Can Protests Bring Hate Spewing Don Imus Down, After Another Incident of Racist Commentary?
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A range of protestors, including Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, are trying to raise the stakes in the wake of Don Imus's most recent hate language incident on his shock talk radio show. While it is too early to tell if Imus has gone too far this time, a concerted campaign might be able to turn enough heat on his corporate bosses, to send Imus to the sidelines.
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), the editor-in-chief of Essence magazine, and well known sports columnists are among a growing number calling for Imus's dismissal over his racially-charged comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, which finished second in the recent NCAA tournament.
The growing gaggle of critics are clearly not impressed by Imus's on-air apology or his corporate bosses mea culpas and promises of holding Imus accountable. "What he has said has deeply hurt too many people -- black and white, male and female," said NABJ President Bryan Monroe. "His so-called apology ... is too little, too late."
In case the reader is not up-to-date, Imus called the women of the primarily black Rutgers team "nappy headed hos" during a Wednesday morning, April 4 segment of his show, which broadcasts to millions of listeners on more than 70 stations and the MSNBC cable network. In addition Imus's producer Bernard McQuirk called the players "hard core hos" and went on to compare the Rutgers game against Tennessee for the NCAA championship as the "Jigaboos vs. the Wannabees, a take off from Spike Lee's satirical film School Daze.
Imus on Sharpton Show
The fact that the story has legs may have led Imus to decide to go on Sharpton's radio show, today, Monday. April 9, in a surprising development. Nevertheless, Sharpton told the AP his position on Imus was unchanged. He still wants Imus fired, and intends to write the Federal Communications Commission about the matter. Sharpton said, "We cannot keep going through offending us and then apologizing and then acting like it never happened. Somewhere we've got to stop this.'' Sharpton told AP he would "picket Imus' New York radio home, WFAN-AM, unless the veteran of nearly 40 years of anything-goes broadcasting is gone within a week."
In addition, The Rev. Jesse Jackson said his RainbowPUSH Coalition plans to protest Monday in Chicago outside the offices of NBC, which owns MSNBC, over the remark Imus made last Wednesday during his show.
Taking Imus to Task
Phil Sheridan, a Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer, noted that Imus and his protectors are likely to trot out the notion of political correctness, "whose knees jerk in that direction when hate speech is called hate speech. The First Amendment protects every Americans right to freedom of speech. It doesn't protect racists high paying media jobs. ... It is one thing for Spike Lee to explore issues of racial identity in an edgy satire, it is another for two out-of -touch white imbeciles to express their Neanderthal reaction to a women's basketball team." Columnist Filip Bondy of the working class tabloid Daily News , in a column headlined "Imus spews hate, should be fired," wrote that shock jock "should be axed for one of the most despicable comments ever uttered on the air."
David Carr writing in the New York Times , wryly noted, that the "nappy headed ho's" comment was "even for Imus, a radio host who knows his way around an insult, a shocking remark, one that seemed to impugn both the physical and moral characteristics of a team composed mostly of black players. ... What followed was a familiar dance for Imus and the media companies who profit from his ability to shock his way to big audiences: outrage, indignation, and the expression of deep regret."
Imus wondered aloud on his show the following day what the big deal was. People should not be offended by 'some idiot comment meant to be amusing," Imus said. And quickly, after the media watchdog group Media Matters for America provided the details of the Imus content, the corporate sponsors offered their apologies. Allison Gollust, a spokeswoman for MSNBC, which simulcasts "Imus in the Morning,'' said the network considers Imus's comments "deplorable'' and is reviewing the matter.
How Does Imus Survive?
The reason Imus is still on the air has to do with the fact that he is very profitable and that dozens of powerful elected officials, journalists and TV personalities come on his show, promoting themselves to his large audience, and earning some kind of spurs for going mano y mano with Imus. Imus makes big bucks for WFAN, his local NY station and the parent owner, CBS Radio. And more recently, he has brought 40% growth for MSNBC, the cable "also ran" which desperate for audience, added 100,000 viewers in the past year (for an average total of 358,000) after it started "simulcasting" the Imus show.
The Imus show also enjoys the patina of intellectual and political cover given to him by any number of well known guests, who time and again are unwilling to confront Imus for his hateful behavior. In the end, these guests must be considered enablers of Imus's racism and bile. The day after Imus's racist remarks, Tim Russert was interviewed on the show and said nothing about the incident. Joe Lieberman John McCain, and media figures Frank Rich and Chris Mathews and numerous others appear. Today, April 9, a top Newsweek editor Evan Thomas will be on the show.
Why Do Top Media Figures Go On?
Why do they go on? Well for one, it is a big audience -- you can sell books on the show and have a rambling, sometimes provocative discussion. But more importantly, apparently Imus can get you access to the white male macho audience he appeals to and with whom he has much influence. Office seekers and media types, and they are almost all white males, seem to want to bask in Imus's super masculine glow in the hope it rubs off on them, in case they have seemed to be inadequate to Imus's white male audience in some way.
Even Barack Obama went on Imus to hawk his last book, but he probably won't go on anymore. On Friday's Imus show, a character trying to be a Bill Clinton impersonator said: "Well, Senator Obama is obviously generating some serious cash flow in a non-traditional way ... he's selling crack. Or he's pimping. Which, I guess is pretty much the same thing euphemistically speaking. I mean, I don't want to start rumors but the money had to come from somewhere..." This is simply the epitome of racial stereotyping and it seems amazing that this stuff makes it on the air on MSNBC.
Imus has Been Here Before
David Carr in a follow up column in the April 9 New York Times Media Business section noted:
This isn't the first time that Mr. Imus has trolled these waters: he once called Gwen Ifill, then working at the Times, "a cleaning lady" and described one of the paper's sports columnists, William C. Rhoden, as a "quota hire." Both of those journalists are black, but Mr. Imus's defenders like to point out that he is an equal-opportunity misanthrope whose show displays 360-degree offensiveness toward all sorts of ethnicities, sexual orientations and religious affiliations.
But Sharpton insisted that equal opportunity offensiveness doesn't matter: "This is not some unemployed comic like Michael Richards," Sharpton said, referring to the "Seinfeld" actor who used the N-word and referred to lynching in a rant last year. "This is an established figure, allowed to use the airwaves for sexist and racist remarks."
According to the AP, NABJ President Bryan Monroe asked Thursday if Imus had "lost his mind" Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer was also incensed by the comments about her team. "I am deeply saddened and angered by Mr. Imus' statements," "To serve as a joke of Mr. Imus in such an insensitive manner creates a wedge and makes light of these classy individuals, both as women and as women of color." Finally as the Times' Carr writes: "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."
The question remains: will others come forward to build momentum, will the blogosphere make this a "cause celeb," as they did in attacking Fox News for its racism directed at Barack Obama, and will the corporate big wigs decide finally, that with Imus, enough is enough.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.