Imus And Beyond
Isaiah J. Poole
April 11, 2007
Isaiah J. Poole is the executive editor of TomPaine.com.
Soon, the Don Imus groveling and penitence tour sparked by his jaw-dropping description of the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ‘hos” will come to an end. And then what?
Does Imus say, in the words that the Rev. Al Sharpton used when Imus appeared on his radio show Monday, “let’s get past that, go on to the next commercial, and I live to curse another day”?
If the past is any guide, that is a sure bet. Imus has a long and sordid history of trafficking in racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. And a lot of people who consider themselves reputable—both Democratic and Republican politicians, political consultants, journalists and pundits—have shacked up in this seedy AM radio motel as if it were a five-star forum for serious political discourse. They knew better, as did the advertisers who bankrolled this enterprise and the networks that broadcast it. They have no one to blame but themselves for the soil on their own images as a result, and for whatever consequences they face if they go back in.
Imus keeps saying that he is a “good person” who said “a bad thing,” but that’s not the full truth.
As far back as 2000, TomPaine.com was chronicling the sewage spewing from Imus’ microphone in a series of articles by Philip Nobile and others that reached back into programs that aired years before. TomPaine.com published an ad in The New York Times and even bought time on Imus’ show to raise the issue, and Nobile wrote an article in 2000 for the Columbia Journalism Review.
In one article posted May 16, 2000, Nobile wrote,
When Imus appeared on Sharpton’s radio show, he talked about how he helps “restore the self-esteem and dignity” of children with cancer and other medical conditions through a boot-camp-style program at his ranch in New Mexico. But that’s not what Nobile heard about the ranch when he tuned into a March 1999 show:
Imus has denied that he referred to prominent African-American journalist Gwen Ifill, now with PBS, as “the cleaning lady” when she was a White House correspondent for The New York Times, though that was reported in 1998 by reputable New York Daily News columnist, Lars-Erik Nelson, referring to a comment in a 1995 show: "Isn't the Times wonderful. It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House."
Still, with this track record, MSNBC has been simulcasting the program since 1996 and even moved the program into its Secaucus, N.J., studios (which makes MSNBC’s disavowal of the show in the wake of this latest flap—that it’s just a product of CBS Radio and Westwood One that MSNBC and its parent, NBC Universal, has nothing to do with—disingenuous at best).
But this is not just about Imus. It may be too much to expect that the dozens of radio and TV personalities who serve up on-air bigotry as pseudo-news and entertainment will be reasonably constrained by the corporations that sign their paychecks. But what we can do is deny them continued legitimacy. Politicians who want our votes and journalists who want our trust should not be appearing on their shows; if they do, ask why they consented to be on a program that has regularly broadcast slurs against people of color, women and gays and lesbians. Make advertisers feel uncomfortable for being associated with such shows, especially those that have refused to support progressive radio alternatives.
Finally, the next time Imus or another one of these jocks utters a slur, let’s not leave the targets of the slur alone to fend for themselves. When Imus slandered those Rutgers players, he wasn’t simply denigrating young women on a basketball court with one of the foulest of slurs. Anyone who believes that every person should be treated with dignity should feel the defamation and be moved to act on their outrage. That’s what progressives do.
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