It’s suddenly news that Don Imus shores up his ratings with racist cracks at blacks and Hispanics? Only now, by insulting the women athletes of Rutgers as “nappy-headed ho’s,” has he crossed the Rubicon of racism and the shout has at last gone up, Has Imus no decency? It’s like announcing Bluebeard veered into unforgivable moral excess when he knocked off wife number five.
With the full sanction of his employers–primarily CBS and NBC–the man’s been at it for years, along with his sidekicks, Bernard McGuirk and Sid Rosenberg. Ishmael Reed has a brisk résumé of choice moments on Imus in the Morning in a piece in End Times, a very fine new book on the death of the Fourth Estate written mostly by Jeffrey St. Clair and myself.
“On any day,” Reed wrote, “you might find Bernard McGuirk, the man who, according to 60 Minutes, Imus hired to do ‘nigger jokes,’ doing a lame imitation of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, using a plantation-type dialect. Blacks who are satirized by McGuirk and others are usually displayed as committing malapropisms…. Black athletes are referred to as ‘knuckle draggers.'”
“I replay Don Imus as much as I can,” the intrepid Reed wrote, “because his putrid racist offerings are said to represent the secret thinking of the cognoscenti. Maybe that’s why journalists like Jeff Greenfield and others admire him so much. He says what they think in private.” True enough. Those legions of mostly white men in the Chris Matthews genre, described as “political analysts” or “political strategists,” all adore Imus. (The commentators on the Imus affair are 90 percent men too. I guess women are disqualified because they might be prejudiced.) One such Imus fan, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, made his continuing support an issue of principle, using the pulpit of Tucker Carlson’s show:
I will continue to go on the show. I think what he said was racist, not to mention being unfunny and stupid, but if you don’t believe he should be fired, then you can’t call for a boycott, because a boycott would amount to the same thing as his being fired. If all of his guests, all of those senators in both parties, all the journalists all stopped going on, that would be the end of Imus. It would be…. So if you favor boycotting him, you favor the end of Imus in the Morning.
Thus does Alter–who obviously cherishes his sessions with the manly Imus crew–evolve the position that it is somehow a position of high moral principle, a courageous blow for free speech, to continue to go on Imus. Flaubert couldn’t have topped this.
I call Reed “intrepid” because I’ve tried to watch Imus on MSNBC from time to time in recent years and have found the show far more boring than jewelry sales on QVC. Imus himself looks half-asleep most of the time, which is probably why he tried to offer his audience a quick snicker about the Rutgers girls–it was just an attempt to wake himself up. And indeed, like many of the hee-haw racists strewn across the cable dial and AM frequencies, he must be wondering why this time he got his tongue caught in the wringer. “Nappy-headed ho’s”? What’s so bad about that? Walk into a clothing store patronized by the younger multicultural set and “ho’s” and “bitches” thunder from the loudspeakers.