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Posted by on Apr 10, 2007 in Arts & Entertainment | 22 comments

Imus Suspension Controversy & Soul-Searching Continues

The furor over Don Imus’ widely condemned remarks that resulted in a national political firestorm and his suspension for two weeks from MSNBC and CBS radio is far from over. The soul-searching continues to go on with one critic in effect asking: “Is there something a bit sanctimonious with this picture?”

In a Washington Post column
titled “Slap! Bad Imus! Ok, Now Everybody Back to Your Raunchy Radio” Marc Fisher writes, in part:

In 1982, when a New York Top 40 radio station sought to lure listeners for its two top deejays, the station launched an ad campaign under the slogan, “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.” The bad boys on WNBC were Don Imus and Howard Stern.

They played the same music that could be heard on any other Top 40 station–what made them different and alluring was how they pushed the envelope, saying things that ran right up against the edges of what the FCC would tolerate on the airwaves and what listeners would find titillating and amusing and outrageous, but not quite unacceptable.

In the quarter of a century since then, Stern and Imus have made millions and spawned hundreds of imitators in radio, TV and every other corner of the popular culture. As the culture coarsened, shock jocks found that they had to keep ratcheting up the raunch to maintain their ratings numbers.

He quotes from his book Something In The Air to illustrate how radio hosts have had to keep providing more and more outrage to keep getting their numbers up. As for the suspension, he writes:

All together now: Ooooh! Two whole weeks, possibly without pay (the networks didn’t mention that part)! That will really teach the 66-year-old millionaire a big lesson.

The reason: as he underscores from his account of Imus on activist Al Sharpton’s radio show, Imus is part of an industry that literally has outrage as its bread-and-butter. And Imus’ show, while hardly the top rated one in the country, has provided steady income and listeners/viewers.

The curious thing about flaps like this is why one particular moment or comment causes a national backlash, while the everyday sewer of raunch radio flows on without the slightest protest.

He concludes:

In the end, it’s all about public standards, and the fact is that we hardly have any anymore. On the web and on cable, literally anything goes. So when someone–anyone–tries to set or enforce a standard, it seems arbitrary and unfair. And that’s a very sad state of affairs. The solution is not for Don Imus to fall on his sword. The solution is for the people who love his show and his shtick to demand that some standards be maintained on his program and on all others. Howard Stern’s show is much less interesting on satellite than it was on broadcast radio, in good part because now, anything really does go. As Lenny Bruce taught us, it’s the limits that tell us who we really are–how we pick those limits, who enforces them, and how or whether they match the actual beliefs and practices of ordinary people.

In a society where a great many adults think nothing of saying the most foul things in front of children and strangers, it’s hard to take an occasional bout of faux outrage all that seriously.

Quite a lot of the outrage is genuine, due to the issues raised by Imus’ comments. Be SURE to read the special column on this site by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes HERE.

Actually, Imus’ situation should perhaps be seen as part and parcel of a larger pushing-of-the-envelope that pervades 21st century American society. And most of it goes on with little outrage or protest.

In comedy, the F-word and XXX humor makes the Lenny Bruce now seem like a monk. Lyrics in music enjoyed by many people contain what were once quaintly-called “obscenities,” references to crime and glorify the same. Teens and pre-teens knows the lyrics by heart. The cartoon-violence slapstick of The Three Stooges has been displaced by the brutal reality comedy of Jackass. The good-natured innocence of “Candid Camera” has been displaced by the aggressive but often hilarious and mean Borat.

On weblogs, the first inclination of many writers and commentators is to immediately go for the jugular in personal attacks against those who dare write things with which they disagree. In politics, “swiftboating” has become an actual operative adjective (Kerry was “swiftboated” on his military record and Rudy Giuliani may soom be “swiftboated” on his 911 record), negative campaign ads are a vital part of Americana and effective in politics, and the demonization and ridicule of political foes is commonplace on both left and right talk radio programs that only satirize and blast the other side.

In essence, America is pushing the envelope — while holding the envelope on the table on other issues. But, as Fisher notes, while holding the envelope on someone such as Imus, shock jocks around the country and on satellite radio continue to push the envelopes, seemingly under the radar.

The CONTENT of what Imus said is one issue. The CONSISTENCY of criticism leveled at him while envelopes on taste, serious and thoughtful debate and traditional standards of courtesy, is yet another.


–Is It Friday Yet (My Space):

Now, before you all blow up my blog (like that has ever happened), let me clarify myself. I applaud Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson for taking Imus to task for what he said. However, I find it to be an absolute joke that they will jump at the chance to call out Imus for what he said but they sit by and say nothing when rap artists say the same thing in their songs. What I am saying is that it shouldn’t only be a problem when Imus says “nappy headed hoes,” it should be a problem when anyone says something like that about women of color. If Al and Jesse are going to defend women of color when someone like Imus says “nappy headed hoes,” then they should also defend those same women when the same type of ignorant comments are made by a musician, be it a Caucasian musician or an African-American musician. There should not be a double standard.


Lots of people say Don Imus is a great guy. I am perfectly prepared to believe that he does not harbor evil malevolent thoughts in his heart. But, frankly, I don’t care. He is paid to speak, and he doesn’t seem to be able to do it without vileness. He should not be paid for this…I hope no one brings up political correctness in this context. There are some things that no one should say; things to which the proper response really is outrage. If epithets don’t convince you of this, consider such other vile statements as: If you pay me enough, I’ll let you have sex with my children. Being outraged by something genuinely outrageous is completely appropriate…The problem with political correctness was not that it involved outrage at racial and other epithets. Sometimes those epithets deserve outrage.”

Gioperation (My Space):

First off what I want to say is that were we mad when Spike Lee’s basically made the same statement in his movie “School Daze” with the songs going back and forth with the light skinned sorority and the dark skinned sorority? Nope because it was Spike Lee, a black man…we make these type of statement and alot of us, grew up hearing these terms “nappy headed ho’s” or “jigga boo”…I know I heard them and I know you heard them…are we mad because a white man said this? Here is the video…[He has the video for his readers]

Record of Constant Transformation:

Seriously, though, I hope Imus retains his radio show after this two week suspension. And I hope no one listens. I hope no one goes on it and that he is forced to sit in his radio booth in an eerie silence, looking at his world that he has helped create, and realizing that he doesn’t particularly like who he is. That is the best we can hope for. Because asking that women athletes be respected and treated with dignity and an appreciation for what they have accomplished seems to be a bit much. So, let’s start small. We have major race and gender issues in this country and the wrong people have the microphones/keyboards to garner change.

–Michelle Malkin has an EXCELLENT roundup with lots of links. Her take: “Imus wasn’t offering any profound social critique or commentary when he called Rutgers basketball players “nappy-headed hos.” It was verbal diarrhea.”

Baldilocks has a MUST READ and here is a tiny part of it 4 U:

I don’t think it was racist; however, it was a cultural bias in favor of the prevailing standard of beauty, one to which many black men subscribe as well. And, to drive home my point, it seems that it is the adjective ‘nappy-headed’ that is perceived in many quarters as the more insulting part of the phrase….

….If I were one of the Rutgers players, I’d want to kick Imus’s crusty, creaky a** for the unequivocally offensive epithet ‘ho.’ After all, Imus is implying that he has some person knowledge of these girls’ alleged “ho-dom.” And I’d call an allegation that I had had physical relations with him a particularly heinous form of slander.

Angela Winters:

There really isn’t much you can say about this. Imus is an equal opportunity insulter, but this is harsh even for him. He has ridden that mean, old man who hates everyone and everything for a long time. I hardly ever watch the show, but when I have I’ve only heard him say good things about blacks, including the terminally ill black children that come out to his ranch every summer. As a black woman, I was offended by the term nappy-headed. Because he has called everyone, including First Ladies, hos. If he had kept it like that, no one could say anything. But by adding the nappy-headed part, he was insulting their blackness. The School Daze reference was completely out of line, but it’s just icing on the hate cake.”–

Booker Rising’s Shay: “My response: Damn. Foul. Low-class, but not surprising coming from Imis. Although I disagree with Angela, as I find the ho part of the comment even more offensive than the nappy-headed comment.”

Betsy’s Page:

Hearing outrage from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton about racist statements is a laugh. Jackson was the one who got angry because a black journalist wrote up Jackson’s comments calling New York City “hymietown.” And Al Sharpton has never apologized for inciting a riot that ended up with a Jewish person being killed. They’re not the ones I’d look to for judgments on discrimination. That said, other broadcasters have lost their jobs for saying offensive comments about blacks in less despicable language….

…..The thing about Don Imus that is so intriguing is that he constantly said offensive things, yet he still got major politicians and high level members of the media to appear on his show. They knew what the type of humor he specialized in, yet they were happy to get the exposure that they got on his show.

Wizbang: “I don’t know who regularly appears on Imus lately, but I know I used to hear John McCain, David Gregory, John Kerry, Doris Kearns-Goodwin, and Tim Russert on the show quite frequently. Russert and Imus seemed particularly chummy. Does this mean that all those people are going to have to account for their frequent appearances on a show where racist comments and comedy sketches are part of the program? I am sure they will all just play along with NBC as if the most recent comments were something new, some unfortunate aberration, which they were definitely not.”

–PSoTD gives MSNBC three weeks to replace Imus.

Love Black People, Hate (My Space):

If you listen to any “urban” station, watch hip-hop videos black women are called hos more than anything else. We’re not demanding that the djs or vjs get fired or even punished for playing these songs all day every day. No one is protesting outside of WKYS or HOT 97 stating that we’re offended and want these lyrics taken off the air. There shouldn’t be a double standard. Why single out Imus because he’s white? It shouldn’t be acceptable for anyone to call black women hos on the radio, on tv or on any media outlet. Imus is one ignorant white man who has absolutely no pull or impact in the black community. Whether he’s fired or not it is not going to have a huge impact on how black people live their lives. If we could get the images and messages of the black woman as a ho out of our own media our lives would change. But I guess we’re not that offended yet.

Get His Words Out: “I’m all for people telling him how offensive he is, but getting Al Sharpton involved and having a boycott of his show or his advertisers ain’t gonna do a damn bit o’ good. The average Imus listener is probably a whole lot like Imus – white, middle aged, male, and not particularly liberal or open to change. These are the guys that avoid going into an urban area, or anywhere they perceived as not their home turf, lest they actually SEE a person of color, or have to speak to them. Those people are probably sending thank you notes to Imus as we speak.”

Firedoglake: “For two short weeks, Imus has been tossed off the radio chuckwagon. How many of his little dress-up cowboy pals will come running up to play with their cap guns until the next round of insults comes flying out? Look out for those toads and serpents, fellers…some of them can be toxic.”

–Steven Taylor sees something odd in some of the defenses of Imus.

Chris Bowers: “So he’s not axed, but a measure has been taken. A progressive probably would have just been axed. When it does return, I wonder how long it will be before he makes the remark that gets him fired.”

Attytood: “Free speech doesn’t mean you’re obligated to give the guy a megaphone for his moronic comments. And as many are asking, why do the Tim Russerts and the Maureen Dowds of the world give this guy the time of day? I suspect it’s to show they’re in touch with the little people — but they’re just so out of touch they have no idea who the little people are any more. Also, I’d like to see MSNBC can Imus for good so they can air some real news in that a.m. time slot, as an alternative to some of CNN’s lame features in the morning.”

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