If you were under the impression that Don Imus’s departure from CBS radio and MSNBC TV would usher in a new era of socially responsible talk on TV and radio, well, think again. What did Imus in was the fact that Ryan Chiachiere, a young analyst at Media Matters, noticed his “nappy-headed ho’s” comment from the show’s simulcast on MSNBC and then prepared a blog post about it for his organization’s website. A flood of calls to MSNBC and the National Association of Black Journalists’ demand for an apology combined with twenty-four-hour cable culture to create a mushroom cloud over CBS and NBC and a full-blown public relations crisis for Imus’s corporate overlords.
Imus’s racism and homophobia have inspired protests for decades. And while many more people got involved this time–particularly black journalists–the crucial factor was the avalanche of exiting advertisers. Remember the sequence. First came the apologies and condemnations. Next came the suspensions. Finally came the ax, but only after Procter & Gamble, General Motors, American Express, GlaxoSmithKline and SprintNextel said they were leaving. Had the advertisers followed the example set by, say, Tom Oliphant, formerly of the Boston Globe, who appeared on the program and announced “Good morning, Mr. Imus, and solidarity forever, by the way”–then Imus would surely have been back in the black/gay/Jew/woman-bashing business faster than he could (again) say “nigger jokes.”
The post-Imus landscape, what’s more, is hardly one dominated by Bill Moyers or even Brian Williams. Most right-wing radio and much of cable resembles a sonic cesspool of anti-black, anti-gay and anti-almost anything but white Christian male rhetoric. ABC and CNN are both so enamored of the opinions of that right-wing ranter Glenn Beck, they are willing to share him. Beck returns the favor by employing the public airwaves and fiber-optic cables to warn that if “Muslims and Arabs” don’t “act now” and “step to the plate” to condemn terrorism, they “will be looking through a razor-wire fence at the West.” He also announces, “We need to be the first ones in the recruitment office lining up to shoot the bad Muslims in the head.” It’s not merely Muslims at whom Beck directs his hate speech. He termed Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier, “a pretty big prostitute” before changing his mind and offering up “tragedy pimp” as somehow more accurate.
His colleague Neil Boortz, a radio host, explains to listeners that Islam is “a religion of vicious, violent, bloodthirsty cretins” and that former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is a “ghetto slut.” Michael Savage–fired by MSNBC for, predictably, telling a gay caller he was a “sodomite” who should “get AIDS and die” but is still in good standing on talk-radio–terms Barbara Walters “a double-talking slut” and a “mental prostitute.” Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, while marginally more civilized in most instances, nevertheless regularly traffic in anti-black, anti-Arab, anti-gay, anti-female–and in O’Reilly’s case, anti-Semitic–stereotypes with equivalent consistency. Fox’s John Gibson calls Iraqis “knuckle-dragging savages.”