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Exploiting Imus | The Nation

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Exploiting Imus

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Not everybody was jumping up and down with glee at the news of Don Imus's being kicked out of medialand. There were the predictable white right-wingers like Pat Buchanan who put in a good word for the fallen schlock jock on MSNBC's Hardball program.

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Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...

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But not all the people expressing doubts that the good had triumphed over the bad were caucasoids. Several were African-American. One of whom is Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star, a man of rare talent and careful judgment who should have a bigger audience than he has.

Whitlock wrote of this affair: "Thank you, Don Imus. You've given us [black people] an excuse to avoid our real problem.

"You've given Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson another opportunity to pretend that the old fight, which is now the safe and lucrative fight, is still the most important fight in our push for true economic and social equality.

"You've given Vivian Stringer and Rutgers the chance to hold a nationally televised recruiting celebration expertly disguised as a news conference to respond to your poor attempt at humor.

"Thank you, Don Imus. You extended Black History Month to April, and we can once again wallow in victimhood, protest like it's 1965 and delude ourselves into believing that fixing your hatred is more necessary than eradicating our self-hatred.

"The bigots win again."

Whitlock's entire column can be read here. It is worth the time.

Another African-American who has some grave doubts about this business from a free-speech point of view is Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and former assistant national director of the NAACP. He writes that "Defending Don Imus' on-air racial idiocy is impossible--but defending free speech, even in the form of sick humor, ought to be considered anew in the wake of a storm of protest from censorious activists who are demanding that Imus be fired.

"There is an audience out there that is hungry for the ribald and the offensive. It is an audience that will not go away and cannot be boycotted. Does labeling those listeners and the shock jocks they adore and emulate as racial dunces or 'un-American,' and making the shock jocks unemployable (for daring to say what they think), advance the dialogue about racism or sexism? I don't think so."

Then there is CBS, which might have done better, if it were going to can Imus, to sack him without explanation. Corporate PR being what it is, however, out came this declaration under the signature of CBS boss Les Moonves: "From the outset, I believe all of us have been deeply upset and revulsed by the statements that were made on our air about the young women who represented Rutgers University in the NCAA Women's Basketball Championship with such class, energy and talent."

Moonves might do better to study what he releases under his name beforehand. From the outset CBS was not upset. It waited for days before revulsion set in and, while it was no doubt coincidental, it was not until the big advertisers announced they were dropping Imus that CBS announced it would do the same.

He is gone now, but he may be missed.

He is a coarse man, the kind of celebrity who uses his charitable endeavors to aggrandize himself. He is an egomaniac who has traded in anti-Semitic, anti-woman, anti-African-American and snotty anti-everything-else wisecracks for years.

Yet and still his was the only program in commercial broadcasting where you might hear twenty or thirty uninterrupted minutes of discussion of serious topics by leading politicians, journalists and others.

NBC's Meet the Press would also seem to fit that definition, but it really doesn't. That program opens with a long commercial-free segment featuring someone political in the news, but there is little discussion. It is mostly Tim Russert playing a gotcha game with his guest, who must wiggle and squirm defending himself against old sound bites. It is not serious stuff, not the way Imus's discussions were.

When Senator Christopher Dodd announced his candidacy for the presidency, he said the most he could get in the way of air time elsewhere was two minutes. Imus gave him twenty to talk about why he decided to make his long-shot run.

Whether putting up with Imus's crap to get to good stuff was worth it is a matter of opinion. We will not get the good stuff from a substitute, however, because that radio personality will not have advertising or the listeners to pull it off.

So Imus is gone and we are left to argue about whether or not he is racist or sincere or truly sorry or a bigot, but it hardly matters. As for broadcast news, it scarcely exists anyhow.

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