Coverage of MSNBC Imus Firing: Driving on the Media’s Mobius Strip (UPDATED)


Driving on the Media’s Mobius Strip: Imus, McGuirk:
(Pete and Repeat Went Out in A Boat: Pete Fell Out, Who Was Left?


If there’s highbrow writing and there’s lowbrow writing, then many of the big news media outlets in the USA must favor “unibrow writing…â€? no differentiation, no arches, no framing of the story, no lines leading from the edges to a clear space in the middle; overall no articulation …. just one long same, same, same. Handsome in Frida Kahlo, but not in delivery of in-depth stories. Let me conjugate unibrow news: Unistory. Uninews. Uninudniknews. Uniallofuslose.

Is it ironic to anyone else that ‘Imus in the Morning’ used to be on for a few hours on the third ranked cable news channel five days a week… but currently we have ‘The ImusImusImus Show 24/7′ on every single cable news channel that exists? Ought the Mssrs. ‘Imus and McGuirk’ story really have had more than a three day news cycle? Shouldn’t the current updates on the story be mentioned with only occasional 10 second news spots? Here we are leaning hard toward the seventh day of the original incident’s news cycle… and most of what we have from big media is… more and more uninews.

A Mobius strip is a continuous loop configuration that was also used as a device by the artist, M.C. Escher, to create an optical illusion of stairways that appear to lead somewhere. But when you look hard, they don’t lead anywhere really. Instead they turn back on themselves and begin again. Could it be that those doing research at the media outlets are caught in one of M.C. Escher’s paintings? Why are the news writers handing the same repetitious news copy to the newsreaders? Why are the news readers reading it without throwing it aside and bellowing, “Excremento del toro! BS! I shall not read this dreck any longer. Meat! Give me real meat, I say!â€?

In all your perspicacity, hasn’t the ‘news’ flow truly now moved away from Mssrs. Imus’ and McGuirk ‘s futures… to a much larger set of stories– one being, why and how a huge cultural discussion often unfolds from crises rather than peace? –one being, how the dominant culture often borrows from the best and worst of its minorities’ rites and rituals and visa versa; that each is a role model for the others? — another being, about how the actual meaning of the word ‘racism’ indicates prejudice in either direction.

Viz: re the Oxford English Dictionary, racism is “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.â€? According to this definition, it would be racism were a Caucasian people to distinguish themselves as inferior to, say the Lilliputian race… just as it would be racism for African American people to decide that they themselves are superior to, say, Tralfamadorians. A sense of inferiority or a sense of superiority are both considered racism.

There are timeless stories that stand outside modern time. Then there are time-limited stories, such as an ‘of the moment’ news story, which is not timeless: It ages. It does not hold it’s energy, but like a dying star, begins to lose momentum from friction and travel, becoming smaller as it goes. A news item past its expiration date, is like a dying star. Just plugging a few new photos and phone calls into the same ol, same ol dying story, adding new commentators tomorrow who say exactly what the old commentators said yesterday… that is a story of a kind, but it’s still a dying one, only now it’s wearing bits of tinsel thrown upon it.

When the news is delivered nearly d.o.a, the viewers and listeners’ connections to this kind of uninews begin to die away also, until their intellectual interest, that deep spark of life in all of us, goes flat line. Some say, “Well the ratings are up; that’s proof this uninews is what people want.â€? But I’d say, no. If national media consistently starves individual minds of real content, broad context and full stories of depth, then many persons, in an act of survival, will leap at table scraps. In media, as with a poor meal, it isn’t that people love uninspired cardboard or a thrown together meal. In too many cases of media, as with underdone or overdone food, people will eat… and tune in… because that is all there is available.

On the other hand, readers and listeners have an elegant capacity for becoming engaged if given nourishing food or nourishing news. When people are engaged, every part of self opens a little or all the way: brain, mind, heart, soul and spirit, and what real nourishment that is there for them is taken in… each aspect of psyche having its own need for stimulation and sustenance through knowledge and ideas. Being engaged by one kind of news and simply sitting stunned by the vapidity of another kind of news, resemble each other outwardly. In both, the person is quiet and eyes straight ahead.

But the difference between going into a fugue state and being truly engaged, is that in the former, one is no longer tracking or present. The shell is there; the person is gone. But when engaged, the psyche is actively assessing, learning, sorting, devising, weighing, understanding. Authentic engagement is not just taking in, but also processing and thinking because of what one has taken in. The person who is engaged is changed minutely or greatly by what they read and hear. The person who is not engaged, if anything, just grows another layer of wool.

But when major news media outlets make it appear that they think their readers and listeners are dumb clucks who ought be educated by rote, that is, by deadening repetition of not more than three simple facts, instead of enjoining us to imagine and look and think beyond the obvious– then everyone loses. News is not meant to be a flash card drill… 6×8, 6×8, 6×8. Okay, we move on, ready? Ok, 8×6, 8×6, 8×6.

Everyone loses when the storytellers fall asleep in the first part of the story, and every time they are poked awake, they start at the same story’s beginning again –so that afterward the aggravated listeners remember little about the story shard. Instead, they remember the story about how torturous it was to listen to the story. Anna Nicole Mobius strip. White bronco Mobius strip. OJ trial Mobius strip.

The word -News– comes from the Latin, Nova, which means newly formed, with emphasis on the word ‘new.’ The word nova also infers newly born energy. It indicates that something made of matter has ‘come to be’ in a significant way, as in the real novas that are a whirl of sparkling new stars in the sky. Such goings-on in the heavens amaze us. Often we only know that something is truly ‘new,’ because it moves us. I don’t know that any and every viewpoint or story can be scintillating in every moment of time. But, surely a nova kind of news that is a true in’nova’tion that’s truly fresh and surprising, will not cause us to turn away and say, ‘Eh, so what?

There are many stories inside every story. Viz: Steve Capus, NBC News President says he’s proud of some things on Imus’ Show, and not proud of some things, and today gave a long interview on more than one station, to give some insight into the decision to cancel the simulcast. But why did the interviewers not ask him really hard questions in depth? And today, why is there nothing but a long blank silence from Staples, GM, American Express, Sprint, and the many other advertisers’ about specifically how they made their decisions to threaten to withdraw revenues from the Imus show? Aren’t those news story too? Aren’t they significant news stories? Or is everyone’s mindset from the Ministry of Truth; just double-plus-good ‘uninews’ as usual?

Is there really only one reason why a big industry does what it does, a reason so simple that it requires no further thought? Really? It isn’t a news story to say ‘The advertisers were scared off.’ That’s not a news story. That’s a period, a period at the end of a single pre-emptive sentence that shuts off additional overviews, reactions, precedent stories, fact-finding and details.

The Fourth Estate was never meant to just throw down a mere Table of Contents without delivering the whole book. One of the stories inside the story: Why wouldn’t big media outlets, which have large budgets, be covering the advertisers’ under-stories– those advertisers who have long been the feet which paddle the TV and radio vehicles down the media highway? And, by the same token, aren’t the media outlets themselves and how they cover a story, or don’t, aren’t they a story too, a story about how each truly lives, strikes deals, employs people, fires people, looks the other way, thrives or doesn’t… Why are these pages torn out of the story?

When I can’t tell which day of the week it is by listening to the news because Friday’s news sounds exactly like yesterday’s news, which sounds exactly like the same three day old mackerel news from the day before that…. then I truly think ‘the NEWS’ should be called ‘the OLDS.’ It could be a huge leap away from the current uninews if big media were to present an in-depth analysis of how and why big media treated two culturally important stories of young people similarly, and yet in some ways, quite differently: The Rutgers Women’s basketball team, and The Duke Lacrosse players… What, how, why?

Sometimes national news persons seem to have become obsessed with only the very first page of what was meant to be a very interesting many-paged book that tells the whole story. Then I think we might ask/demand why have certain pages been torn out of this particular book of news? Why have stories disappeared and what have you done with them? For instance, where are the pages that carry the in depth background of Mr. Bernard McGuirk, the producer of the Imus show, who started and deepened the screed about the ball players? Where are the full stories of Mr. McCord and Mr. Rosenberg who were interested participants that day. Why have they been ‘disappeared’ for days on end now?

Why are other pages torn out as well…all the stories about the top ten suits in management at MSNBC? Where are their stories, their backgrounds, their individual thoughts on handling the issues? What changed for each one between a week ago and now. And isn’t it news too, to not just interview famous people who now, after the fact, say they never approved of Imus… Isn’t it a NEWS story to discover how come they never spoke up before? What if instead of uninews being so focused on publicly spanking this one or that one, and running ever more lurid music behind their often over-inflated headlines… well, what if they just told the story about how silence, timid speech, hot speech that burns out fast, very grand grandstanding, and real fear to express what one really thinks, is a huge human story all of itself.

Just this then, There are some journalists in big media and smaller who do bring in stories that were pulled from ever fresh waters and will live for a while more with great vitality. There are many fine journalists in big and smaller media who when you listen to or read their work… whether you like the topic or don’t, agree or don’t, you feel enlivened, you feel like you heard a real story. Your heart beats a little faster. And the secret to the art of telling is that a story has evolution. Stories have depth of flow like a river; for the stories to live and progress, the flow has to be ever freshening. A journalist knows that bringing in fresh news rather than uninews is like navigating a real river. In a real river, as in a story, you cannot step into the same water twice…

©2007 Clarissa Pinkola Estés, All Rights Reserved

Dean Esmay,
Connecting The Dots
The New Editor

Imus Fate Now Depends On CBS
Don Imus holds fundraiser at MSNBC studios after cable channel drops simulcast
Don Imus No Stranger to Controversy
Deirdre Imus Cancels Book Tour
And if you want to read a lot on Imus READ THIS


–Be sure to read TimesOnline’s Daniel Finkelstein’s column Imus: how to judge a racist.

Read Dr. Estes’ earlier post on the Imus controversy HERE.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ bio is here. You can find out more about her books HERE.

Author: DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

  • Evorgleb

    I still have mixed feelings over the whole Imus ordeal. Part of me believes he’s getting what he deserves and the other part of me thinks its really that big of a deal. If you haven’t seen it already, you should check out this story over at Highbrid Nation. The guy who wrote it worked at WFAN with Imus and gives some interesting insight into whether the man is really a racist or not. Check it out if you get a chance.

  • casualobserver

    If I haven’t read it too quickly, I can see the Dr.’s points…….the media stays with certain stories so long that the point or destination is confused…i.e., the mobius strip and arguably, the antithesis of what news reporting ought to accomplish.

    People screwing up or acting bizzare seems to be where this happens most…..not only Imus and Anna Nichole, but Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, OJ Simpson, Rosie O’Donnell, or anybody else that has become month-long topics for Greta Van Sustren or Larry King.

    Secondly, the lack of depth (and breadth) of coverage…….just the soundbites and most disturbing/shocking/controversial headline item and then move along.

    But all this leads me to a chicken vs. egg issue………is the media just delivering to what they believe the readers/viewers want? Do we prefer to simply be observers of everyone elses “trainwrecks” to put our own lack of personal accomplishment/morality in a better light by comparison?

    By the way, anybody else having issues with the site’s server response today?

  • Stollios

    This piece, Dr. E., in fact exactly proves your point that “listeners have an elegant capacity for becoming engaged if given nourishing food or nourishing news.” I found precisely that type of engagement as I read each of your compelling thoughts.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if student journalists, (and heaven knows even the large corps of professional journalists patrolling the highways and byways of the news world) could understand the perspective you’ve given us here; the idea that despite the fact that starving people will settle for scraps, what so many of us really want, and indeed need, is a feast of riches. That would set the students right from jump street. And that’s a good street from which to start. It worked for the legendary old school reporters, it would work now.

    And that feast of riches, especially in this day and age, would benefit us all. It would offer us more perspective, it would allow us to think at a more critical level, and it would enable us to, at least hopefully, break out of the too often myopic view of our society, and the world around us, which the uninews seems to so easily foster.

    Yet somehow, we’re denied the feast because the uninews is more cost effective, it more readily dulls the senses of the populace, and it’s just easier to put out there.

    But your powerful voice teaches us to be on guard, Dr. Estes. And to remember that we ought not settle for scraps.

    These are such important lessons for all of us, I think. And I can’t thank you enough for taking your precious time to spread your ideas on these topics.

    I can only hope that many, many, people hear you.

    Truly, that would be good for all of us.

  • Kevin H

    Why are the news readers reading it without throwing it aside and bellowing, “Excremento del toro! BS! I shall not read this dreck any longer. Meat! Give me real meat, I say!�

    I have been throwing it aside, but there seems to be little way to bellow… You can’t talk about how bad a news story is without the same time drawing more attention to it.

    Sorry if that’s been said already, I stopped reading =)

  • Daniel DiRito

    Frankly, we are fast becoming the epitome of a Jerry Springer society. It seems to have become more important to have an audience and notoriety when confronting conflict than it is to attain resolve and mutual respect. That model seems to serve the needs of the exploited and those who seek to exploit; reinforcing all that relegates objectivity to the outhouse while making the frailty and imperfection of the human condition a spectacle that harkens back to the Coliseum.

    This situation isn’t and shouldn’t be about whether liberals or conservatives, this race or that race, hip hop or honky-tonk, one group or another, are more offensive and therefore more responsible for all that is wrong with America. I am not capable of judging the whole of Don Imus nor am I capable of crafting a recipe to fix all of America…and neither are the countless pundits and partisans who have sought to frame it so.

    I’m not a religious person…but I often find kinship with the imagery surrounding the portrayal of one called Jesus and his teachings of understanding and forgiveness. For all the banter I hear about the Bible and Christian values, it certainly seems to me that we are fast abandoning what many view as the sacred “tablets” in favor of the sacrosanct tabloids. If I’m right, all I can say is heaven help us.

    Read more about the dynamics that lead a situation to become larger than the sum of its parts…here:

  • dr.e

    Evorgleb: I think, just my two cents worth, that people who are real thinkers have mixed feelings about important issues… it’s because people like you can see many sides, not just the one-sided view often offered by uninews.

    Daniel, very thoughtful. I like y our comment about The Galilean.

    Casual Observer, also, very thoughtful. I like chicken and egg questions, otherwise known in my private lexicon as C&Es. Most often when people ask ‘Isn’t it a chicken or egg issue?’…depending on the issue, I often say, ‘Both,’ because the chicklette, and the hen each represent a point of view that can be valuable to consider together, rather than either/or.

    Stollios, I like that phrase ‘jump street.’ When I teach journalists who are already professionals, the first scan I make of them is to see how and whether the creative fires in their spirits are still alive and leaping, or else banked and disheartened. Burn-out occurs in journalists when ‘meaning’ is not allowed to be the armature at the center of their work. They sag, and so do their stories. ‘Meaning’ is greatly diminished for a journalist when they decide to or are pressed to write/ investigate in shards, rather than in fullness.

    Your point about the young is well taken. I see that many professors of great intelligence and heart teach in the journalism programs at universities. However, the ethic and craft well-taught there and the ‘job market ethic’ ‘out here’ are often two clashing forces. I think there ought be a class called something like Warrior Journalist Activism that has to do with reshaping the way news is gathered and delivered. It makes no sense to prepare our young for well-earned journalistic reach and then to crush them into a matchbox.

    Kevin H, I think behind the scenes is one place where reasoned voices and input may be best heard. Some of those I know who read the news have pressed to be part of news story decisions, and have begun to speak up more in behind the scenes newsmeetings, asking, not just once, but repeatedly some version of “Where’s the meat in this?”

    It is not easy, for some in management see them as ‘acting up;’ but others in management see their inputs as a form of participation and are rather surprised at their leadership. And some view those who speak up somewhere in between those two ends. I respect so much that those who work in the daily trenches of news try, in whatever ways they can –and dare–to chip away at the uninews model and instead bring back a depth and breadth. Hang in there.

    dr e.

  • Michael van der Galiën

    dr. e: You’re a remarkable person, with a remarkable talent. Reading your columns always makes me humble and realize how blessed I am to be able to write for the same blog as you do.

    Sometimes words are more than words, aren’t they.