Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some questions about the I-mess

First off, let me say that I don't agree with what Don Imus said. The statements were undoubtedly racist and sexist.

I'm also not a big Imus fan, and I don't regularly listen to or watch his program. So I don't have a vested stake in his being on the air or having a job.

I feel the need to say those things because it seems anyone who defends Imus, including fellow journalists who went on his show, is accused of agreeing with him. But I feel the need to defend the guy, or at least ask some questions that no one seems to have asked. I'm not sold on everything that has happened in the wake of this incident, including his firing this afternoon from CBS, and it's starting to feel a bit like a witch hunt.

On to the questions:

1. Why did this story take off the way it did?

Imus first made his comments on April 4, and the first I heard of them was a passing mention on Sportscenter. The anchors repeated what he said, and it seemed like another one of those "look who put his foot in his mouth today as it relates to sports" stories. The next day on American Morning, it again received a few seconds of airtime, and the guys on "Pardon the Interruption" talked about it for a bit. I basically thought it would just go away after an apology. But the story just kept growing, the chorus calling for Imus' head getting louder every day. It's at the point where Anderson Cooper has been taking phone calls about it, entire episodes of "Hardball" have been dedicated to it and it seems like the news nets have gone all Imus, all the time (indeed, it seems like MSNBC is spending more time talking about Imus even after cancelling his show than Imus actually had on the air).

This seems to be completely different than a number of recent incidents. When Michael Richards and Mel Gibson made racist and/or sexist comments, the media was on those from minute one. They decided it was a story and they followed it.

Meanwhile, when former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin said current Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's athleticism might be owed to the fact that his "great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandma pulled one of them studs up out of the barn," the mainstream media basically let that one go. Likewise when CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer said Charlie Rose would "fag out" on him. Those were apparently people saying stupid things, but they weren't stories.

Personally, I think the Imus comments fall into the second camp. But even if you think they belong with Richards and Gibson, the question remains as to why it took so long for this to blow up. Imus appeared on the Today show on April 10 -- nearly a full week after he made the comments.

To me, this smacks of a story driven by particular interests more than anything else. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others with their own agendas didn't want to let the story die, and they made it an issue. Then the media bought right in and made the story explode.

2. Why is Imus in trouble now?

The reason I take issue with the media firestorm that has erupted is that, in the scheme of things, what Imus said isn't so bad. When compared to what Imus has said about blacks, gays, women, Jews and other groups in the past, this is nothing. It's hardly the type of thing that deserves to get someone with that track record fired. I know there's a such thing as "the straw that broke the camel's back," but I don't think this reaches that level. Has the world really become that much more sensitive over the past few months? Maybe Richards and Gibson drove us to it, but even so, calling the Rutgers female basketball players "nappy-headed hos" hardly deserves firing.

Jason Whitlock, a black columnist at the Kansas City Star, thinks Imus is a "hack." But he thinks the brouhaha from his comments is ridiculous. Whitlock writes that the reason (black) people have latched on to Imus this time is that it allows them to ignore real problems in the community:

In the grand scheme, Don Imus is no threat to us in general and no threat to black women in particular. If his words are so powerful and so destructive and must be rebuked so forcefully, then what should we do about the idiot rappers on BET, MTV and every black-owned radio station in the country who use words much more powerful and much more destructive?

I don’t listen or watch Imus’ show regularly. Has he at any point glorified selling crack cocaine to black women? Has he celebrated black men shooting each other randomly? Has he suggested in any way that it’s cool to be a baby-daddy rather than a husband and a parent? Does he tell his listeners that they’re suckers for pursuing education and that they’re selling out their race if they do?

When Imus does any of that, call me and I’ll get upset. Until then, he is what he is — a washed-up shock jock who is very easy to ignore when you’re not looking to be made a victim.

No. We all know where the real battleground is. We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show. There’s no money and
lots of danger in that battle, so Jesse and Al are going to sit it out.

3. Who are these people to be protesting him?

A big reason Imus has been in such heat are people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. They've protested outside NBC studios, planned to protest outside CBS studios, met with CBS president Les Moonves to advocate for him firing Imus, and basically did everything they could to get him off the air. But maybe they should look inward first.

Jesse Jackson once referred to New York City as Hymietown, a derogatory reference toward Jews. Jackson also claimed he was "sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust."

Sharpton, for his part, defended Tawana Brawley, who fictitiously accused six white men of raping her. Sharpton gained notorietry during the case for his unfounded accusations, which included saying that the prosecutor in the case was one of the rapists. Sharpton also claimed Jewish "diamond merchants" shed "the blood of innocent babies," and protested a new business in Harlem as being owned by a "white interloper."

The point of this is not to villify Jackson and Sharpton. It's only to say that these men have made racist statements, and yet are still respected members of their community and command respect in the nation at large. But apparently, according to them, Don Imus doesn't qualify for similar treatment.

4. What about second chances?

That brings me to my next question, which is why Imus' apology isn't being accepted. Sure, there is the argument that the guy has had so many chance he doesn't deserve another one. But if Sharpton and Jackson can have them, not to mention broadcasters like Marv Albert, Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony, why can't Imus?

So why doesn't Imus get to apologize and have this be over with? Why don't people take him at his word that he's going to change the character of his show and give him the chance to do so?

Imus has raised millions of dollars for good causes during his years on the air; he even raised $1.3 million this year before his show was cancelled.

From the AP:

The news came down in the middle of Imus' Radiothon, which has raised more than $400 million since 1990. The Radiothon had raised more than $1.3 million Thursday before Imus learned that he lost his job.

"This may be our last Radiothon, so we need to raise about $100 million," Imus cracked at the start of the event.

Volunteers were getting about 200 more pledges per hour than they did last year, with most callers expressing support for Imus, said Tony Gonzalez, supervisor of the Radiothon phone bank. The event benefited Tomorrows Children's Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch.

He's clearly not a bad person; he's just a shock jock trying to get cheap laughs. This joke didn't work, and was offensive. So be it. But it doesn't mean the guy doesn't deserve a better fate than this.

Whitlock again:

[I]n my view, [Imus] didn’t do anything outside the norm for shock jocks and comedians. He also offered an apology. That should’ve been the end of this whole affair. Instead, it’s only the beginning.

5. What's all this about Imus "ruining" Rutgers' season?

Numerous commentators have said Imus took a shot at the vulnerable women on the Rutgers women's basketball team. They're college students, pundits have said, and they don't deserve to be made fun of. They say, as did the St. Cloud (Minn.) Times that a "stellar season" has gone down the toilet thanks to Imus:

Perhaps top on the list of fallout from these racial/gender insults is that Imus has forever tarnished what Rutgers accomplished. The team, which started the season 2-4, rallied to finish 27-9 and lost to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game. It will be long time, though, before that's the first thing people remember about this team.
That's patently absurd. I don't even know how to go about debunking that, so I'll turn to Whitlock one more time:

Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that the comments of a man with virtually no connection to the sports world ruined Rutgers’ wonderful season. Had a broadcaster with credibility and a platform in the sports world uttered the words Imus did, I could understand a level of outrage.

But an hourlong press conference over a man who has already apologized, already been suspended and is already insignificant is just plain intellectually dishonest. This is opportunism. This is a distraction.

6. If it's so bad, why is everyone repeating it?

Far as I've seen, every news and sports show (with the exception of the local NBC affiliate) has played and/or said and/or written up Imus' comments in their entirety, without bleeping any of the words. If this is such a slur, such a firing offense, such a reason for Imus to be blacklisted, why do mainstream broadcasters feel comfortable repeating it? When Richards went on his rant, you didn't hear Miles O'Brien repeating what he said the next morning.

That's because there are different levels of offensiveness. This was offensive, but not "into-the-stratosphere" offensive. And it certainly wasn't offensive enough to get everyone quite so riled up. This should have been over after the apology (assuming it was sincere, and as I mentioned above, we have no choice but to take Imus at his word on that).

So given all of the above, given all of the questions that have gone unasked and unanswered, Imus deserves better than he's gotten. He deserves better from the media, from Sharpton and Jackson, from MSNBC and CBS, and from all those who have sought his head because he went five seconds without using it.


At Friday, April 13, 2007, Blogger AG said...

I'm honestly glad you wrote this blog... now, my last question is, will everybody please let the situation rest? I mean, honeslty, I want to ask these people who spoke out so publicly... are you happy now? I realize the comment was inappropriate, but is it over now?

Maybe I'm being too harsh, but I think a bad situation just got worse. The man now has no job and is still being nationally criticized. With all the press, my anger toward Imus' orginal comment has disappeared and now I almost feel sorry for the guy.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007, Blogger HAW said...

I could go on and on about this and all of its ridiculousness. But I'll try not to.

First of all, I do think he should have been fired because, regardless of the ridiculous backlash, the comments were inappropriate. I don't know anyone that could get away with saying that in any job setting and not be fired. Hey, if you want to make those kind of comments do it on XM or something.

That being said, this has been blown way out of proportion. The Rutgers players, especially the crazy coach, are acting like this Imus idiot has ruined their lives. Give me a break! You give Imus more power by saying that. They would have been better off to say they were above the comments he made, because, as accomplished athletes and students, they clearly are.

And the worst part of this whole situation: Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I am so sick of the "race police" coming out every time some moron goes on a racist rant. If you're a racist, an appearance on Sharpton's radio show isn't going to cure you. The best description I've heard so far is something my mom heard on a radio station in Atlanta. A black radio host called Sharpton and Jackson "poverty pimps" and that's pretty fitting. The black community is capable of dealing with these issues themselves without these ringleaders. As Whitlock said on the Today Show, Sharpton and Jackson are going backwards in terms of race issues in our country. (Although it is quite a tragedy that it's 2007 and some people are still full of racism-- but that's a subject for another blog)

Bottom line: Imus got the ax, the Rutgers players have appeared on every television program imaginable and the "poverty pimps" have put in their two cents-- now it's time to put this to rest.

At Saturday, April 14, 2007, Blogger L.C. said...

I have to agree that, despicable as his comments were, it seems somewhat surprising that they caused the sort of uproar and media fiasco they have. Imus was on the main website page of BBC news international--I just can't quite wrap my head around how the story blew up to that extent. Imus makes horrendous comments like that all the time--that doesn't make them any less obnoxious and reprehensible--but I agree that it does start to beg the question, why is it only now that the media beast is sinking its teeth in?


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