Monday, April 09, 2007

Don Imus: The End of an Era

April 10, 2007

I have to admit Imus in the Morning is the white noise I wake up to in the morning. I like a jolt in the morning, and Don Imus, tempered by his elegant buddy Charles McCord and egged on by the abrasive and sharp-edged Bernard McGuirk, never fails to provide it.

I had the show on the other morning when the three began tossing around racial slurs about the Rutgers' women's basketball team. I shook my head and said to myself, "How does he get away with this stuff?" but I shrugged it off because "It's Imus. Nobody takes him seriously."

How wrong I was.

It was an offhand remark, in the midst of a discussion with Sid Rosenberg, a low-talent bigmouth who had been fired a few years ago from his job as Imus' sports reporter for making racist remarks about the Williams sisters. Yes, Imus's comment was offensive, but so are his insults to everybody from respected newsmen who frequent his morning shows to politicians in the highest offices in the land. He was trying to be funny, in a locker room kind of way -- which is his stock in trade. It was kind of like the old game of playing the dozens, which is a man's game, I understand, originating in the black community, of topping each other with insult after insult. One of the guys introduced Spike Lee's lingo of "jigaboo's" and "wannabe's" into the mix, and things began to get uglier from there.

There is no defense for what Imus said. There is no defense for his rudeness to everybody he deals with, except that it's meant to be funny and it often is. We all know people like this. Some of them are really racists, some are just going for laughs. If I laugh at it sometimes, does that reveal my own racism? I don't think so. I thought it was an awful remark. But not enough to turn off the set and refuse ever to watch again.

Then came the deluge of outrage ("fake outrage," according to comedian Bill Maher) from Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Maher says we not only want to humiliate those who insult us, we insist that they go away forever.) There were press conferences demanding his removal from his job as early morning bad-boy interviewer. On the Internet I found him called everything from a burnt-out fossil -- that one hurt because I am the same age as Imus -- to a mean-spirited racist. It began to look like the end of Imus.

Anderson Cooper did a segment on the controversy; David Gregory, hosting Chris Matthews' Hardball interviewed some of Imus' regulars, and there was constant reference even as the I-Man spent two hours on Sharpton's radio show apologizing for his comment. Sharpton remained rigid and demanded that important people refuse to appear on the morning show, even when the calls coming in were mostly in support of the shock jock.

Imus's defense, after his apology to the members of the Rutgers' women's basketball team, was that he has a comedy show rather than a news one. He does not claim to be a political pundit, and he is the opposite of "politically correct," that's his humor, insult humor in the vein of Lenny Bruce, Don Rickles and Richard Pryor. He's walking a tightrope and this time he fell off by saying the wrong thing. He did not do it to characterize any members of any race by their physical characteristics, and he certainly was not thinking that he insulted a whole generation of black women, as Sharpton maintains. He had to admit he wasn't thinking of anything.

He wants to meet with the basketball team and present his apology in person, whether or not they accept it. He appears chastened and the team has set a time to meet with him this morning.

No one who watches Imus regularly can say seriously that he is a racist. Why he said what he did even he doesn't know; but he said it in jest and his apology and suspension from his job should have been enough. However, he has promised to change the tone of his program when and if it is reinstated.

If that is so we can expect a contrite Imus and probably a somewhat revamped morning program in May. He may have more blacks on his staff if he returns to the air. He will have to watch his mouth. The era of saying anything that pops into his head is over for him.


Anonymous said...

yes, what he said was stupid but, by definition, was not racist...racism is when you think one race is inherently better than another...he never said anything like was just thoughtless and stupid...what i really can't stand is when a white person says anything that has any sort or racial element to it, automatically they're a racist...labeled that by people like jesse jackson and al sharpton who don't have the most upstanding histories themselves...i'd say it's the pot calling the kettle black, but then somebody might call me a racist!

Mary Lois said...

Well, I guess we have to face it. All white people are racists, because all black people say we are. And all generalizations are wrong, like this one.

PC a-ok in l.a., al. said...

What a shock to find offensive language on this, of all sites:

You wrote,
"He did not do it to characterize any members of any race by their physical characteristics, and he certainly was not thinking that he insulted a whole generation of black women, as Sharpton maintains."

Don't you mean african american women? Next you'll be telling us you like Obama because he's black, thereby planting a negative stereotype in our minds. I'd hate to see sponsors start pulling out of this blog.

Mary Lois said...

I do like a lot of things about Barack Obama, but I hadn't noticed he was black. I thought he was half white, half Indonesian. I don't see how that makes him African American.

Mary Lois said...

Ooops! I just Googled Obama and discovered that, although raised in Indonesia by his mother and an Indonesian stepfather, his father (who was out of the picture by the time Barack was two years old) was actually from Kenya.

Hope I don't have to go on suspension for two weeks, or, worse yet, appear on Al Sharpton's radio show.

Let us keep our heads about us.

Bert said...

This reminds me of the outrage expressed by Blacks when a shock-jock radio host, after Tiger Woods had won his first Masters, kept insisting what a credit Tiger was to the Thai race...

sinjap said...

one of the things that's ripping this nation apart is hyphenated americanism...i'm irish-american or european-american, but if i went around with an ethno-centric chip on my shoulder expecting to be referred to that way, they'd call me crazy! there's nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage but keep it in perspective...we all live in america now and it has it's own culture and heritage to be proud of

btw, that anonymous post was actually me, just clicked the wrong button

Finding Fair Hope said...

As usual your punctuation gave you away, sinjap.

If ethnic groups really get riled at being insulted, it's a wonder there has been so little feedback against Bernard McGuirk, Imus' producer, who does such outrageous impersonations of the Irish when he dons a UPS delivery envelope and launches into his Irish-priest act. He also portrays Ray Nagin in a most insulting manner but I've never heard Nagin insist on his firing. And Bernie was very much in the middle of the "black racist" remarks for which Imus is catching the grief. To his credit, he has never said, "Bernie and Sid made me do it!"

buzzard bait said...

Imus has suffered from homeland terrorism in a country with freedom of speech. Very few "suffering" the outrage are black, rather hybrid or mix. They are not alone especially down south where coonasses, cajuns, and creoles live. Let alone the spicks, whaps, nips, micks, kikes and coolies spread all across the land. Call a spade a spade I say. You don't call a Ford a Ferrari do you. I guess you call me an ass....ooooh the outrage!

jon said...

It is human nature to live and thrive in tribes, clans or families as far back as homoerectus people go. The group often fights within itself, but poor is the outsider who picks a fight. Our organizations, churches, political groups, our friends are the same way.
Another trait of human nature is to offer up a sacrificial subject for protection. Violating human nature may produce a sort of equality, but only friendship and integrity can produce positive relations that are not family. Family is used in a broad sense.
As to old Imus, they will serve his liver at a dinner. The black power movement has come a long way.

In another vein, Judge J, on TV court gets away with derision and insults on a daily basis. But, she is a judge making an actual difference in peoples' lives, abasement and all.