How Imus’ Media Collaborators Almost Rescued Their Chief
"Some of us relish the naughtiness."
In his 1995 book Hot Air, Howard Kurtz wrote that ‘Imus’ sexist homophobic, and politically incorrect routines echo what many journalists joke about in private. ‘"
"Later, host Don Imus brought up McGuirk’s prior impersonations of African-American poet Maya Angelou asking, "[W]ho was that woman you used to do, the poet? . . . We used to get in all that trouble every time you’d do her. " As McGuirk launched into the impersonation, Imus said, ‘I don’t need any more columns. Come on. ‘ But Imus did not stop McGuirk, who delivered his impression in verse:
McGUIRK: Whitey plucked you from the jungle for too many years. They took away your pride, your dignity, and your spears With freedom came new woes. Into whitey’s world you was rudely cast. So wake up now and go to work? You can kiss my big black ass"
George Curry, March 3, 2007
What began as a firestorm against Don Imus’ remarks against the members of Rutgers women’s basketball team ended, thanks to Imus’ friends, who controlled a bogus "National Dialogue About Race," with a referendum on Gangsta Rap and the morals of Revs. Sharpton and Jackson.
By Monday, April 16, appearing on CNN, an all Imus buddy panel, including John Roberts, Paul Begala, and James Carville, engaged in a tribute to Imus. All that was needed were champagne glasses. On the same day John Roberts and his colleague, Wolf Blitzer, described the murder of 31 students at Virginia Tech as "the worst massacre in American history"–ignoring mass killings of blacks and Indians that had been far worse. Moreover, the fact that the shooter Cho Seung-Hui, was a fan of Guns N’ Roses–he named a play, "Mr. Brownstone," after one of the band’s songs–didn’t inspire the 24/7 castigation of white Heavy Metal music that was dealt to Hip Hop music in the wake of Don Imus’ firing.
The President of NBC News, Steve Capus, was disingenuous when he claimed that Don Imus, the shock jock, was fired solely because employees at NBC were outraged at Imus’ description of the members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team as "Nappy Headed Hos." That might have been part of it. But it was the multibillion dollar purchasing power of African-Americans and organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists, a more difficult target for Imus’ fans than Sharpton and Jackson, that gave the African-American community its greatest victory against a racist media that have been its bane since the first slave ships arrived. Before television and radio, it was the newspapers alone that raised lynch mobs on African-Americans. In Charles Chesnutt’s novels, The Marrow of Tradition (1901) and The Colonel’s Dream (1905), the villains are newspaper men. The inflammatory coverage of one led to a lynching. The other editor caused a race riot. A book, The Betrayal of the Negro by Rayford Whittingham Logan, indicts some of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers for inciting civil strife during the 20th Century, based upon malicious and false reporting.
The "National Dialogue" that MSNBC held after the Imus outburst about the Rutgers team was a telling example of this historic trend. The so-called "dialogue" was dominated mostly by white talking heads, including white women, who seem to be prospering at MSNBC, receiving as much airtime as the men. (Even so, Gloria Steinem maintained, in a recent New York Times op-ed, that white middle-class women and blacks share the same social predicament. Really? The college enrollment of white women is higher than that of both white men and blacks.) Instead of the opinions of black academic feminists like bell hooks, Michele Wallace, Sandra O’Neale, Paula Giddings, Joyce Joyce, or Sonia Sanchez being solicited to comment about Imus’ remarks, Naomi Wolfe, a white feminist, whom bell hooks has criticized, spoke on behalf of black women.
It’s fortunate that the money people at General Motors and Bigalow Tea, Direct TV, Ameritrade, Staples, Sprint, American Express and Proctor and Gamble, stepped in, because had they not Imus’ groupies at MSNBC, like his pals, Mike Barnicle, David Gregory, Bo Dietal, the author of a vicious anti-Muslim tirade during Imus’ last weeks, and Joe Scarborough, would have rescued their buddy by following their leader’s talking points. (Keith Olbermann reported that Dietal was even reprimanded by rightwing fixer Dick Morris for using Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, to make even more anti- Muslim comments.)
Imus griped that he was a victim of the African-American male culture, where, according to a man who has a lengthy record of making misogynist remarks, men mistreat women. Yet a recent SUNY study reveals a different reality: white men commit most of the assaults upon women in this country. According to the study conducted by Lois Weiss, professor of education at the University of Buffalo, and Michelle Fine, professor of social psychology in the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, white women are afraid to talk about the abuse. Weiss and Fine found that 92 percent of the white women interviewed said that "serious domestic violence" had been directed against them, their mothers and/or sisters, either in their birth households or in later relationships. By comparison, 62 percent of black female subjects reported similar levels of violence in their lives. The authors of the study said that they were surprised because these were white women largely from middle class homes. On the other hand, there has been a steady reduction in the murder of black women by their husbands and boyfriends, while the murder rate of women by white men has remained about the same. One of the reasons for the falling rate of domestic abuse among blacks is that black women are more likely to retaliate. This drop in black domestic violence has been reported in The New York Times, yet the face of domestic violence in the pages of the Times continues to be painted black. Do you suppose that MSNBC will ever conduct a "National Dialogue" about white domestic violence? Maybe Newsweek? One of its writers, Evan Thomas, recently told Imus’ audience that black men in the inner city enjoy beating up their women.
Given the remarks about women made by Imus’ stable of Celtic-American commentators, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that women in Celtic-American households have a harder time than women in black households. And what about Imus’ constant on air berating of his wife Deidre as a "whore" and a "moron?" Why isn’t this kind of verbal battery reported domestic abuse?
Imus also set himself up as the arbiter about whom black men should date. Of course, the majority of blacks have some European heritage–my mother has Irish-American ancestors on both her mother and father’s side. But black people didn’t become a Creole nation as a result of black men and white women having sex. Indeed, the first deadbeat dad of an African-American household was almost certainly English, Irish, or Scots-Irish. Both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington’s white slave-owning fathers had nothing to do with them. And though some black men are abusive to their families, I don’t know of any who have sold their own children for profit.
Those white men and women who believe that domestic violence is a peculiarly black phenomenon must get all of their information about black life from Stephen Spielberg’s film "The Color Purple," or like-minded novels. These are works of fiction. Spielberg’s portrait of the book’s villain, Mister, even offended the book’s author, Alice Walker. When is Spielberg going to make a movie about the abuse of Jewish women in many Jewish households, both in the United States and Israel? When I first visited Israel in the year 2000, the murder of Israeli wives by Israeli husbands had become such an issue that the then prime minister Ehud Barak was compelled to comment about it. Moreover, Jewish feminists assert that the abuse of women in Jewish household is a "dark secret. " Shouldn’t Spielberg expose this "dark secret" on the screen?
Moreover, while Spielberg used Alice Walker’s book as an excuse to create one of the most sinister black male characters since the black actors who appeared in D. W. Griffith’s "The Birth of a Nation," black veterans complain that the director ignores their fighting role in his war movies.
The other talking point set forth by Imus was that his smearing of the Rutgers team was his first offense and an apology to the Rutgers should have been enough.
On March 14th, this line was parroted by Tom Foreman after yet another ignorant CNN rant about Hip Hop. Foreman complained that Imus was being punished for "a few ill chosen words"-thus obscuring the fact that Imus’ firing was a culmination of KKK-type comments about Jews, blacks, Muslims and gays that extend backwards across many years. The Rutgers slur was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Though Imus’ defenders claim that he is an "equal opportunity abuser," his ridicule of Gays, Lesbians, and blacks, especially black men was a daily feature of his program. Yet, gays and lesbians, whose organizations have been complaining about Imus for years, weren’t invited to participate in the "National Dialogue," because the networks and cable channels have found that they can make more money by promoting the "racial divide."
Don Imus’ acolytes, like the former NYPD cop Bo Dietal, were all over television insisting that the Rutgers team should be the final judge of whether Imus remained on the job–young women who were not fully acquainted with Imus’ resumé of past offenses against black women and who more were likely to cut him some slack. These young women might not have known that Imus called Gwen Ifill "a cleaning lady," a term which certainly wasn’t inspired by rappers. The Rutgers team might not have been tuned in to Imus when he and his crew joked about the manner by which Betty Shabazz, Malcolm X’s widow, was murdered, a remark that doesn’t appear in any Hip Hop song. And they might not have been listening when he and his buddy, the smarmy Bernard McGuirk laughed over an obscene parody of Maya Angelou’s poetry or when Sid Rosenberg thought it clever to suggest on the Imus Show that the Williams sisters pose in The National Geographic. Though the American cognoscenti wallowed before the man, even calling him bookish, Imus was apparently ignorant of Maya Angelou’s highly acclaimed body of work, even though she was President Clinton’s inaugural poet.
The other Imus talking point was that it was all about Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Kill the messengers, even though the National Association of Black Journalists made the initial call for Imus’ firing. Researchers at Media Matters.org, according to The Wall Street Journal, posted the transcript and clips of Imus’ remarks at their website. This brought the matter to widespread attention, yet Media Matters (run by the gay former conservative David Brock, who wrote the infamous hit piece on Anita Hill) didn’t receive the kind scolding accorded Sharpton and Jackson.
Frank Rich, another Imus stalwart, took another shot at Sharpton and defended his buddy Don Imus in the Sunday New York Times of April 15. Rich claimed the Rutgers basketball team and Don Imus were the only ones, during the entire episode, who weren’t hypocrites! Why isn’t the effort of Imus and his posse to deflect the attention from Imus to Sharpton and Rap music deemed hypocritical? Why wasn’t Imus’ pretending to distance himself from the man whom he hired to do "nigger jokes" considered hypocritical?
Why wasn’t Imus condemned for his attempt to transfer the blame of misogyny to black men instead of apologizing for his own verbal abuse of women? Frank Rich, who provided intellectual heft to the Imus show, was a former theater critic at The New York Times. Rich was the one who condemned the late August Wilson’s proposal for a Black Nationalist theater. I asked him in an email how he could criticize August Wilson’s black Nationalism, but cooperate with Imus’ crude yahoo bubba White Nationalism. Rich didn’t respond.
After this cowardly display by Imus’ defenders–Rich, Bill Maher, and James Carville, et al.–how can they claim moral superiority to the men who are the targets of their relentless barbs, George Bush and Dick Cheney? (Vice President Cheney and his wife Lynne also appeared on the Imus show). Neither Cheney nor Bush ever called a black person a "nappy headed ho" or referred to black men as "gorillas." Not on national television, at least.
NBC reporter David Gregory who, like a prize poodle, used to appear on Imus’ show and receive pats on the head for engaging in testy exchanges with White House press briefers, ran a television marathon during which he defended Imus and castigated Gangsta Rap.
MSNBC allowed Imus’ pals and regulars, like Gregory and Joe Scarborough, to moderate panels where they prosecuted Imus’ critics, even though they were Imus’ collaborators. One night, Imus’ buddy, a screaming Joe Scarborough, totally lost it when he accused a puzzled Joan Walsh, editor of Salon.com, of enjoying Hip Hop music. (Yes, this is the same Joan Walsh, a TV "progressive," who agreed with writer Stanley Crouch that an Albany jury was right when they acquitted the NYPD cops who shot the unarmed Amadou Diallo 44 times.) Gregory, whose slimy role in this affair I believe violated basic journalistic ethics, and Scarbourogh were among this faux cowboy’s posse, and the cable networks allowed other Imus groupies to fan out across a number of shows for the purpose of defending their boss. Instead of treating their audience to a non-stop interrogation of Imus critics, the networks should have convened panels to examine the role their own pundits played in the enabling of Imus. The list of Imus enablers is a long and star-studded one, including: the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, who has set himself up a the country’s ombudsman for morality, Tom Friedman and Frank Rich; others are James Carville, and his wife, Mary Matalin, Craig Crawford, Tom Browkaw, Brian Williams, Jeff Greenfield, Bo Deital, Tom Oliphant, Imus’ sidekick, Charles McCord, and others who tolerated his and McGuirk’s crude skinhead tirades against blacks Jews, gays and lesbians for years. These journalists should be given the same scrutiny as Imus. Instead, Imus’ groupies were allowed to dominate a bogus, one sided "National Dialogue about Race." Didn’t Douglas Brinkley, the historian know better than to enable Imus? The New Yorker’s David Remnick? The Presidential historian, Michael Beschloss? Michel Martin, after mentioning Imus’ guests, who went on his show to plug their books and pretending to have no knowledge of what was what on the show, asked, "Who’s the Ho?"
Bill Maher, who appeared on one of Imus’ last shows, even after his bigoted put-down of the Rutgers team, pretended that Imus’ remark was his only offense, a kind of misdemeanor for which a simple apology was enough. Maher, and some Admiral who appeared on the same show, assured Imus that their negroes supported the shock jock. Maher contends that blacks are more homophobic than members of other ethnic groups, which only means he hasn’t examined the homophobic attitudes of other ethnic groups.
MSNBC then brought in some members of their African-American bench to endorse the talking points set down by Imus. John Ridley and Niger Innis certified the posse’s line that Black Culture was responsible for Imus’ problems! Both men made ad homoniem attacks on Jackson and Sharpton. Ridley was described as a screenwriter and commentator. His essay, "The Manifesto of Ascendancy for the Modern American Nigger," a piece clotted with the usual tough love generalizations and stereotypes, was considered so offensive that author Jill Nelson, whose book Involuntary Slavery is a scathing indictment of racism in the newsroom at The Washington Post, and others, called for a boycott of Esquire where the article appeared.
Ariana Huffington, another former conservative turned television liberal, apparently hasn’t noticed her black sisters’ outrage; she has provided John Ridley with a platform at The Huffington Post. Joe Scarborough and the producers who brought Ridley on their show probably enjoyed the article. They probably thought it to be provocative.
Maybe the Pulitzer committee will award Ridley a prize next year, as they did Cynthia Tucker, columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who got one this year for calling black men "bestial" and "idle" and for regularly criticizing black leaders and personalities. While The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is rough on the brothers and sisters, their attitude toward whites is like that of the other media. They treat them like children. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution bowdlerized a story about how thousands of blacks were chased from American cities through mob action in the early part of the 20th Century. The judgment at the paper was that this unpleasant news might hurt the feelings of their white readers. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a history. This is, after all, the newspaper that endorsed President Rutherford B. Hayes’s withdrawal of Union troops from the South, an action that left blacks to the tender mercies of white terrorism. The paper also praised D’Nish D’souza’s screed "The End of Racism," a book so racist that its publication prompted two black conservatives to resign from the American Enterprise Institute, one of D’souza’s main patrons.
Cynthia Tucker wouldn’t be the first black tough love merchant to receive a prize from the white men at the Pulitzers. They gave one to Janet Cooke, the former Washington Post fabulist, who concocted a story about black parents supplying an eight year old with drugs. That year, the token black members of the Pulitzer Committee tried to warn the men who controlled the prizes that her story was a phony; they were overruled.
This year the Pulitzer Committee cited Ms. Tucker’s "courage," which implies that the black community is of such monolithic opinion that it takes guts to criticize its leaders and culture when that’s all we get from the media and their journalistic mind doubles, those mercenaries and overseers who have an editorial whip ready to flog the underclass blacks in the field. Lewis Lapham, the former editor of Harper’s, said of one Colored Mind Double: "He says what we say in private. "
Another black guest, Steve Perry, author of a book called Man Up, blamed Imus’ problems on the content of the Rutgers basketball team’s iPods!!
Rarely mentioned during this "National Dialogue" about race was Bernard McGuirk, who was hired by Imus to do "nigger jokes. "
McGuirk’s ugly tirades about gays, lesbians, blacks and
women, far exceeded insensitive remarks that Jackson and Sharpton have made in the past. Jesse Jackson is still being hounded for his "Hymietown" remark, for which he repeatedly apologized. Yet former Secretary of State James Baker, who once snarled "Fuck the Jews," according to former Mayor Ed Koch, is still considered a statesman.
Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, an Imus all-star, swooned that being in the presence of Billy Graham must be like being in the presence of God. When Meecham was peddling his interview with Billy Graham by saying such things as, "He is what God looks like–white hair, blue eyes." Of course, this is the same Rev. Graham who once confided to Richard Nixon in the Oval Office that the Jews were satanic and owned the media. (Also, according to The H.R. Haldeman Diaries, Graham agreed to Nixon’s request that he, Graham, select a black leader. The media and the establishment select black leaders and when these leaders mess up blacks are called upon to criticize selections they hadn’t made in the first place.)
I emailed "Noah" at Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun magazine. Rabbi Lerner had picketed Cornel West for joining Minister Louis Farrakhan’s "Million Man March. " I asked whether Lerner was going protest Imus’ anti-Semitism. No answer.
Bernard McGuirk is the one who preceded Imus’ comments about the Rutgers team with a description of them as "hardcore hos." He’s the one who constantly smeared black athletes as monkeys, gorillas and "knuckle draggers." McGuirk’s the one who called Lindsay Davenport, the tennis champion, "a big dyke," with no prompting from Snoop Dogg. He’s the one who led Imus’ crew in ridiculing the features of a black woman who had launched a sexual harassment suit against Isaiah Thomas, the coach of the New York Knicks.
At Tom Paine.com writer Philip Nobile has chronicled many other other outrages on the Imus Show dating to 2000. TomPaine.com published an ad in he New York Times and even bought time on the Imus show to raise the issue of the sewage spewing from Imus and his crew.
In an article on May 16, 2000, Nobile wrote,
"Just about anything goes-from saying that [African-American former basketball player] Larry Johnson ruined [white female TV news personality] Willow Bay for white men, to asking the borough president of the Bronx if he felt ‘like the mayor of Mogadishu.’ Epithets like ‘brillohead,’ ‘dark meat,’ ‘dingos,’ ‘mandingos,’ and ‘Uncle Ben’ are okay on Imus."
And though it was an insult about black women that got Imus fired, black men were ridiculed on the show daily. Often it was about their mythical sexual prowess, which extended to jokes about Deidre Imus in bed with black sexual partners. When Deidre Imus said that Harold Ford would make a good president, McGuirk chimed in, "Yeah, and you can be his first lady." McGuirk seemed to have a pathological obsession with the alleged sexual gifts of black men, returning to the subject time and time again.
When New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin confused the word "cavalry" with "calvary," a common error, McGuirk seized upon the verbal slip to cast the Mayor as an illiterate. Using an old plantation dialect to imitate the Mayor, McGuirk ridiculed Nagin mercilessly. In one scene, he had the Mayor in bed with a white prostitute only to have Nagin’s family show up. McGuirk had Nagin say, "It was all right, because we wasn’t doing nothin’"–a remark that Imus and his crew found hilarious. In another scene Imus and his crew were in stitches as McGuirk had Nagin searching for his dead mother, after the floods of Katrina. When Imus complained about Marcia Clark and Chris Darden "blowing" the O. J. Simpson case, McGuirk interjected, "They blew each other, too"–referring to Darden and Clark vacationing together in San Francisco. McGuirk’s sexual obsession harkens back to the old Confederate fear of miscegenation. McGuirk is the son of Irish immigrants. It was an Irish immigrant named David Goodman Croly, who, according to Harvard Professor Werner Sollors, coined the term "miscegenation" and who perpetrated "the Great Miscegenation Hoax of 1863." Croly was the author of a phony pamphlet that exposed a plan by Lincoln’s party to invade northern bedrooms with black women. Lincoln was forced to defend the party against the charge.
According to The Journal of Negro History:
"The pamphlet claimed that the goal of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party was the ‘interbreeding’ of ‘White’and African-Americans in the United States. Many people thought the pamphlet, Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the American White Man and Negro, was written by abolitionists who supported the idea. In February 17, 1864, a Democratic congressman denounced the pamphlet in a speech delivered to the House of Representatives. He claimed it represented the social philosophy of the Republican Party. The actual authors of the pamphlet were an editor and reporter from the New York World, a pro-Democratic Party newspaper. They wrote it to use stir up racist attitudes among White voters as part of the newspaper’s opposition to Abraham Lincoln’s reelection campaign."
Contrast McGuirk’s reactionary bile with the views of Gerry Adams, leader of the political arm of Sinn Fein, who told a U. C. Berkeley audience about the alliance between the Irish and blacks, who worked on southern plantations, being rent by slave masters, who turned them against each other. When Gerry Adams visited the United States he stopped off to see the late Rosa Parks to thank her for inspiring the Irish movement. McGuirk is not the only one who is not in touch with his heritage. Imus admirer, Chris Matthews, another Irish-American who gets to comment on race more than African-Americans, confessed that he admires Rudy Giuliani because he brought " a little fascism" to New York. Of course it was black and Hispanic men who were the primary victims of this "little fascism."
Maybe Matthews has forgotten that it was the Irish who about a hundred years ago were targets of fascism, attacked by mobs for practicing their faith and rounded up and placed in "paddy" wagons. Yet, Matthews gets to comment and make judgments about blacks when he is apparently ignorant of Irish history.
Somebody ought to remind McGuirk and Matthews that the 19th century solution to the race problem was to have an Irishman kill a black man and get hanged for it. Another joke at the time was that an Irish-American is a Negro turned inside out.
But instead of criticizing McGuirk, the pro-Imus claque at MSNBC reserved their harshest treatment for Sharpton and Jackson. MSNBC reporter Lisa Daniels, who was assigned to interview students at Rutgers, followed this line by attempting to goad the students into attacking Sharpton and Jackson.
Tucker Carlson, whose show is a lite version of the Imus show (he attracts attention to his opinion product by picking fights with blacks under the cover of anti-political correctness), brought on a black sportswriter named Jason Whitlock to call Jackson and Sharpton "terrorists. " After this bizarre outburst, Tucker the Wiseass, in the old arrogant Colonial manner, nominated Whitlock to become a black leader. But Carlson was right about one thing. While the liberal Imus protectors stood by their man, the same crowd drove Senator George Allen, the Virginia Republican, from public life, even though his demeaning macaca crack was mild in comparison to Imus’ daily portrayals of blacks.
Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, who pledged "solidarity" with Imus on one of his last shows, thought it clever to cite Neo-Confederate novelist Tom Wolfe’s "The Bonfire of the Vanities," in which a character named Rev. Bacon is crudely based upon Rev. Sharpton. Every time Oliphant popped up during the "National Dialogue on Race", which, given the segregated media, was dominated by talking heads, belonging to one race, he said, "You know, this whole thing reminds me of "The Bonfire of the Vanities." This is book in which, the author proposes, that as a result of Jewish leniency, blacks get away with hustling white guilt. At one point, Oliphant seemed to be sending out marching orders to the Imus legions, inviting a white backlash against Imus’ firing.
Craig Crawford, of the Congressional Quarterly, another Imus regular, was given hours at a time to repeat his claim that he didn’t know what was going on during the segments in which he was not a participant. Crawford said that Imus didn’t make a racist comment while he was on the show. He didn’t have a clue. This was the line closely followed by other Imus collaborators. Mary Matalin, another frequent guest, said that she didn’t had no idea what was going on. Perhaps Matalin was spending all of her time keeping up with the career of Jesse Jackson, whom she attacks obsessively.
In a column appearing in the April 16 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, Eugene Robinson wrote:
"While we’re in the business of blunt truth, do the big-time media luminaries who so often graced Imus’ show have some explaining to do? You bet, and so do the parent news organizations, including my own, which allowed their journalists to go on a broadcast that routinely crossed the aforementioned line. All these trained observers couldn’t have failed to notice Imus’ well-practiced modus operandi. ‘He never said anything bad while I was on’ doesn’t cut it as a defense."
When Jesse Jackson, at one point, during MSNBC’s "National Dialogue on Race," which included no Hispanics and no gays or lesbians, groups that had been routinely abused by the Imus show, challenged MSNBC to hire more black anchors and talk show hosts, Imus’ buddy, Mike Barnicle said that it was not necessary–this from a man who referred a former Secretary of Defense’s black wife as "a Mandingo." The Village Voice reported: "Talking about the marriage of former secretary of defense William Cohen (who is white) and his wife, Janet Langhart (who is black), Barnicle remarked, ‘Yeah. I know them both. Bill Cohen. Janet Langhart. Kind of like Mandingo.’" Yet, incredibly, at one point, CBS considered appointing Barnicle (who was fired from the Boston Globe for plagiarizing columns) as Imus’ successor on the radio!
For his part, Jesse Jackson has been a longtime NBC watcher. Jackson recalls the time when NBC Nightly News executive producer Jeff Gralnick referred to Somali military leader Mohammad Farah Aideed as an "educated jungle bunny," saying, "The rest of the jungle bunnies are not like this at all. They’re illiterates." (Washington Post, 10/16/93). Jackson described Gralnick’ racist outburst as part of a "mind set" at NBC.
When Jesse Jackson asked Keith Olbermann, one of the few white talking heads who had urged the firing of Imus, the same question about the networks hiring more black anchors, Olberman (another former sports reporter) said that he permits Alison Stewart, a black woman, to take his place when he’s on vacation. Yet, Ms. Stewart’s approach was no different from those of Don Imus’ groupies. This poor child has no power at MSNBC. Another Colored Mind Double, she moderated a discussion between Paul Waldman from Media Matters, who supported the firing of Imus, and Imus’ pal Craig Crawford. She reserved her toughest questions for Waldman and permitted Imus groupie Craig Crawford to interrogate Waldman.
By five o’clock on March 12, when David Gregory again substituted for Chris Matthews on Hardball, he’d learned that Imus had been fired from CBS. This gave Gregory an excuse to prolong his seventy-two hour marathon effort to garner sympathy for his leader. But by that time, like the man who was sent on a mission to sell Dracula some insurance, the teeth marks on Gregory’s neck were apparent. The panel in this part of the "National Dialogue on Race" included only one black man, the mild mannered and soft spoken Eugene Robinson from The Washington Post, and what seemed like a Imus Alumni Reunion: Pat Buchanan, Gregory, Tom Oliphant and Senator Chris Dodd, all Imus regulars. On the 13th Gregory continued to blame his buddy’s ordeal on Sharpton, Jackson, and Rap music–the line that by that time had begun to gain traction as the Imus collaborators began to fill hours of talk show time by blaming the victims of Imus’ slurs for his ouster.
But as a result of the press conference held by the members of the Rutgers team, Imus was doomed like the pathetic cowboy in the film "Down in the Valley" to wandering around on horseback amidst condominiums and urban sprawl, an anachronism in an age that has left him behind. Imus vowed to his followers that he’d be back. And he probably will. Imus will survive as a result of the spite that many whites hold for African-Americans.
The same kind of spite led some of the white citizens of Memphis to respond to the Civil Rights Movement by erecting a statue of General Nathan Forrest, whose massacre of black men women and children at Fort Pillow, even after they’d surrendered, was called "the atrocity" of the Civil War.
The white men and women in charge of "The National Dialogue," so conditioned by the television news’ degrading images of black kids and grungy products like HBO’s "The Wire," seemed shocked that there existed black students like the young women on the Rutgers team who were committed to scholastic excellence. African-Americans aren’t shocked. All of my nieces and nephews either have degrees or are enrolled in college. Both my daughters have a college background.
In the end, Imus is a throwback, whose fans still cling to the lost cause of white supremacy. Like the old timers who show off their medals at reunions of Stalin’s veterans; like those residents of Madrid who will tell you that Franco kept the streets clean; or these sad people who still write books that end with a Confederate victory. Imus’ fans are people who get off by listening to bullies like Imus ridicule and humiliate people who don’t have the media power to fight back.
Don Imus’ defenders point to his charitable works. This reminds me of the defense that Stonewall Jackson’s admirers make. They point to the Confederate general’s donations to a black Sunday School as proof that the insurgent, who fought to defend the institution of slavery, loved black folks. The National Basketball Association and its players have contributed hundreds of millions more to charity, but instead of receiving praise in the media, the NBA is a constant source of the media’s scorn. Knuckle draggers. Chest thumping pimps. Rapists.They don’t like their style of dress. They diss their way of speaking.They envy their wealth. When Allen Iverson was late for a game, McGuirk quipped." His Bentley broke down?" McGuirk called Iverson’s mother, " a crack ho."
Morever, the Wall Street Journal raised troubling questions about the charity spending practices of the Imus ranch. Imus’ response to the article was to call the writer a "punk." The Journal stood by their story: "The managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, Paul Steiger, said that the article was accurate and fair and that Mr. Frank [the reporter] had had many detailed discussions with Mr. Imus’ representatives during the two months he worked on the article. In addition, Mr. Steiger said, Mr. Frank spoke twice with Mr. Imus at length the day before the article was published."
It was Jeff Greenfield who, finally abandoning Imus (finally!), reminded the shock jock that the kind of black voice-overs that he and his colleagues engaged in harkened back to the minstrel shows, when Irish immigrants entertained audiences by getting up in blackface. McGuirk does his black face with his tongue.
Another ship-jumper was Harold Ford, Jr., the former congressman from Tennessee. For his disloyalty, Imus denounced him a coward.
Michael Eric Dyson exposed the problem that occurs when the media refuse to diversify. In terms of integration, the media are fifty years behind the South and resemble a Mississippi bus station of the 1940s with the "White Only" sign up. Both David Gregory and Ed Shultz, another putative "progressive," lashed out at Sharpton and Jackson for not holding Hip Hoppers to the same standards as they held Imus. In the sharpest exchange of what amounted to an Imus farewell victory lap, Dyson exposed their ignorance.
"You said earlier, Mr. Gregory that you didn’t–that you weren’t aware that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson–and you’re pretty much on the news beat– have been protesting this. That’s part of the problem- a smart person like you, who is well informed, doesn’t know that there has been a huge movement in African-American culture against this kind of vitriol that has been expressed–this almost hatred of women -yet it is not covered because it’s not a black person killing somebody or cutting somebody." Good point.
Gangsta Rap is so popular largely because the white-controlled media, which defines Black America for its consumers, finds that image of black life easier to sell than the culture represented by those straight-A students from Rutgers or by Ryan Christopher Clark, the straight-A black student who was one of the first casualties of the Virginia Tech massacre. Predictably, Clarke’s heroic role was barely noticed by the media.
The New York Times covers the violent precincts of rap music so extensively one expects that one day they’ll have a daily supplement devoted to Gangsta Rap. As I told a Hip Hop panel, whose panelists were on an average forty years younger than I, people your age might be creating the songs, but people my age are making all of the money from them.
Imus defender David Gregory responded weakly to Dyson’s body blow. "I was asking whether the same level of commitment was made to standing up to Hip Hop as was made in standing up to Imus." Of course, how can anyone determine the degree of commitment of those black individuals and institutions to challenge Gangsta Rappers, if there are no media present to cover it.
As journalist Richard Prince wrote recently,
"Sharpton and Jackson have spoken out against offensive rap music for years. At James Brown’s funeral on Dec. 30, Sharpton recalled that Brown asked him, ‘What happened that we went from saying, I’m black and I’m proud’ to calling us niggers and ho’s and bitches. I sing people up and now they sing people down. Tell them we need to lift the music up to where children and grandmothers could sit and listen to music together.’
"When C. DeLores Tucker, the anti-gangsta rap crusader who founded the National Congress of Black Women, died in 2005, Barry Saunders of the Raleigh News & Observer wrote, "During the 1970s, while he still had a claim to moral leadership, the Rev. Jesse Jackson attacked sexually suggestive songs and urged performers to clean them up. Singers reacted angrily then, too, accusing Jesse of self-promotion at their expense. None of the performers took the reverend’s name in vain the way Tupac Shakur and others did Tucker’s, although that may be because they couldn’t think of an insulting sobriquet to rhyme with ‘Jesse.’
"On the NABJ e-mail list, one member said, "I think the real issue is not whether Jackson and Sharpton have criticized the negative aspects of hip hop culture, but that mainstream media were not particularly receptive to the conversation when it was happening primarily among African-Americans."
During another panel, an African-American woman tried to educate Gregory about the varieties of Hip Hop, including the kind that is positive (I listen to Gospel Rap on satellite radio Channel 33 every day), but Gregory wasn’t paying attention. He gave most of the panel over to Armstrong Williams, who launched into yet another lengthy tirade against Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And following the MSNBC playbook, Williams tried to connect the firing of Imus to the Duke LaCrosse rape case. Apples and oranges. Seriously, does anybody believe that the prosecutorial misconduct in that case is the only sort that happens in North Carolina? Anybody want to review the cases of all of the poor blacks and whites and Hispanics in North Carolina jails? Anybody? MSNBC? CBS? CNN? What would have happened if the students had been black and the strippers, white, and one of the students threatened to penetrate the strippers with a broomstick? That act alone would have gotten all of the black students some serious time–forget about rape.
On the 13th when Gregory again substituted for Matthews, the reporter reached back to the 19th century newspaper style that Chesnutt wrote about. He incited and merchandized the racial divide that’s proved such a big money maker for the cable networks. Gregory pronounced that the white people were for Imus and the black people for were against Imus, with no polling data to back up his incendiary comment. His assessment ignored the fact that NOW, a largely white organization, cast it’s lot with the black protestors. Imus disciple Joe Scarborough echoed Gregory by dividing the controversy into Team White and Team Black. Meanwhile, over on CNN, Paula Zahn was busy stirring up white mobs against Korean-Americans following the Virginia Tech massacre.
A poll by CNN Opinion Research appeared on April 14th. It showed that the majority of whites (55%) and of blacks (68%) agreed that Imus’ remarks were offensive. More whites than blacks found his remarks to be inappropriate. Only 6% of whites and 7% of blacks felt his remarks were not offensive. Other polls show that most blacks and whites are ahead of the politicians–on health care, the Iraq war and gun control–who use race as a wedge issue and apparently ahead of newsmen like Gregory who seek to market what the media calls "a racial divide." (On April 20th, appearing on "Air America, " Senator Bernie Sanders cited a poll that had 66& of Americans agreeing that there should be a redistribution of wealth).
Big shot journalists like Tom Oliphant, who seemed to be calling for mob protest against Imus’ firing, and David Gregory, were just trying to start something as a way of besting their competitors, like those turn of the last century editors that Chesnutt wrote about. During All-Imus week, the true divide was between the pro-Imus commentators reporters, and producers, those who booked guests that were friendly to the talking points established by Imus; and the black and white media employees whom we don’t see on camera, and the black executives of the companies that sponsored Imus and the thousands of black consumers and stockholders.
The Imus boosters in the media were in a panic. They were seeing their monopoly over American opinion fading. Still on Saturday April 14th, Imus’ friends at CNN awarded him a moral victory. In all day programming which included the stupidest comments about Rap and Hip Hop culture to date, Imus was presented as a victim of a double standard. This changing the subject back to Hip Hop gave the cynical producers an opportunity to recycle Hip Hop video footage in which young black women were seen cooperating with their degradation and willingly subjecting themselves to cheap hooker choreography. Even so, one of Imus’ prime sponsors was Nutri-System, whose ads portray one bikini clad middle-aged white woman boasting about her "smoking, hot body" and another referring to herself as her husband’s "trophy wife."
Yet, it became the consensus of the white talking heads that the Hip Hoppers should be punished in the same manner as Imus, as though these children had even a fraction as much sway with the American establishment as Imus. An establishment, members of which have confessed that Imus says publicly what they say in private. Imus even received some good reviews in that Friday and Saturday’s New York Times. Instead of the paper’s Public Editor conducting a public soul-searching about why some of the Time’s top columnists co-habited with Imus’ bigotry for a number of years, the paper printed op-eds by two writers who seemed to be suffering from protest envy. Instead of joining the coalition that was standing up against Imus’ attack on the Rutgers team, a gay writer in an April 13,Op-ed suggested that blacks lacked the moral high ground to criticize Imus because of homophobic comments made by one African-American television star, the kind of collective blame that’s been aimed at this writer’s group since the time of the Romans.
In the other op-ed, appearing on April 14, in which a rosy picture of Muslims in America was drawn, and where another cheap shot was taken at Sharpton, the writer concluded that the real fault-line in America was between Muslims and Americans and not blacks and whites. Apparently, nobody has informed this man that there are hundreds of millions Muslims both here and abroad who have African ancestry. Moreover, since this writer,Robert Wright, is connected to the Neo-Con New American Foundation, this could be seen as an effort by Neo-Cons and the far right American Enterprise Institute to direct the American Muslim point-of-view.
Another tactic that Imus’ groupies used to distance themselves from Imus’ racism was to cite their favorite blacks. On April 18th, Tom Freidman tried to weasel away from Imus by spending most of his column praising Barack Obama, a tactic also used by David Brooks and David Gregory. Gregory’s favorite negro was Jackie Robinson! Finally in the last paragraph of his column, Freidman also tried to couple Imus’ power with that of the Hip Hoppers. Imus, mind you, owns a 30 million dollar home in Connecticut, a New York penthouse, and a 4,000 acre ranch in New Mexico. One of his fans is George Bush the First, who has been interviewed on his show.
If the media continues to award white men and women commentators hours at a time to referee a "National Dialogue on Race" in America, shouldn’t they at least acquaint themselves with the cultural and political trends in the different communities? Shouldn’t they read Hispanic, African-American, Native American magazines and newspapers? I do. Why doesn’t C-SPAN, which is as close as American television has come to a daily town meeting on the air, read from ethnic newspapers, such as Indian Country Today, and The Amsterdam News, or Asian Week, as well as from The Washington Post and The Washington Times?
I didn’t see Michael Eric Dyson participating in the "National Dialogue on Race" after he challenged Gregory. Maybe the producers at MSNBC thought that Dyson was impudent. It would be smart for MSNBC to give Dyson as much time as they do those blacks with whom they are comfortable. Dyson is one of the most powerful advocates of African-American aspirations since Malcolm X and, yes, I knew Malcolm X. MSNBC execs are comfortable with their regulars, black Republican operatives like Amy Holmes, a former speech writer for Senator Bill Frist, and Joe Watkins, a fomer aide to Vice President Cheney. They are the kind of people whom former football great Jim Brown would refer to as "good negroes." People who are not likely to make the white members of their audience uncomfortable.
Instead of Dyson continuing to participate in MSNBC’s "National Dialogue", they brought on their old reliable Armstrong Williams. By the end of the week, Williams had stepped up his attacka on Rap music, Sharpton and Jackson. At one point, Williams, who shrilly opposed the firing of Imus, said that the free market should determine the flow of opinion. This is a man who was handed $240,000 to promote Bush’s "No Child Left Behind" policy without revealing that he was being paid by the government. According to USA Today (10/17/2005): "Congressional auditors last month found that the $240, 000 contract violated a ban on ‘covert propaganda’ and said the Education Department should ask for some of the money back. The Education Department has acknowledged that it is working with the U. S. attorney’s office in Washington to investigate the Bush administration’s contract with commentator Armstrong Williams. That suggests civil or criminal charges could be filed, according to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N. J."
Armstrong Williams took the money and didn’t even do the work. How do we know that his denouncement of Jackson and Sharpton wasn’t part of another "covert" propaganda effort? Also, one wonders why Williams didn’t object to Imus’ gay baiting.
Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were risking their lives on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement, while Armstrong Williams was running errands for segregationist Strom Thurmond. As a result of the Imus’ media collaborators ganging up on Sharpton, in the same manner that Chestnutt’s editors used to get people lynched, Sharpton was soon receiving death threats. So was the Rutgers team.
While newsmen like Brian Williams groveled before Imus, Howard Kurtz returned from time to time to lap up abuse from Imus, who called Kurtz a "boner-nosed beanie wearing Jewboy. "
Imus also called the book publishers Simon and Shuster, "thieving Jews." Yet, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, David Rosenthal, told the Times that, "It would be a shame if Mr. Imus lost his job. I think he has been a fantastic forum for authors and for people with interesting ideas." Imus smeared his CBS bosses as "Money grubbing Jews."
On January 28, Kurtz denounced Gray’s Anatomy’s star Isaiah Washington for his homophobic remark on his "Reliable Sources," the corporate media’s idea of media criticism. But three days later on Jan 31, Bernard McGuirk used the word "faggot" on the Imus Show and it didn’t seem to bother Kurtz. In fact, he appeared on the show later that week after fresh from criticizing Isaiah Washington as a gay-baiter.
Following the lead of Imus and his media posse, on April 15, 2007, Howard Kurtz grumbled about Imus being a victim of a double standard. Using fellow collaborator Gregory’s word, Kurtz complained that Hip Hoppers weren’t subject to the same "intense" standard as Imus. Once again a guest had to remind an Imus defender that blacks have protested misogynistic rap lyrics for years, but CNN, Fox and the gang were not there to cover it. Another guest, Anna Marie Cox, had to remind Kurtz that he was a regular visitor to the Imus Show. (She excused her own appearance on the show to her desiring to run with the big boys.) Obviously nervous, Kurtz at one point called his guest Clarence Page, Clarence Thomas! Kurtz lied when he said that he didn’t know what was going on during Imus’ show. He lied again when he said that nobody ever asked him why he was a guest on the Imus Show in light of the disparaging remarks that the shock jock has made about different groups. According to TomPaine.com, journalist Phil Nobile has been asking Kurtz this question for years.
"For many moons I have urged Howard Kurtz to cover the recurring media scandal known as ‘Imus in the Morning’ in his Washington Post column. Yet Kurtz has resisted every tip, scarcely hiding his contempt in icy telephone exchanges. The frost continued when we met on an Imus remote at the World Trade Center in Manhattan a few days before the New York GOP primary last March. He was following John McCain, who was appearing once again on the show. I was tracking McCain, too, intending to inquire into his affinity with a man who ridiculed people like his adopted Bangladeshi daughter as "dothead, " "Gunga Din," "Sambo, " and "Punjab.
"Kurtz was standing in a restricted press section when I introduced myself across the rope. He seemed less than thrilled. I extended my hand. He shook it with the same enthusiasm that Israeli prime ministers display in photo opportunities with Arab heads of state. In a quick parting gesture, I gave him a photocopy of my Newsday op ed (February 22) ripping David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, for slumming with the man who lampooned Tina Brown’s Talk as ‘a magazine for liberal homosexuals. ‘ More than a glorified guest, Remnick was in Imus’ pocket to the tune of $50, 000 as winner of the now defunct Imus American Book Award. Though an ardent race writer and friend of Ralph Ellison, Remnick was oddly silent about Imus’ racist repertoire.
"If you don’t start covering this stuff, " I said to Kurtz, referring to my Newsday essay, ‘people will start thinking conflict of interest. ‘ (According to Newsweek, Imus turned Kurtz’s Spin Cycle into a bestseller in 1997. ) But my jab neither affected Kurtz’s composure, nor his column.
"Subsequently, he ignored five weekly ‘Imus Watches’ posted on TomPaine. com between March 24 and April 28."
When Gay and Lesbians complained about Imus’ homophobia, Imus invited them to "Eat Me." Relentless jokes were made about Hillary Clinton’s sexual proclivities often in detail, even describing the odor that they imagined occurred after lesbian sexual intercourse.
On Monday, April 9, Donald Trump, one of the many giants of capitalism with whom Imus associated, and to whom most Rappers have little access, delivered a message from Ms. Clinton: "Hillary really wanted to get on your show. She has a lot of respect for you, but it doesn’t seem to be reciprocal. She’d do your show gladly, but you don’t seem to want her on." But Ms. Clinton’s request was treated with disdain by Imus. She became just another powerful political player humiliated by the I-Man. He responded by discussing Mrs. Clinton’s husband receiving a "blowjob" in the oval office. The Rappers never had that kind of influence!
Finally, Maya Angelou who was constantly mocked by McGuirk, on a show where white authors promoted their books and blacks were cast as illiterate, might have the last word about Imus and his crew and the crude manner in which blacks and Africans continue to be depicted in newspapers, cable and television networks. On Thursday, April 19, WFAN announced that McGuirk had also been fired. It’s poetic justice. She wrote:
"You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise. "
from "Still I Rise,."
This essay will appear in ISHMAEL REED’s forthcoming book, Mixing It Up: Taking on the Media Bullies, to be published this summer by Thunder’s Mouth Press.
ISHMAEL REED is a poet, novelist and essayist who lives in Oakland. His widely-accalimed novels include, Mumbo Jumbo, the Freelance Pallbearers and the Last Days of Louisiana Red. He has recently published a fantastic book on Oakland: Blues City: a Walk in Oakland and Carroll and Graf has recently published a thick volume of his poems: New and Collected Poems: 1964-2006.
He is also the editor of the online zine Konch.
Copyright, 2007, ISHMAEL REED.