Sunday, April 15, 2007


Frank Rich was a frequent guest on Don Imus's show (and has the book sales to show for it); he tells us today that he was shocked, shocked, at how mean Don Imus seemed when he insulted the Rutgers women's basketball team:

But as a listener and sometime guest, I didn't judge Imus to be a bigot.... Perhaps I gave Imus a pass because the insults were almost always aimed at people in the public eye, whether politicians, celebrities or journalists -- targets with the forums to defend themselves.

... What Imus said about the Rutgers team landed differently.... The spectacle of a media star verbally assaulting them, and with a creepy, dismissive laugh, as if the whole thing were merely a disposable joke, was ugly.... So while I still don't know whether Imus is a bigot, there was an inhuman contempt in the moment that sounded like hate to me. You can see it and hear it in the video clip in a way that isn't conveyed by his words alone.

And he'd never seemed like that before in thirty-plus years on the air -- never! Swear to God!

Ah, but:

Does that mean he should be silenced? ... as a longtime Imus listener rather than someone who tuned in for the first time last week, I heard not only hate in his wisecrack but also honesty in his repeated vows to learn from it.

Yeah -- learn from it just the way he learned from this exchange in May 2000 with Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune:

CLARENCE PAGE: Are you raising your hand, right?

DON IMUS: I have it up.

CLARENCE PAGE: Okay. Okay, number one -- I, Don Imus--

DON IMUS: I, Don Imus--

CLARENCE PAGE: -- do solemnly swear--

DON IMUS: Do solemnly swear--

CLARENCE PAGE: -- that I will promise to cease all simian references black athletes--

DON IMUS: That I will promise to cease all simian references to back--black athletes--

CLARENCE PAGE: -- a ban on all references to non-criminal blacks as thugs, pimps, muggers and Colt 45 drinkers--

DON IMUS: I promise to do that.

CLARENCE PAGE: Very good! How about an end to Amos 'n Andy cuts, comparison of New York City to Mogadishu, and all parodies of black voices unless they are done by a black person, cause you're really not very good at it.

DON IMUS: I think Bernard should be doing this. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER]

CLARENCE PAGE: Bernard where are you?

What is it that Mark Twain reportedly said? "Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times"? That's how it was with Imus and racism. He never would have stopped being like this. And if he ever gets back on the air, he'll be the same way again.


Oh, and Imus's criticism of TV ads that linked Harold Ford to a white woman? Rich regards this as a sign that Imus hates racism, but I'd like to offer two alternate explanations:

* Imus defended Ford because Ford appeared on his show.
* Imus doesn't like people who steal his act.


UPDATE: Tom Hilton has more on the notion that Imus is being "silenced" here and in comments.

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