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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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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • If anyone cares to read it, One of our writers on Highbrid Nation actually worked wit Imus over the last few years at WFAN and had some really interesting things to say about the whole situation with Imus and he also has some inside info that the media hasn’t mentioned about the whole story.

  • I forgot about Mr. Imus’s name until the recent situation. The image in my mind of Mr. Imus is that of a fluffy cluster ball of curly hair and a headset with a microphone and his head telegraphing towards the table as he talks. This guy makes his living creating controversy, so he wins. He gets the exposure desired with a brief vacation. Be that as it may, where is the protest against the mad lyrics of hip hop artist?

    Black women are oppressed in greater insults by there own by comparison to Mr. Imus, his comments were marginal. Where is the protest in the streets of black communities around the country regarding how black men treat the black woman? Where is the protest against the booty shaking music videos played on shows like MTV and others? Where is Al and Jesse regarding that?

    If you never knew a black woman and watched only television, movies, music videos, what perception would you have of a black woman? Sadly, young girls seem to believe they must model after what they see to acquire the attention desired, so they model it. They have no idea how it lowers there self worth by doing so, and they seek something they do not understand, and desire something they do not have in there lives or missing profoundly. Where are the so called black leaders regarding that?

    They choose to confront the issue head on head because it is very close to home, too close. Confronting the issues will divide mother against daughter, and so on. Imus is an easy target, he is far away from home. — Pall Stanley

  • An excellent, detailed, and serious overview of the controversy. Your blog summary far exceeds any other commentary/article I’ve read on the evolving standards of “unacceptable” speech. Thank you.

  • I’ve listened to Don Imus on occasion since the 70s. He’s always pushed it. This time, people are calling for him to be fired. What he said was an inappropriate and wrong description of some very talented young women. However, similar words are said all of the time by other people without anyone making a fuss. His words don’t even appear racist to me. They seem to be a bad attempt by an old white man to use the cool words of today’s youth. If anything, the words are more sexist than racial.

    Imus may very well be a sexist, racist old man who should lose his job or retire. However, it should not be over these stupid remarks.

  • Let me second Eric’s comment first: great post.


    the aggressive but often hilarious and mean Borat.

    aggressive? Borat? Dutch humor is more ‘aggressive’ and ‘mean’ than Borat. You should listen to Dutch stand up comedians, you would probably be shocked.

  • DaHata

    “Women of Color?” Is that the same thing as “Colored Women?” Get over the outrage over the politically incorrect use of language, please!
    This is turning into the 1990s all over again.

  • Mike Davinroy

    I think MSNBC is afraid to fire Imus. Imus and his troop of “yes men” have gotten away with saying risky things on the air for decades. NBC and CBS know there’s a market for Imus – and that if they fire him, he’ll get a job somewhere else and fry them for being the cowards that they really are. If they don’t fire Imus – it only proves that they have no standards of decency and care only about the dollar.

  • Wilco

    Personally, I think he should have to change his name from Don Imus to Nod Mewe ..

  • Mark in Chicago

    While I firmly believe that what Imus said was wrong, but I wouldn’t define it is racist. Discriminatory, derogatory and definitely inappropriate but not racist. As a radio/tv personality he is governed and judged by certain criteria that those of us outside of the industry are not, because his remarks become public record. He used very poor judgment using the remarks that he did, though they were not directed at an individual, seemingly more used as reactionary useless banter that he, nor ANYONE else should ever use.

    The Scarlet Knights had a great year and should be commended. It is unfortunate that they had to be associated with this controversy. I think it is inappropriate that Rutgers decided to parade the players out to voice their concerns rather than simply celebrating their accomplishments and handling the controversy in private. Unfortunately, I think it takes away from the outstanding accomplishments of the team.

    I have never listened to Imus nor will I in the future so I can not speak to whether he is/isn’t racist. I do find it hilarious that he and Sharpton are now linked at the hip in controversy. I don’t know if either are racist, but I know God will have a field day when these two arrive!

    Hopefully the day will come when we will all be Americans and not African-Americans, European-Americans, Asian-Americans…

  • kritter

    Imus is a desperate, offensive old Howard Stern-style shock-jock. I have never understood his appeal, and do think his time has passed. But that is because I would rather see a hard news show in his slot, than the garbage he continually spouts that passes for comedic entertainment. He has the right to spout it , until enough advertisers pull their ads, and the stations that air his program get nervous enough to cancel it.

  • The guy’s obviously a jerk – let’s quit giving him our attention.

  • While I firmly believe that what Imus said was wrong, but I wouldn’t define it is racist.

    What would you define as racist? On what basis is it “Discriminatory, derogatory and definitely inappropriate” if it isn’t racist and sexist?

  • White Agent

    No doubt we will soon hear a New “Nappy Headed Ho” Hip Hop production denegrating these kids merciously. Maybe even one of the team members will be in the video. Money talks and BS walks.

  • Jocelyn Rayford

    I would like to see Imus fired for his most remarks insensitive and inapproprite remarks for all those he and his co-workers constsntly make. I want to see someone occupy that time spot on MSNBC that will be worth my time watching and listening to it.

  • Jocelyn Rayford

    I would like to see Imus fired not just for his most recent insensitive and inapproprite remarks, but also for those he and his co-workers constantly make. I would like to see an African American journalist occupy that time spot on MSNBC. That would make it worth my time and attention listening to it, as it would bring a new perspective on the news. Everyday, I am insulted I listening to Imus. I listen becuse of the journalists that phone in.

    Imus is on the wrong station. He should be where Howard Stern is—where anything goes and people listen to hear shock-jock slimy talk.
    A listener from the purple state of ALABAMA.

  • Both Joe/Moderate Voice, and myself have been picked up by Slate…


    Copy & paste if necessary

    Thanks Joe…. your initial advice (and support through linking)…with the help of Pete…has been helpful. All the co-bloggers here are great too….

    It has been appreciated…

  • Mike P.

    I can not understand what listeners/watchers see in any of these hosts, from Stern, to Imus, to Limbaugh or the Savage Weiner. But then, I’ve never really understood why people had to slow and “rubberneck” to get a “good” look at auto accidents either.

    The success of Imus, like the rest of these millionaire punks, relys on some very weird psychology, I imagine. How insecure as a human being do you have to be to listen to this kind of stuff day after day? And how out of touch do you have to be to go on their shows, and yuk it up with them? (I think Cheney’s “exclusive” appearances on Limbaugh are telling.)

    It’s obvious who the real “hos” are in all of these cases. But I just can’t understand why the the same old diseased come-on keeps bringing in the Johns.

  • White Agent

    Well its been 72 hours since the Ho down and nobody has mentioned the word “lawsuit” yet, lets get down to the nappy’n gritty.

    Imus broke no LAW and his free speech is seriously in jeopardy. I consider this a gross and illegal violation of Don Imus’s Civil Rights.

    Clearly the girls on the team just want to go back to class, (as they have stated), stop being bombarded by the press and hounded by God knows what other jackasses. It is the University, Coach, media talking heads, Al Sharpton, (whoa), that are PURPOSELY DRAGGING THIS OUT FOR EACH OF THEIR OWN SELFISH REASONS, while these girls suffer far more than anything Imus could have possibly said about them.

    You are NOT going to do anything without a Supreme Court ruling so go back to whatever you were doing before Imus used Black Colloquialisms to simply say; “These girls are Tough”.

    This whole media frenzy is a CREATION FOR RATINGS at the expense of Imus AND these college kids privacy.

    So unless somebody wants to file a lawsuit, STFU!

  • Why should Imus apologize to Al Sharpton? His record isn’t exactly pristine. Maybe everybody should apologize to Al Sharpton.

  • Whatever else may be said by anybody else, one thing seems clear about this episode.

    Don Imus is a rascist. Pure and simple.

    You’ll have to read my blog to find out why I think so.

  • Goodwind

    I see such a double standard now in our times, that it makes me uneasy. Why is it ok for black comedians to call white people crackers, for them to make fun of white people? And yet they do not have to apologize to the public for their hatred and racism of whites? But if a white person says something it is a huge deal. I am so fed up with last century slavery that happened so long ago. My family is Indian yet I don’t cry about what happened so long ago. I live in the present not that past, the people who hurt us are gone!!!!

  • John Menuis

    Sharpton hates Imus for one reason. He is white. I never heard an outcry from him or Jackson when one of his own kind in the WWF used to march around leading fifteen girls calling them his “Ho train”. No, these people who are so ready to bash whitie and call him a cracker (whatever that is supposed to mean) do nothing when one of their color do the same thing.

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