.

The Rush Limbaugh’s and the Ann Coulter’s of the world have gone so far to the extreme with what they say that it’s to be expected of them, however, Imus typically hides his racism, sexism, and other bigotry under the guise of semi-serious news and political analysis. His list of guests gave him a certain amount of media credibility, and his history of being a shock jock gave him an excuse when he crossed the line. In the end, he finally crossed one line too many. But do not fear for Mr. Imus, should CBS cancel his morning radio show I’m sure Sirius or XM will be waiting in the wings with a lucrative offer for him.

MaxTurmoil said...

Well I believe in freedom of speech. My biggest fear of this whole Imus ordeal is that we are constantly afraid of offending people. When was it against the law to be offended? He has routinely making these comments. I am in no way defending his comments and as a person who has siblings who are different ethnic backgrounds I find them morally reprehensible. Not so long ago, if someone said something about the “church” then that was offensive and you could get thrown in jail or worse. My concern is that if we start worrying so much about what we say and how to say it then we are imposing restrictions on ourselves. Then where do we go from there? Freedom of speech is the direct regulator of government activity. Without it we have no real say over what happens. Everything would be hush hush and we would be out of the loop on everything without the ability to question our government.

At the same time I support boycotting of Imus’ show. He's a bigot and I do not plan to listen to him. I do support those who are boycotting sponsors of his show. And if that leads to his dismissal then so be it. Its unconscionable to me that we are heading news about a bigot’s remarks when this stuff happens routinely. Only when individuals let the people know that they don’t want to hear racist jokes, they don’t appreciate it, we are all brothers then we can move on. Imus is more of a sexist than a racist as well. And with Al Sharpton (who has said bigotry things in the past especially against Jews) it has gotten confused. As people like Don Imus leaves and my generation comes in, I firmly believe we are heading to the idea color blind society and hopefully my grandchildren when they come into the workforce, it will be completely colorblind and opportunity based on merit with all things equal such as educational opportunity.

browneyedsoul06 said...

In response to retro_liberal’s comment…

I agree with what you had to say. Sure, Don Imus made a career-changing comment (on a story that would’ve generally been a footnote in any news program) and finally got what he deserved after years of bigoted, ignorant commentary that everyone has basically ignored until now (I mean, honestly, who had heart of Don Imus before his comments on the Rutgers women’s basketball team?), but there’s certainly bigger fish to fry. I think the reason that this caused so much ruckus is that he attacked college students; most of his comments are about adults and thereby overlooked. He has said things that aren't even posted on the blog.

Coulter doesn’t get more than a light slap on the wrist for any of her comments, before the flaxen-haired Komodo dragon crawls back into her hole for another few months; that is, until she has a new book coming out or simply wants to add something “witty” or “relevant” to society. As we all know, it’ll be a statement obnoxiously outrageous and ignorant beyond belief, that Fox News will play around the clock now that Rosie O’Donnell is leaving The View this summer.

I don’t even know what to say about Limbaugh that hasn’t already been said before. His lack of relevance and media attention, though, is the ultimate punishment for his commentary and hypocrisy throughout the years.

I do not think that this is the end of Don Imus, though. Some format (whether it be Sirius, XM or a fledgling network that sees an opportunity to have its name on the news) will pick him up and his return will be the top story on the evening news for weeks on end, until the next big scandal erupts and Imus goes back to making comments that no one hears.

There was an interesting point made by Whoopi Goldberg on an episode of The View shortly after Imus was fired. As a solution, she proposed that Imus not be fired: instead, he should be forced to teach a course at Rutgers for a year, which would most assuredly teach him a lesson.

GreatAmerican said...

After reading all of these posts I just want to say that I agree with some of them and disagree with some of them. Well, Don Imus certainly has said things in the past that offend people. But I feel that freedom of speech protects his right to say whatever he wants. All of the post talk about conservative radio hosts being racists and saying things they shouldn’t. Well what about Howard Stern. He is not conservative and his show is disgusting and I am sure he offends people all of the time. So why is there never a question raised about why he is still on the air. I listen to Mike McConnell a radio host on 700WLW radio station out of Cincinnati. I also listen to other talk radio shows. I feel that people only put blame on these people because they are conservative. But many liberals offend me, so we are even. I am not defending Imus but he had the right to say whatever he wanted to say. He used the right that the constitution gave him.

east_ky said...

I believe that the comments made by Don Imus about the Rutgers basketball team were completely unacceptable. A man who has so much power in the media should have a little more class and maturity. However, I do believe that he did have the right to say it under the first amendment of the constitution. If we start censoring now, we will eventually have to start forfeiting other rights. I do not think that he should have been fired for his comments. I believe that a public apology would have sufficed. Imus has made many other remarks about minorities in the past. Why was Imus not fired for these statements? There are many other television hosts that have made distasteful remarks about minorities. If we fire Imus, then we should also fire Ann Coulter and Howard Stern. Although, I do not agree with Imus's statement but I do not think he should be fired for it. Many people say hurtful things that may not be right but they are still allowed to say them. These are our basic rights given to us as American people. They should not be allowed to be infringed upon.

DemocratLove said...

I have heard such comments about Don Imus, such things like, he says what everyone else thinks. But, I can be the first to say that's not right. I've been and played on different basketball teams all my life and learned vital life lessons from doing so. Such things like teammwork, dedication, acting professional. Therefore, when Imus came at the Rutgers' women's basketball team, I knew he didn't know the soul of their basketball team. He didn't take the time to evaluate that team before making such an outlandish comment. Being called a 'nappy-headed ho,' by someone who doesn't even know you is degrading to your character and humiliating towards your team. I hadn't really followed the story that much, only just a few news clips here and there, but I didn't know that he made such horrible comments, about blacks, women, gays, and even the handicapped. What kind of man should be on public radio that discriminates and verbally abuses people that he doesn't personally know. For that fact, who is he to judge anyone. Maybe one should grab a mirror and point at him, so he can start judging his own character. I'm not even sure that would even make a difference though. Matthew 7: 1-5 says, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me remove the speck from your eye"; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (NKJV) We should all learn from this....don't be like Imus. Leave the judging to God.

Sheena said...

Previous to the Rutgers incident, I had never even heard of Don Imus (and was probably better of having not). What is wrong with this man? The sad thing is, my grandfather was probably a faithful listener to his show. He’s just a crazy man. I don’t even think he has a soul. He’s kind of a freak. Does he ever have anything positive to say about anything relating to women, gays, blacks, the handicapped, etc.? What an asshole. I can’t believe that people were actually arguing that he shouldn’t lose his job. Granted, in this country we do have the right to free speech. I guess I could see how people would say that he should be able to keep his job. He’s a liability to the companies that he works for, though. His commentary of Hillary Clinton cracked me up, “buck-toothed witch Satan”. Where does he get this stuff? He also went on to call her fat. What a freak.

Lindsay said...

Noting all of the offensive things that Imus has said in the past, it is beyond me why this specific incident sparked so much drama. If he wasn't fired for all of the other bigoted, sexist comments he made, why should he be fired for this one? I'm not a fan of censoring, we do not have a right in the country not to be offended. However, if he was hurting the ratings of the networks by making these kind of statemtents, they by all means, they have every right to terminate him. I don't agree with the things he says, however, he does have a right to say them. It's simply a matter of whether or not a network will sponsor him knowing that these kinds of things will spew forth from him.

raiden5060 said...

Don Imus definitely crossed the line when he criticized the Rutger’s Basketball Team, and I’m glad he was fired. I think you can get away with attacking a political figure, even in bad taste, as the horrendously cruel Janet Reno joke he made (posted on the blog) illustrates; what you cannot do is attack non-political figures. The Rutger’s Basketball Team had everything to be proud of at that moment. They came in second in a NATIONAL tournament, which is a huge accomplishment in its own right. On top of that, Rutger’s is a pretty prestigious school as far as I’m concerned. They were just great athletes and this should have been their moment to shine. Don Imus stole that from them, and it was cruel and nasty—using racist and misogynist slurs to attack the talented, smart, and classy team of athletes. He crossed the line, and he should have had to pay. MSNBC did the right thing. The team really demonstrated how classy they were by forgiving Imus after he said those horrible things. What frustrates me about this whole thing though is how people are diverting away from it by criticizing Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for not attacking rap lyrics which illustrate the same sentiments. First, both Sharpton and Jackson have criticized racist and misogynist lyrics in rap music, Sharpton did so recently at James Brown’s funeral; Second, two wrongs don’t make a right. Imus was wrong regardless of what Jackson, Sharpton, or any rappers have to say.

spiegelglanz said...

Imus was not fired for exercising his right to free speech. He was fired because, in crossing the line, his offensiveness may have stopped being profitable and started to hurt the image (and profitability) of the networks he airs on.

John Stuart Mill advocated free speech in all cases except harm. Imus is more of an annoyance than a harm, although he propagates long-standing prejudices which aren't productive, he's not hurting anyone in particular. Offending people is not a crime.

But Mill also defended the right to speak wrongly because it still foils and aids the truth. When I hear Imus using terms that degrade people based solely on race, sexuality, etc.--it affirms me in knowing he's an outdated relic and speaks wrongly. It's a good thing we have him, both demonstrating the need for freedom of speech for the sake of the law and for bringing the issue of racism into the public forefront. By using racial slurs, he's barely furthering racism, while his comments appear in the mainstream news and are put in context by right-minded people.

davidb said...

Let me start of by saying that when you take Don Imus seriously as a political guru then you have serious problems. If anyone has ever listened to his show you would see that there is no difference from him or any other political comic such as john stewert or lewis black. He said some bad comments what is the big deal? People lughed that is the job of a comedian. And if the black community was so outraged by Imus' comments then they might want to look no further than evrey black comedian who has ever performed! Rap music is another example of how african american women are degraded on the daily. If you don't like what he is saying then simply turn the channel. You know you have that option. Freedom of speech is very important to me and when i see it violated like in the Imus case where a man who makes a living for years entertaining people by saying such comments for years and one day we say no thats not OK. I say its ludacris! Why is it just now that he was backlashed? What about we he made comments on the gays and the handicaped such as the author suggested? Now its a problem that something was said about an african american? CNN should be the ones to blame for allowing for so long if it was truly a problem. Which they didnt seem to care becuse in their eyes and mine he was doing his job and that is to entertain. Not make political policy or teach or care for people who are sick. But simply to entertain people and juding by his succes over the years i would have to say he did a pretty good job. He didnt hurt anybody directly, he has made fun of a lot of people over the years and now it seems that this is just a big copout by CNN by firing Don Imus who did nothing more than express his opinion BY MAKING A JOKE. The biggest mistake Imus made in my opinion was apologizing!!!