Letter to Journalists
Philip Nobile is the editor of Judgment at the Smithsonian, which
printed the banned Smithsonian script on the 50th anniversary
of the Bombs of August in 1995.
To: Imus Regulars* From: Philip Nobile Re: NYT Commentary on Racism and Homophobia in Sportscasting, particularly on "Imus in the Morning"
Dear Dan Rather:
I am doing a commentary piece for the New York Times Sunday Sports Page on racism and homophobia in sportscasting with emphasis on "Imus in the Morning" and Mike Breen, who is crisp and clean announcing WNBA games on NBC but mocks the same WNBA athletes as lesbians on Imus.
As a friend of the program, you may already know that Imus and his crew routinely make bigoted remarks about black athletes. During the recent NBA playoffs, the black members of the Knicks were demeaned with a stream of racist slurs unheard in New York since pre-Jackie Robinson days.
Simian allusions were an Imus favorite. The host called Patrick Ewing "a knuckle-dragging moron" while his producer Bernard McGuirk used the variant "a knuckle-dragging dope." Beau Dietl topped the trashtalk with his comparison of "the starting lineup of the Knicks" to "the gorilla special effects" in the film Instinct. Dietl also took a homosexual swipe at ex-Knick Bill Bradley when he speculated on mike, "How many loads did this guy swallow?"
The Knicks City dancers and the underprivileged children who got free Knicks tickets were likewise insulted. McGuirk slimed the dancers as "crack ho's" and ad-libbed that the kids cheered "Attica, Attica" at the games. (Dietl's suggestion was "Chickenwing, chickenwing.") In the same vein, Breen laughed when McGuirk dubbed him "the Abner Louima of the Knicks lockeroom."
The odor of prejudice spiked during this month's U.S. Open. Imus and guests, mainly Dietl, expressed contempt for Patrick Rafter as "a fag" and a "homo," Marcelo Rios as a "Mexican dishwasher," Serena and Venus Williams as "booma chucka big-butted women," and Former Mayor David Dinkins as "Uncle Ben."
The following dialogue regarding Indian tennis players-- Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes--occurred on September 10:
Bud Collins: And don't forget the two Indians playing for the doubles title--Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes. Imus: Please (in disgust) Dietl: Gunga Din and his brother. (laughter) Collins: That's it. Imus: I'll take a -- Collins: Gunga Din and (unintelligible). Imus: root beer and a pack of Marlboros and some beef jerky. Dietl: Gunga Din and Sambo. Imus: Bud, thank you very much. Collins: All right gentlemen ... Imus: Bud Collins-- Collins: --Beau, bring 'em out, Beau, bring 'em out. Dietl: I'll see you tomorrow, Bud. Imus: Bud Collins, on the Imus in the Morning Show.
Despite the vileness of the above remarks, no spokesman for the NBA, WNBA, NBC, MSNBC, MSG, or WFAN would to say a critical word about Imus' content. The universal response was that the Imus program was "satire," and consequently, anything went. But when I asked each flack what was satiric about calling the Knicks City Dancers "crack ho's," no explanation was offered, none. Why not? Because satire means "the use of ridicule in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, ect.," (The Random House College Dictionary), not smearing racial and sexual minorities. The English word for what Imus does is bigotry. Even Imus has dropped the satire defense. Hearing hoofbeats last February--after WARW in Washington, D.C. fired white shock jock Doug Tracht for "satirizing" the truck-dragging death of a black man in Texas--Imus confessed to his broadcast bigotry and pledged to clean up his act. "Maybe I'm getting too old to do this," he said. "There's no reason to hurt people's feelings. In some cases I have, and I'm not going to do it anymore…. I get accused of being a racist all the time, but I'm not. I realize that we do things here that are misconstrued and frankly I regret it. People have criticized me and they're right." Although Imus spoke in bad faith, he is on record condemning his own redneck style.
Since you are an Imus regular and savvy about the media, perhaps you can help me understand how Imus' bigotry has received a pass from whites like yourself. For instance, Jeff Greenfield was so offended by Spike Lee's treatment of Italians in The Summer of Sam that he likened the film to an "Italian-American minstrel show." Yet when Imus called Lee "a little lawn jockey" and smeared athletes with repeated racist and homophobic slurs, Greenfield was silent. Here are some related questions for your comment:
Regarding your relationship with Imus, have you contributed to his charity ranch or other Imus-sponsored charities? Have you promoted any books, TV shows, or stories his show?
Were you aware of the above racist and anti-gay remarks before reading this letter?
If so, did you ever speak to Imus about them or reconsider your relationship with Imus because of them? If not, why not?
After Gwen Ifill learned that Imus called her a "cleaning lady," she boycotted the show (despite her NBC-MSNBC affiliation). What stops you from join ing her?
Granted the past controversies surrounding spontaneous racial observations by Jimmy-the Greek, Rick Barry, and Howard Cosell, how do you suppose that Imus has escaped scrutiny for his deliberate and frequently scripted bigotry against athletes, time after time, on WFAN and MSNBC?
What weight do you give to the fact that sports leagues and media are controlled by straight white male management with insufficient sensitivity for the feelings of black, female and homosexual players? Do you think that Ewing sees the satire in being compared to an ape?
I look forward to your response.
Philip Nobile email
*Jeff Greenfield, Mike Wallace, Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Brian Williams, Mike Barnicle, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Andrea Mitchell, Bob Schieffer, Cokie Roberts, Anna Quindlen, Tim McCarver, Mike Lupica, Mike Bechloss, Jonathan Alter, Tony Kornheiser, David Bloom, Laura Ingraham, Pete Hamill, Kinky Friedman, Howard Kurtz, Walter Isaacson, Jim Lehrer, George Stephanopoulus, Mike Breen, Imus, etc.
Published: May 09 2000