MEDIA DISSENT: The Creeping Shift on Imus
Could the NYT Be Changing?
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.
Ever since the New York Times published TomPaine.com's highly censored, anti-Imus ad on its May 10 op-ed page, the paper has averted its gaze from Imus news. And maybe not for purely professional reasons. The Times is not only a loyal sponsor of "Imus in the Morning," but three of its star columnists -- Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Tom Friedman -- are regular guests. And let us not forget Howell Raines, editorial page editor and unabashed Imus fan. With connections like these at the Times -- and the New Yorker (David Remnick, Joe Klein), the Washington Post (Kay Graham, Howard Kurtz, Lloyd Grove), Newsweek (Jonathan Alter, Evan Thomas), George (Paul Begala, Laura Ingraham), and Brill's Content (Steve Brill), the press fix is in, bigtime.
To be specific: while the Times has generously covered the racist meltdowns of Al Campanis, Jimmy-the Greek, and John Rocker, it has ignored evidence of Imus's serial bigotry. The paper of record did not record (1) his shocking "60 Minutes" confession in 1997 that he hired his producer, Bernard McGuirk, "to do nigger jokes"; (2) his unapologetic admission on "Larry King" last February that he broadcasts "racially offensive stuff"; and (3) his instant betrayal of a sworn pledge, given on-air to Clarence Page a week after the TomPaine.com j'accuse, to cease his KKK shtick including the use of black parodies and "Amos 'n Andy" cuts.
But now and then every lapdog bites. Although Raines continues to protect Imus on his editorial and op-ed pages, the Times's news side has finally shed its muzzle. Last Saturday (September 16) Richard Perez-Peña penned a breakthrough story headlined "Lieberman, Known Crusader for Propriety, Appears on Imus's Show." Perez-Peña's theme was hypocrisy:
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman often calls for less vulgarity and meanness in popular culture. But yesterday, Mr. Lieberman appeared on the radio with Don Imus, the raunchy morning-show host. ... Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Imus, the acerbic "shock jock" who has been accused of offering racist, anti-gay and anti-Semitic fare, clearly are mutual fans. ...
[Lieberman] also speaks often, as he did today at a fund-raiser at the Harvard Club, of ending ethnic prejudice.
Mr. Imus, and his sidekicks, on the other hand, are known, among other things, for derogatory remarks about blacks, [and] gays. ... Though Mr. Imus has said that he is neither racist nor anti-gay, he has come under attack by some media critics and by left-leaning publications like the Village Voice. ...
Mr. Lieberman declined a request for an interview to discuss any qualms he might have about Imus.
But at the end of his appearance, he said to his host, "I hate to say it, but I love you."
And what's not to love? If you are amused by hearing blacks ridiculed as "gorillas" and "mandingos," gay men as "freaks" and "faggots," lesbians as "lesbos" and "carpet munchers," Jews as "Jewboy" and "Heebie Jeebies," Indians as "Gunga Din" and "dot heads," Arabs as "towel heads," Japanese as "gooks," Chinese as "urine-colored," and amputees as "pogo sticks," and if you brush off the boycott of guests-no-more like Gwen Ifill, Ed Bradley, Stanley Crouch and Al Sharpton, Imus is your and Lieberman's guy.
Apart from the unhedging characterization of Imus and crew as "known" detractors of blacks and gays," what struck this Imus-watcher in the Times account was Lieberman's chicken-waste no comment, or to say it another way, the homage the conscience of the U.S. Senate paid to a shock jock who turned the drowning deaths of 400 Haitians and the serial gay murders of Andrew Cunanan into ha-ha promos for his program.
I have run into the same stonewall with the Friends of Imus, good fellows like Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw, Jeff Greenfield, Dan Rather, Bill Bradley, Al Gore, John McCain, Lieberman, et al. Not one returned calls or faxes seeking explanation for their intimate Imus ties, and nobody responded to criticism post-publication either. Apparently, Imus's celebrity entourage (i.e., beneficiary group) dares not speak out in his defense. When Russert seemed to fade away in the wake of TomPaine.com's bad publicity, Imus called him a "back stabber" and "not a foxhole friend." But the scourge of Louis Farrakhan and David Duke was soon back on the reservation, loving Imus uncritically à lá Lieberman.
Not long after the V.P. nominee left Imus's studio on Friday morning, Imus interviewed NBC political correspondent, Chip Reid. When the chat was over, Imus donned his homophobic hood and signed off, saying, "Chip Reid, here on the 'Imus in the Morning' program. The enormously attractive Chip Reid [unintelligible] I can say without being accused of being some kind of a limp-wristed 'mo."
This incriminating quote did not make Perez-Peña's copy. Be assured that Raines will keep it off the Times's editorial page.
Subtext: Last month Imus was on "Larry King" denying once again that he is a racist and homohobe: "My defense of the program is to ask people to listen to it because we aren't racist, we aren't bigoted and all you have to do is listen to discover that."
But his defense collapsed a few minutes later when a discerning caller asked whatever happened to Bo Dietel, Imus's movie reviewer and most prolific guest, who was relatively famous for calling Bill Bradley a "load-swallower," Hillary Clinton a "lesbianic wife," and Johnny Cochran "Chicken Wing" Johnny Cochran, among other slurs dished out on a weekly basis.
Contradicting himself, Imus told the caller that Dietl had been suspended for making bigoted statements: "[Dietl] says things that I've asked him not to say on the program. And so every time he does, I get an ad there the New York Times and article in Time magazine. And finally, I told him to stop saying it. And if he didn't stop saying it, he wasn't going to be on the program. So he promised me now -- he's been reinstated, by the way."
But even when Imus appears candid, he fudges the truth. First, neither TomPaine.com's ad nor Jack E. White's critical column in Time mentioned Dietl's name or singled out his sayings. Second, they emphasized instead the dirty work of McGuirk and Imus himself. Third, as any listener knows, Imus routinely set Dietl up and reveled in his nasty riffs on minorities. Although Dietl has recently reformed, last week he smeared Third World leaders at the United Nation's Millenium Conference as not having "seen a toilet in thirty years."
Editor's Note: Click here to read TomPaine.com's full Imus coverage.
Published: Sep 19 2000