Imus 101

Imus’s apology was clear, concise and genuine as he pledged to do the following:

“Cease all simian references to black athletes – that is, all knuckle-dragging, Mighty-Joe Young and missing link metaphors,” he declared. Knock off “all references to noncriminal blacks as thugs, pimps, muggers and Colt .45 drinkers.”

The problem is that this apology occurred in 2001 during an interview with the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page…about six years before the I-Man decided to refer to the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

You all know what was said on WFAN and MSNBC recently: Imus and producer Bernard McGirk spout the aforementioned racially and gender-sensitive slur at about 6:00 AM on April 4 (“hard core hos” is the reference of choice by McGirk). After a few media outlets pick up said comments the next day courtesy of the media-watchdog site Media Matters, Imus is forced to apology two days after the comments are made.

For those few who are defending Imus by stating that his contrition throughout the incident has been poignant and heartfelt, here’s a reminder of what he said after making his original apology: “I really don’t understand what the big deal is…it was just some idiot comment meant to be amusing.”

Like Bill Clinton, Imus didn’t act like he was truly sorry until the threat of termination materialized.

And that threat gathered more quickly than first expected: Some major advertisers (GM, American Express) began to bail one after the other. The storm was gaining some real momentum now and like the one that hit us last weekend, wouldn’t go away. Faced with little choice, NBC, who carries the radio Hall-of-Famer’s radio show on MSNBC, decides to conduct an internal review of how the I-man’s fellow employees felt about him to ostensibly determine what their course of action should be.

Shame that NBC management didn’t opt to go through this process two years ago. For if they did, they may have found that more than a few people at the Peacock who took issue with this statement that Imus made publicly on his show about MSNBC and then-Imus in the Morning news anchor Contessa Brewer.

“That skank has to spend three hours in makeup each morning…Who’s she kidding? …Plus, she’s dumber than dirt. Oh my God, what a pig. But I was willing to cut her some slack and not say anything. That’s why you have those big double doors at MSNBC, so they can get fat ass into makeup.”

What was NBC’s response?

A plug within a pseudo-apology wrapped in a sort-of admonishment.

“Contessa Brewer is a valued and respected employee,” explained a spokesman for the network. “While Don Imus’ humor is often brilliant and provocative (plug), we believe that these comments about Contessa go over the line. We have expressed our displeasure to Don.”

So that was the issue as to why Imus wasn’t reprimanded by more than having a few suits voice their “displeasure”: Contessa is 33-year-old Caucasian woman. There were no politically-correct commentators or race activists to rush to her defense, so as long as the advertisers weren’t upset, the radio and television host appeared to be able to say or do whatever he wanted without repercussion.

But when attacking women, mostly minority women, student-athletes, no less, well, that’s enough to get you fired.

An Imus longtime guest, former NYPD detective Bo Dietl, lamented that the 66-year-old host should not have been fired for the utterance of “two words”. But the pattern has existed long before “nappy-headed hos” ever popped onto the air.

Imus has called the “Jewish management” of CBS Radio “money-grubbing bastards.” Gwen Ifill, an African-American former White House Correspondent for NBC News, was referred to as looking like “the cleaning lady”, and Arabs have been labeled as everything from “rag-heads” to “animals”.

On November 20, 2001, Sid Rosenberg said this on the Imus program: “One time, a friend, he says to me, ‘Listen, one of these days you’re gonna see Venus and Serena Williams in Playboy.’ I said, ‘You’ve got a better shot at National Geographic.'” Imus “fires” Rosenberg, but allows him to come back on the show to allow Sid to make this observation about singer Kylie Minogue, who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer at the time:

“She won’t look so pretty when she’s bald with one breast”.

Imus fires Rosenberg again. But guess who was on set the day “nappy-headed hos” burst on to the National Conversation?

Sidiot…or as he is so referred to as by Bob Raismann of the Daily News… Of course, Rosenberg couldn’t resist adding this to the dialogue:

“The more I look at Rutgers, they look exactly like the Toronto Raptors.”

So this is how it works in Imus’s world…go over the line, take a “firing” or suspension like a man, and appear back on the show after everybody has forgotten about it. To that end, to suspend Imus and expect a different result, a gentler show, a few weeks or even months from now, is a very false expectation if history is any indicator.

You get the point: “Nappy-headed hos” wasn’t a one-time slip of the tongue.

By the way, is there any reason why Rosenberg didn’t join Imus in Princeton for that apology session?

Does this mean there shouldn’t be a forum for Imus to ever express his views again, particularly after the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team forgave him for his comments?

Of course not…

This is why—and put a roll of stamps on it and mail it in—Imus will emerge again, this time on satellite radio…where advertising revenue (and the politically-correct judgment that goes along with it) is largely superseded by pay-by-the-month listeners.

Tim Russert, another frequent guest of Imus, was saying on Meet the Press Sunday that Imus deserves another chance if he dedicates some time to improving race relations while using his radio program as a forum to do so. But if you take away incendiary, politically-incorrect commentary out of the format, the I-Man simply is no longer effective.

For the younger readers who watch American Idol, picture Simon Crowell being stripped of his ability to insult people.

Is it the same show?

Let’s also look at why MSNBC really decided to stop simulcasting Imus in the Morning. Yes, the advertisers left. Yes, management couldn’t bear to be looked upon as a network harboring who many feel is a racist. But by at least appearing to take the high moral ground, NBC forced CBS Radio, who carries his radio show and actually makes more money on it than the MSNBC simulcast, to follow suit. If CBS failed to act as NBC did, the subsequent PR hit would have been too enormous to bear.

Churchill once said that, “If you can’t defeat your opponent, discombobulate them.” This is exactly what NBC was thinking when they terminated Imus. Get rid of the old man before the heat from our sponsors gets too hot, and burn CBS—who already lost Howard Stern to Sirius last year—in the process.

Imus has enjoyed little public backing by the politicians and newsmakers that once sucked up to him during every appearance. Outside of John McCain, Pat Buchanan, the aforementioned Dietl and sports and non-objective political writer Mike Lupica, not many of Imus’ “friends” have been heard from during this mess.

Speaking of Lupica, could you imagine what his pontification and outrage would have looked like this week if Isiah Thomas, Jim Dolan, George Steinbrenner, Rudy Giuliani or George W. Bush had uttered what Imus had?

Lupica has also mastered taking the high moral road when his friends or allies aren’t involved (See: Making boatloads of money off of the Sosa/McGwire home-run chase for his book, Summer of ’98, only to condemn them for taking steroids after the book fell out of the top 1000 best-sellers list). But when it’s one of Lupica’s friends/endorsers’ neck on the line, suddenly the cynical, hard-hitting tone that defines most of his work ceases to exist. If his defense of Imus keeping his job is any indication, it appears that Lupica chooses to use apply his indignation based on favors and friendship, and not in the name of objective journalism.

Lupica—who has likely appeared on Imus’s show more than anyone—ultimately believes that the firing was nothing more than a “rush to judgment.” But as pointed out above, the Imus shtick has long consisted of blasting all religions, colors and creeds, and therefore nothing rushed about what many already knew about him. The tired argument of his offending everybody equally doesn’t justify the means or the end.

Howard Stern gets away with the same find of humor on his show on an almost-daily basis. But Howard, who is Jewish, is fortunate enough to have a black co-host (Robin Quivers), thereby inoculating himself from anyone who takes offense to what they may see as anti-Semitic and/or racist. Sasha Baron Cohen (Borat) gets the same get-out-of-jail-free card…

Still Imus could have remained relatively unscathed for another 30 years if not for the proliferation of media watchdogs on the net (like Media Matters) and YouTube there to allow millions to view what would have otherwise gone unseen. To that end, Imus broke the #1 rule in successfully staying under the radar of the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson:

He went after young, colored, athletic, educated, accomplished women.

And when you attack that kind of combination in today’s society, that’s not only going over the line, it erases it altogether.

But at least he has that apology thing down now, right?