Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Don Imus and Hypocrisy all around

I haven't listened to Don Imus in a long time: he just had gotten too tedious with rants about himself, his ranch, and his distasteful comments about everyone in public life. What had seemed funny for a while, soon got old. However, this outrage over his comment about the Rutgers team is a curious thing. First of all, he's been saying things along these lines for a long time whether he used the exact offensive language or by implication through the accents his characters put on whenever playing blacks. He is an equal-time offender of almost every group that I've heard him talk about. I also would be surprised to find out that this was the very first time he had called a black person "nappy-headed." It fits in with his brand of humor. Gwen Ifill reminds us today that he referred to her as "the cleaning lady" reporting news for NBC. Why it would even occur to him to attack the young women on the Rutgers team as "ho's" is beyond me but apparently he thought that there was some humor in attacking a team that had just lost on a racial basis.

Hearing outrage from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton about racist statements is a laugh. Jackson was the one who got angry because a black journalist wrote up Jackson's comments calling New York City "hymietown." And Al Sharpton has never apologized for inciting a riot that ended up with a Jewish person being killed. They're not the ones I'd look to for judgments on discrimination.

That said, other broadcasters have lost their jobs for saying offensive comments about blacks in less despicable language. Ed Morrisey reminds us of how Al Campanis lost his job for saying that blacks didn't make good swimmers or general managers. Rush Limbaugh aroused howls of outrage that forced him to quit his gig on ESPN Sports for saying that the media wasn't as tough on Donovan McNabb because they wanted a black quarterback to succeed. Is two weeks an adequate punishment for his offense? I guess the ratings rather than outrage will decide.

The thing about Don Imus that is so intriguing is that he constantly said offensive things, yet he still got major politicians and high level members of the media to appear on his show. They knew what the type of humor he specialized in, yet they were happy to get the exposure that they got on his show. As David Carr writes today in the New York Times,
He is, to borrow one of the show’s metaphors, a lawn jockey to the establishment. Few politicians, big or small, pass up a chance to bump knees with Mr. Imus, in part because his show is one of the few places where they can talk seriously and at length about public issues. Senator John Kerry has stopped by. Senator John McCain is on frequently. And Senators Joseph I. Lieberman and Joseph R. Biden are part of a legion eager to sit in the guest chair.

NBC News uses “Imus in the Morning” to promote the brands of Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory. Tom Brokaw was a frequent guest, and his replacement, Brian Williams, has been sanctified by the I-man, as they call him. Chris Matthews from MSNBC has appeared, as have anchors and journalists from CNN and CBS and, on the print side, by reporters and editors from Newsweek and popular opinion columnists from The New York Times.

“Whatever problem there was, I think that he took care of with his statement of Friday,” said Mr. Oliphant, one of the guests scheduled for this morning. “It was classic Imus. He said he screwed up and he was sorry. Bang. Bang. It was very much to the point, and did not offer any excuses.”

The other guest scheduled today said the show must go on. “He should not have said what he said, obviously,” said Mr. Thomas of Newsweek. “I am going on the show, though. I think if I didn’t, it would be posturing. I have been going on the show for quite some time and he occasionally goes over the line.” Mr. Imus may rib his exalted guests, but he generally stays away from the racial humor and invective that is part of the connective tissue of the rest of the show. Perhaps that gives the politicians and opinion makers enough plausible deniability to sit comfortably across from Mr. Imus.
And MSNBC has been happy to have a relatively cheap morning news show that they could use to spotlight their reporters. I wouldn't be all that surprised to see his ratings go up after all this publicity. But whether he'll still get all these politicians to show up for a chat is another question.

The celebrity journalists and politicians could pretend that they weren't appearing on the same show that, in other portions, was squeezing humor out of offensive comments about everything in public life. I wonder if they'll now be as willing to come on his show after this. There are plenty of radio shows that have bigger audiences and provide serious conversation about public issues, however most of them have conservative hosts so that probably isn't regarded as the same thing. They could go on Hugh Hewitt but they'd have to deal with tough questions and it wouldn't be the painfree laughfest that a spot on Imus has been. Dennis Miller has a new radio show that is quite funny, but he supports the war in Iraq so I guess that means he's out for a lot of these politicians. However, I'd suggest his show for less offensive, yet funnier show if you want a humorous look at the news interspersed with reminiscences with his old SNL and stand-up buddies.