News & Politics

Don Imus: Not-So-Hidden Bigotry, Racism, Sexism and Homophobia

Dr. Laura has inspired a big stink about conservative talk show hosts, but what about Don Imus, the morning radio jockey who makes routine sport of homosexuals and minorities, while buying off powerful politicians with lavish national air time? How does a shock jock who analogizes blacks to apes get White House aspirants like Bill Bradley, John McCain, Al Gore and Alan Keyes eating from his hands?
It is not David Remnick's style to play ball with bigots.Remnick is the editor of the New Yorker, a biographer of boxer Muhammad Ali, a friend of the legendary writer Ralph Ellison and a race writer of deserved renown. You would not catch him accepting a book award from a lug like John Rocker, even if it carried a large cash prize. Hypothetically again, he would refuse to plug the seventy-fifth anniversary of his magazine on Rocker's radio show, despite an audience of millions.But high-end media create unexpected bedfellows -- including Remnick and Don Imus, the Rocker of morning radio and MSNBC, who makes routine sport of race, sex and physical minorities, while buying off powerful, straight white journalists with lavish national air time to sell themselves and their products.Among the cream of the press who regularly beat a path to Imus' golden door are Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, Dan Rather, Cokie Roberts, Howard Fineman, Frank Rich, Jonathan Alter and Jeff Greenfield.Since Imus paid Remnick $50,000 last year under the cover of the Imus Book Award, Remnick is compromised more than his peers. Still, it behooves one to wonder why he stooped to appear on Imus' show last week. Surely he knows that Imus is a lowbrow smear artist -- far closer to Roy Cohn than H.L. Mencken -- who revels in speech that would be banned from the New Yorker.Remnick would never print a David Denby review comparing "the gorilla special effects in Instinct" to "the starting line-up of the Knicks." Nor would he permit his tennis correspondent to call Amelie Mauresmo a "a big old lesbo"* or the Williams sisters "two booma-chucka, big-butted women" or an Indian men's doubles team "Gunga Din and Sambo." If Hendrik Hertzberg, the New Yorker's press critic, handed in copy scorning sports columnist Bill Rhoden as a "New York Times quota hire,"* PBS anchor Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady,"* and Talk as a magazine for "liberal homosexuals,"* Remnick would suspend him on the spot and maybe recommend therapy. Yet all the vile words quoted above were broadcast via "Imus in the Morning" (the asterisks indicate emanations from the host himself).Remnick may believe that his hands are clean because Imus was polite to him. Wisely, Imus knocks off calling the Knicks "chest-bumping pimps" with C-Span's Brian Lamb and stifles lesbian references to Hillary Rodham Clinton with Doris Kearns Goodwin. But when the respectables are out of the room, the hoods are donned.For example, within minutes of Remnick's guest shot, Imus ridiculed a cable commentator at the Westminster Dog show as a homosexual, not once but twice, and kidded his producer's propensity to mock blacks, as in the jibe, go "make fun of more Negroes." But the latter remark was no mere jibe. In 1997, Imus carelessly told a "60 Minutes" staffer off-mike that Bernard McGuirk, his program producer, was tapped to do "nigger jokes."Mike Wallace exposed this incriminating usage in his "60 Minutes" profile. Trapped in a Mark Fuhrman moment, what did Imus do? He lied, that is, he denied the staffer's word. When Wallace redoubtably called Imus's bluff on camera, Imus partially relented, insisting that his remark was off the record but nonetheless failing to apologize.Regrettably, Noel Rubinton recently missed the real story behind Imus's red-hot role in presidential politics, which is: How does a shock jock who says "nigger" in private and analogizes blacks to apes in public, get White House aspirants like Bill Bradley, John McCain, Al Gore and Alan Keyes eating from his unclean hands.In fact, each of the above moral leaders were faxed transcripts of Imus' un-American utterances before recent appearances on the show. Yet none was deterred, not even Bradley who is running on his puffed-up race and gay-rights record. All politicians are reputed to be scoundrels. So they have found their scoundrel time on "Imus in the Morning." Coincidentally, Newsday employs the only clear-eyed Imus critic in the press.Les Payne, columnist and assistant managing editor, has consistently accused Imus of slinging night soil on the least of the brethren. After lampooning Rubinton's valentine last week, along with previous softcore tributes in the New Yorker and Newsweek, Imus rendered Payne a backdoor compliment. "Who's the racist guy out at Newsday who always is attacking me?" he said. "Les Payne. I much prefer his columns because he's a flat-out racist. The guy accuses me, of course, of being one ... The guy retains some dignity, even though they're essentially racist columns, not essentially, they are racist."Being labeled a racist by the I-Man -- how sweet the sound! Too bad Payne is the only journalist in America to hear it.Philip Nobile is a former media columnist for New York magazine and is completing a novel about the pope.
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