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Imus: White Elephants and Tipping Points

Apr 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

NBC News canceled MSNBC’s simulcast of Don Imus’ CBS Radio show April 11. CBS Radio fired him the next day.

What took so long?

Why did employees and advertisers and shopworn activists have to tell network executives to do what the executives’ guts should have told them to do as soon as “Imus in the Morning” was off the air a week earlier, the day he and his posse characterized the Rutgers women’s basketball team in stunningly racist terms?

What’s wrong with this picture? Is it the elephant in the middle of the living room for decades?

Why was the shock jock still getting the wink, wink, nudge, nudge, shrug, shrug from politicians and pundits and bosses for what he called comedy but was really an old-fashioned display of casual, deeply ingrained bigotry.

How many executives had to be asleep at the bleeping switch, or just plain tone-deaf to the slurs, to let Mr. Imus traffic in racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and fill-in-the-blankisms for so long?

But then how could corporate NBC have thought it was OK to hire shockingly hate-filled talk jock Michael Savage in 2003 in the quest for ratings?

Anyone remember the women of “Saturday Night Live” feeling compelled to say it wasn’t funny when woman-baiter Andrew Dice Clay was hired to guest host in 1990?

What can we say about NBC News having assigned women anchors to sit in on “Imus in the Morning,” and smile while enduring language and behavior that would have been grounds for firing on the MSNBC side of their shared studio? Is an official shrug an acceptable response?

How could so many powerful politicians and pundits have overlooked and, by their appearances on his show, validated language and behavior Imus and his crew reveled in every day?

How can a man whose wealth and position gave him so many opportunities for enlightenment be so impervious to change, so blind to how narrow his view of humankind and the world really is?

How can the people — some of whom called him a friend — directing the coverage of the fallout have had the gall to insinuate that, well, if we were going to discuss what Mr. Imus said we should discuss rappers’ use of similar language?

That’s a much-needed discussion, but it is separate from the long-overdue conversation and soul-searching occasioned by the Imus incident.

It’s not about black comedians whose acts are sometimes profane but hold up a mirror to society.

It’s not about freedom of speech and other slimeball radio acts.

It’s about tipping points and enough is enough and never-agains.

We recognize hate crimes. How can we not take corporate measures against hateful words when spewed from a powerful and influential pulpit by a member of the most privileged class in America, the white male, with all the advantages and freedoms that the white-male power structure affords?

This is not, as some tried to argue, about a few little words that may have ended the long career of a man who has championed any number of good causes. There were a lot of words over a lot of years, and that slate cannot be wiped clean by doing good deeds elsewhere. The words then and since April 4 say loudly and clearly that Mr. Imus still doesn’t get it.

This is about personal responsibility.

And had any number of people in Mr. Imus’ circles, chief among them himself, recognized and taken responsibility at so many points over the years, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in 2007. 2007!!!

It didn’t have to end like this, guys.

But it does have to end.

And not just at CBS and NBC.