Radio talk-show host Don Imus speaks with Rev. Al Sharpton (not pictured) during Sharpton's radio show, in New York, April 9, 2007, where Imus apologized for insensitive remarks he made last week about the Rutgers women's basketball team.
April 15, 2007
I was at LaGuardia the other day. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just the usual four-hour delay brought on by yet another of these April snowstorms Al Gore has arranged as a savvy marketing gimmick for his global warming documentary. Anyway, as always when you're at the gate for hours on end, there's nothing to do but watch CNN. I gather air traffic delays now account for 87 percent of CNN's audience. If it's just a routine holdup of two or three hours because the gate agent hasn't shown up, you know you'll be out of there before Wolf Blitzer's said goodnight. But, if it's something serious, like a light breeze at O'Hare, you know you'll be watching Larry King right through to the plug for tomorrow night's full hour with Tina Louise.
So I had the pleasure of sampling a typical evening's lineup of Don Imus coverage, from Wolf bringing us up to speed on the various networks that have fired him to Paula Zahn hosting a balanced panel of three African Americans and a guilt-ridden honky. It would have been a bad day for Ahmadinejad to drop the big one because nothing was going to prize CNN from their Imus-In-the-Morning-Noon-and-Night coverage.
Pundits are supposed to have opinions on everything, but to be honest I had no strong views on the scandal roiling the nation. I've never listened to the Imus show. The closest I get is if I happen to be driving around of an afternoon listening to WXZO from Burlington, Vt., and I hear one of their promos for the show, usually consisting of a 60-second highlight. In all the years of that condensed acquaintanceship with Imus, no "highlight" has ever struck me as funny or insightful. But I assumed that was simply because I'd left it too late: As with "Days of Our Lives" or "As the World Turns," if you've missed the first seven or eight decades it's hard to get into it.
So I don't know whether calling the Rutgers basketball ladies "nappy-headed hos" is a mean old white guy's racist slur or an artful parodic jest on the way black women are talked about by black men -- or at least by the ones on the record charts. After all, the only way mean old white folks know the expressions "nappy" or "ho" is because they heard 'em from hip young black folks. Indeed, one could argue it's a tribute to how non-racist America is that an elderly Caucasian would wish to talk like a gangsta rapper. What was it Martin Luther King dreamed of? A nation where men would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characterizations?
Alas, it's not that simple. Apparently, when two hip-hoppers are up on stage doing their "Who was that ho I saw you with last night?"/"That was no ho, that was my bitch" shtick, they're just keepin' it real. When a white guy does it, he's just keepin' it real unlikely he'll find gainful employment again. Unless, of course, the networks are now proposing to apply the Imus standard to all performers, in which case the Grammy Awards will last 10 minutes (Best Liner Notes on a Polka Album and Best Tony Bennett Celebrity Duets CD of the Last Two Months).
It's a good rule of thumb in American scandals that, no matter how big an idiot someone is, the outrage over him will always be more idiotic. Let us take the easiest ones first. "I've received hundreds, if not thousands of e-mails, both internal and external, from people with very strong views about what should happen," said Steve Capus, president of NBC News. "And many of them are people who have worked at NBC News for decades, people who put their lives on the line covering wars and things like that." Is that a lobby group yet? War Correspondents Against Racism? Capus was taking no chances. "This decision was made after listening to the people who work for NBC News, who have placed a trust and respect the trust that America has given us."
Is it written somewhere in the Media Code of Ethics that you're not allowed to fire anyone without sounding like a pompous self-regarding bore? Playing catch-up and terminating Imus 24 hours after MSNBC, CBS chairman Les Moonves left NBC's "trust" and "respect" and "respect for the trust" in the dust: "We are now presented with a significant opportunity to expand on our record on issues of diversity, race and gender. We intend to seize that opportunity as we move forward together." That sounds like a helluva morning show you're developing there, Mr. Chairman. Unless it's just off-the-peg meaningless pap to be forgotten as soon as the press release is shoved in the filing cabinet.
Needless to say, Moonves fired Imus after first meeting with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. I have a dream that my children will one day live in a nation where a white guy can be fired for racist remarks without his employers having to prostrate themselves before clapped out professional grievance mongers and shakedown artists. But dream on. Two men who slandered the Duke lacrosse players not just as racists but as rapists (by the way, has the Rev. Jackson come through on his promise to pay for the "victim" to go to college?) are the go-to guys when it comes to judging rhetorical excess in respect of varsity sports teams. Surely even a network president isn't such a craven squish he can go through a meeting like that with a straight face?
And saddest of all were the Rutgers basketball gals themselves. Almost a century and a half after the abolition of slavery, 40 years after the civil rights era, a group of young black women who've achieved great success went on TV and teared up because of a cheap crack by an over-the-hill shock jock. As a female correspondent to the Powerline Web site commented:
"Here are these tough women on top of the world and they are so fragile that a remark knocks them down. Hey, why wouldn't they have said 'F--- you? Who the heck is this fool Imus? We are queens of national basketball and there is no stopping us now. We can be and do anything we choose to be or do. . . . We don't need Al Sharpton to protect us. . . . ' But no, they look devastated and say they are damaged irreparably.''
Only in America: a team of champions who think they're victims, an old white fool who talks like a gangsta rapper and multi-millionaires grown rich on race-baiting who promote themselves as guardians of civility. Good thing there are no real problems to worry about.