Imus Steps In It Again With Race Comment Controversy

imus_d.jpg

Yes, he has been back on the airwaves. And now, so is a new racial comment controversy swirling around radio talk show host Don Imus that some suggest is somewhat akin to one that got the broadcast radio talk show giant into hot water and forced to do a series of mea culpas and booted from his CBS radio and MSNBC morning gigs. Imus is insisting people are truly twisting this out of context and distorting his actual meaning. File this one in your Here We Go Again File:

Just months after returning to the airwaves with a pledge to mend the wounds caused by his racist and sexist comment about a women’s basketball team, Don Imus is again drawing fire for injecting race into his radio show.

During an on-air conversation Monday about the arrests of suspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones, Imus asked, “What color is he?”

Told by sports announcer Warner Wolf that Jones, who used to be nicknamed Pacman, is “African-American,” Imus responded: “There you go. Now we know.”

The exchange came six months after Imus’ return to work on a new show on WABC-AM following his firing from MSNBC and CBS Radio for making a racially and sexually charged comment about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. When he returned to work, Imus gave a lengthy on-air apology and pledged to use his new show to foster an open dialogue on race relations.

And so a firestorm started to break. And Imus is reacting with a I-never-dreamed-people-would-take-it-that-way comment. The AP reports that he insisted he was only trying to “make a sarcastic point”:

Imus resurrected his radio career six months ago with a pledge to mend the wounds caused by a racist and sexist comment he made about a women’s basketball team.

On Tuesday he said he was following the spirit of that promise by calling attention to the unfair treatment of blacks — in this case the arrests of suspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones.

“What people should be outraged about is that they arrest blacks for no reason,” Imus said Tuesday. “I mean, there’s no reason to arrest this kid six times. Maybe he did something once, but everyone does something once.”

He called the flurry of criticism surrounding the comments “ridiculous” and said that his program’s cast is now more diverse than ever — and includes a black producer and two black co-hosts, a man and a woman.

“How insane would I have to be? What would I be thinking?” Imus wondered aloud.

Fair enough. This could conceivably what be what happened — that his critics were lying in wait and sprung saying this was another example of his insensitivity on race. And if you listen to Imus, sarcasm is one of his key verbal tools.

His problem is that, due to to his past comment, readers, listeners and critics read/hear his comments and judge for themselves what he “really” meant based on how they reacted to the last controversy. Was it a blatant sign of racism? Or twisted by some to mean that when he meant the opposite?

But larger issue is this.

Just as former President Bill Clinton has seemingly been unable to grasp early 21st century politics with its new magnifying glass role of You Tubes, the non ending news cycle, blogs examining and writing about every breath or eyebrow shift of anyone in politics, Don Imus seems unable to grasp the new info and PC context in which he now operates.

Politicians and broadcasters can’t assume anymore than what they say won’t be heard — and also interpreted — WAY beyond their immediate audience, whether it’s said to an audience of one reporter or at a fund raiser, or their show. They need to think what they say and make it crystal clear so others understand what they say. Politicians who use code words aren’t going to find it as easy to do it under the radar anymore.

With You Tubes, weblogs and a highly competitive mainstream news media racing to stay the leader in covering the latest controversy (and perceived controversy, or potential controversy) it’s no longer the fact that in effect what’s said in politics or on the airwaves is similar to “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

It’s more like “What happens will get out immediately on the Internet and in constant news cycles and reporters and bloggers will be asking for people who might have been impacted for it for their opinions.” If there are evident seeds of controversy in an assertion, chances are in the 21st century that that controversy will snowball.

Meanwhile, despite Imus’ assertion that he was actually defending Jones, Jones indicated to a reporter that he was not exactly pleased by Mr. Imus’ comments:

Jones told the Morning News: “I’m truly upset about the comments. Obviously Mr. Imus has problems with African-Americans. I’m upset, and I hope the station he works for handles it accordingly. I will pray for him.”

If Imus’ sponsors are upset, Imus might want to try a few prayers, too…