Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

US Diary: roundup of Imus op-eds on him losing his radio show because he called Rutgers Women's Basketball Team "nappy-headed ho's"

In our opinion, whatever others may say, Don Imus is less of a racist than Al Sharpton. The poor idiot called those wonderful women "nappy-headed ho's" because he wanted to sound hip for a 66-year-old white boomer guy (who still sports long 60s-type hair) by borrowing the latest black language in a comment about how tough and fierce those women players looked to him. Now he's been "media-lynched" by people who should reserve their ire and fire for the playas who invented and popularized that hate speech in the first place: gangster rappers. Anyway, here are some people, including gay Harvey Fierstein and Dick Cavett (I thought he was dead) sounding off on America's latest squirm about our deep-seated racism and hypocrisy.

1. Our Prejudices, Ourselves

AMERICA is watching Don Imus’s self-immolation in a state of shock and awe. And I’m watching America with wry amusement.

Since I’m a second-class citizen — a gay man — my seats for the ballgame of American discourse are way back in the bleachers. I don’t have to wait long for a shock jock or stand-up comedian to slip up with hateful epithets aimed at me and mine. Hate speak against homosexuals is as commonplace as spam. It’s daily traffic for those who profess themselves to be regular Joes, men of God, public servants who live off my tax dollars, as well as any number of celebrities.

In fact, I get a good chuckle whenever someone refers to “the media” as an agent of “the gay agenda.” There are entire channels, like Spike TV, that couldn’t fill an hour of programming if required to remove their sexist and homophobic content. We’ve got a president and a large part of Congress willing to change the Constitution so they can deprive of us our rights because they feel we are not “normal.”

So I’m used to catching foul balls up here in the cheap seats. What I am really enjoying is watching the rest of you act as if you had no idea that prejudice was alive and well in your hearts and minds.

For the past two decades political correctness has been derided as a surrender to thin-skinned, humorless, uptight oversensitive sissies. Well, you anti-politically correct people have won the battle, and we’re all now feasting on the spoils of your victory. During the last few months alone we’ve had a few comedians spout racism, a basketball coach put forth anti-Semitism and several high-profile spoutings of anti-gay epithets.

What surprises me, I guess, is how choosy the anti-P.C. crowd is about which hate speech it will not tolerate. Sure, there were voices of protest when the TV actor Isaiah Washington called a gay colleague a “faggot.” But corporate America didn’t pull its advertising from “Grey’s Anatomy,” as it did with Mr. Imus, did it? And when Ann Coulter likewise tagged a presidential candidate last month, she paid no real price.

In fact, when Bill Maher discussed Ms. Coulter’s remarks on his HBO show, he repeated the slur no fewer than four times himself; each mention, I must note, solicited a laugh from his audience. No one called for any sort of apology from him. (Well, actually, I did, so the following week he only used it once.)

Face it, if a Pentagon general, his salary paid with my tax dollars, can label homosexual acts as “immoral” without a call for his dismissal, who are the moral high and mighty kidding?

Our nation, historically bursting with generosity toward strangers, remains remarkably unkind toward its own. Just under our gleaming patina of inclusiveness, we harbor corroding guts. America, I tell you that it doesn’t matter how many times you brush your teeth. If your insides are rotting your breath will stink. So, how do you people choose which hate to embrace, which to forgive with a wink and a week in rehab, and which to protest? Where’s my copy of that rule book?

Let me cite a non-volatile example of how prejudice can cohabit unchecked with good intentions. I am a huge fan of David Letterman’s. I watch the opening of his show a couple of times a week and have done so for decades. Without fail, in his opening monologue or skit Mr. Letterman makes a joke about someone being fat. I kid you not. Will that destroy our nation? Should he be fired or lose his sponsors? Obviously not.

But I think that there is something deeper going on at the Letterman studio than coincidence. And, as I’ve said, I cite this example simply to illustrate that all kinds of prejudice exist in the human heart. Some are harmless. Some not so harmless. But we need to understand who we are if we wish to change. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess to not only being a gay American, but also a fat one. Yes, I’m a double winner.)

I urge you to look around, or better yet, listen around and become aware of the prejudice in everyday life. We are so surrounded by expressions of intolerance that I am in shock and awe that anyone noticed all these recent high-profile instances. Still, I’m gladdened because our no longer being deaf to them may signal their eventual eradication.

The real point is that you cannot harbor malice toward others and then cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you. Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged. Rise up in righteousness when you witness the words and deeds of hate, but only if you are willing to rise up against them all, including your own. Otherwise suffer the slings and arrows of disrespect silently.

(Harvey Fierstein is an actor and playwright.)

2. Imus in the Hornet's Nest
By Dick Cavett/NY Times

Don Imus must feel as if he has been run over by a cement truck, which then reversed and backed over him.

It’s probably true that the women on the Rutgers basketball team are not Imus fans and, as he says, they probably didn’t know who he is. It would be interesting to know exactly how the ladies got the bad news. Did someone say, for example, “A broadcaster announced on the air that you have undesirable ethnic hairdos and that you are prostitutes”?

Imus claims he doesn’t know how this happened and brought the ceiling down on him. As one who has had many opportunities to misspeak and to offend — and has taken them — I know how he feels. Much of the show’s appeal has to do with the entertaining danger in watching Imus and his colleagues dance on “the line” and sometimes on either side of it. This time he stepped off the starboard side onto a hornets’ nest, to mix metaphors.

Is there not a sort of a conundrum in everyone’s agreeing that the words are horrible, and not fit to be broadcast or heard — and then hearing them re-aired every 20 minutes on most TV channels? Not even euphemizing the H-word. Some of the seeming astonishment expressed about how well-spoken, attractive, articulate and self-possessed the basketball players are — all true — at times bordered a bit uncomfortably on Obama’s being called (surprisingly?) “articulate” and “clean.”

Would a white team be surprisingly articulate?

I don’t know all the questions to be asked about this. Some of them would be: Who said the words? What was the context? How damaging were the words meant to be, and how damaging were they in fact? What is known of the speaker? Is he a racist? Does he discriminate against black people? Has he ever done anything good for them?

It has reminded me of a hilarious old black comic I saw once at the Apollo Theater — the best house for comedy. In style, he affected lack of education and worked in dialect. “White folks sometimes seem amazed to see us folks can stand up on our hind legs.” (Audience giggles.) “And SPEAK.” (Big laugh.) “Sometimes I think they gonna offer me a dog biscuit.” (Pandemonium.)

At such times as this, the camera-shy reverend Al Sharpton can be counted on to pop up, this time in Draconian mode. He wants Imus out, gone, the show canceled and Imus dead, professionally at least.

Hold on a minute, Your Amplitude.

Millions like this show. All kinds of people, from college professors to firemen to actors, writers and — I’m told even G.I.’s in beds who have survived both Iraq and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Nobody in his right mind defends what Imus said. Certainly not Imus. For decades, he has been an equal-opportunity offender. For many the combination of this style plus his contrasting high-quality guest list add up to the program’s quirky appeal. But it was inevitable that one day, as just happened, a land mine was stepped on by the risk-taking host. It shouldn’t be confused with Hiroshima.

Imus retooled his show and himself from an earlier persona, making it a program that welcomes a who’s who of guests. This very upgrading makes the blunder stand out in starker contrast than it would if his show were solely goofball, escapist entertainment.

I’ve noticed over the years that the hate-mail, get-’em-off-the-air crowd always tries to constitute itself as a pressure group that will “write to all your sponsors.” They want to not just get you off the air but — to savor the full enjoyment — bring you to your knees financially. In rare cases where they have succeeded, the health of their target has been destroyed. This is what that old bag Lillian Hellmann did to Mary McCarthy.

But Imus, I’m sure, has a shekel or two stashed away in case he were bounced or just decided to chuck it. He is a reader and would not be at a loss to fill his new free hours.

What is Donald Imus really like? I appear on his show sometimes, but I don’t pretend to know what all is concealed by the mask he works behind as an entertainer. He appears to be white, gentile and a family man. He’s a skilled conversationalist, an experienced broadcaster, a wry humorist and, lest we forget, an authentic philanthropist.

In addition, he belongs to a few minorities himself. He is a blonde, a genuine cowboy, a recognized bugler and one of three people in the media who pronounces both C’s in arctic.

The final irony of all this is that when the suffering is past, good is likely to come of it. But if you change, Donald, don’t throw away all of the old Imus. We don’t want you to come back as Pat Boone.

3. Protect even stupid speech
Detroit Free Press Editorial

It's easy to support free speech when it's speech you agree with, hard to defend speech that hurts, offends or insults.

And in a society that's cowed by a cottage industry of big-mouths who want to set the bounds for what everyone can or can't say, it has become even tougher.

Still, it's a bedrock American principle that a marketplace of expression should be broad and robust and full of back-and-forth about even the most unsavory topics.

Radio personality Don Imus -- bullying shock jock and well-practiced cheap-shot artist -- is no reason to abandon that principle.

Imus offended the nation last week when he referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos." He should be called out. Picketed. Made to apologize.

That's the way to fight offensive speech -- with more speech.

But firing Imus for what he said, as CBS radio and the MSNBC cable network did this week, makes little sense.

It won't eliminate his brand of bigotry; there are plenty of other radio personalities saying equally offensive things. It won't change racist or sexist minds around the nation; it would only encourage them to keep their ill-intentioned thoughts under cover, where they're safe from the withering light of criticism.

It also adds nothing to the wonderful debate that has sprung up in the wake of what Imus said. That discussion aspires to confront the wider use of racist and sexist language in entertainment, particularly among some rap stars. It's good that could come from Imus' vicious streak.

Firing Imus could also give his words more power, if it allows him to fashion himself a victim of the same kind of intolerance he's accused of indulging.

Let's be clear: What Imus said was racist, sexist and, sadly, all too typical of his tired act. He's a master at picking on the innocent and vulnerable, people who neither ask for nor deserve the assaults he unleashes on them.

It's worse that he wraps his insults in the cloak of humor; they're only funny in the ridiculing, most debasing sense of the word.

Everyone had a right to be offended by what Imus said; but his right to offend should have carried as much weight in a society that values attaining truth through the free exchange of ideas.

4. Whitewash
By Vincent Carroll/

If you’re someone who suspects that most middle-aged white guys talk like Don Imus when among friends — spewing venomous jokes about blacks, women, Jews and gays — then don’t miss the chance to reinforce your nightmare fantasy next week with a trip to Colorado Springs.

Yes, it’s time again for the annual White Privilege Conference, which is hosted this year by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and whose sponsors include the University of Denver’s Center for Judaic Studies and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among other groups. No self-respecting progressive will want to miss it.

Fine, you say, but what about would-be participants who are, well, white? Should they be concerned about a possible accusatory tone?

Relax. “This conference is not about beating up on white folks,” its Web site proclaims. Why, perish the thought! No, “this conference is about critically examining the society in which we live and working to dismantle systems of power, prejudice, privilege and oppression.”

Not to mention the systems of “white supremacy and oppression” — yes, that word “oppression” again, just in case you doubted that contemporary America is a plantation-like hellhole.

So much consciousness-raising about grinding oppression could get you down, of course, but never fear. The conference plans to relieve the stress with top-drawer entertainment.

On Saturday, for example, a “youth celebration” will feature several “national acts,” including Boots Riley, “co-founder of hip hop group The Coup,” whose albums include such landmarks as Kill My Landlord and Pick a Bigger Weapon. That latter work has been praised by Rolling Stone, we’re told, as “the rare album that makes revolution sound like hot fun on a Saturday night,” which sounds about right.

You won’t want to miss the keynote speeches, either.

For example, Paula Rothenberg will address the “struggle over victimhood.” More specifically, according to the conference guide, she’ll explore “What is at stake in the struggle over who can claim victim status as we carry out a conversation about white privilege.”

We could continue with our program tour, but enough of the fun. ... Did they say “the struggle over who can claim victim status”? Are these people serious? Don’t they realize how damaging it is to indoctrinate young people with the conviction that success in this country is a rigged game?

Do they really imagine that the greatest obstacle to the overall achievement of any group is “this system of white privilege” — as opposed, say, to broken and dysfunctional families, lousy schools or destructive personal choices reinforced by a localized culture of failure?

Most white guys past their prime don’t talk like Imus and have no desire to, and now Imus himself has been fired. His sole enduring legacy, unfortunately, is to feed the victimhood lobby, in all of its multiplying forms, with more grist for their destructive mills.

(Reach Vincent Carroll at Carrollv

5. Why Imus Had to Go
By Eugene Robinson/Washington Post

Now that the networks have pulled the plug on Don Imus, let's have no hyperventilation to the effect that the aging shock jock's fall from undeserved grace raises some important question about just who in our society is permitted to say just what . Wherever "the line" delineating acceptable discourse might be, calling those young women from Rutgers University "nappy-headed hos" is miles on the other side.

Especially for a 67-year-old white man with a long history of racist, sexist and homophobic remarks.

For young black hip-hop artists to use such language to demean black women is similarly deplorable -- and, I would argue, even more damaging. But come on, people, don't deceive yourselves that it's precisely the same thing. Don't pretend that 388 years of history -- since the first shackled African slaves arrived at Jamestown -- never happened. The First Amendment notwithstanding, it has always been the case that some speech has been off-limits to some people. I remember a time when black people couldn't say "I'd like to vote, please." Now, white people can't say "nappy-headed hos." You'll survive.

While we're at the business of blunt truth, do the big-time media luminaries who so often graced Imus's show have some explaining to do? You bet, and so do the parent news organizations, including my own, that 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's well-practiced modus operandi. "He never said anything bad while I was on" doesn't cut it as a defense.

Nor is there much exculpatory power in Imus's defense of himself, which can be paraphrased as "I'm not a racist, I just keep saying racist things." What characteristics, do you suppose, could possibly identify a person who was indeed a racist? You think maybe that saying racist things might be a fairly reliable clue?

One of the most interesting things about the Imus meltdown is how MSNBC and its parent company, NBC Universal, moved from sluggish inaction to ordering a two-week suspension to bidding Imus, his cowboy hat and his unfunny entourage an abrupt adios. A day later, CBS Radio followed suit and canceled Imus.

The pressure applied by Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other activists certainly got NBC and CBS's attention, and the news conference held by the offended Rutgers team was devastating. News stories citing Imus's past transgressions were embarrassing. And the withdrawal of Imus's biggest advertisers -- General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, American Express,, Procter & Gamble, Staples, Sprint Nextel -- removed any financial incentive for MSNBC to keep the show on the air.

It would be logical to conclude that money talked and therefore Imus walked. But I tend to believe NBC News President Steve Capus when he says that the biggest factor was the internal reaction from NBC News employees, who told him in no uncertain terms that enough was enough.

Two of the network's on-air stars -- "Today" weatherman Al Roker and NBC correspondent Ron Allen -- authored strong anti-Imus posts on NBC blogs. Producers of NBC and MSNBC news shows gave the controversy nonstop coverage. Meanwhile, Capus was hearing from dozens of NBC employees who worried about what continued association with Imus would do to the network's reputation. Among them were women and minorities who told Capus they felt the sting of Imus's attacks personally.

Which is a sign of how the world has changed.

Four decades ago, when Imus started his long and lucrative radio career, there were few women and minorities at NBC in a position to influence the company's decision on an issue like this one. Take it another step: There were few women and minorities in positions of authority at the firms that advertised on Imus's show.

In think tanks and on college campuses, intellectuals still argue about diversity, but in corporate America the issue is settled: Diversity is a fact of today's world. In the nation's two most populous states, California and Texas, minorities already form a majority. Companies realize they cannot survive, let alone thrive, without courting diversity among their employees and their customers. You certainly can't run a television network these days without taking diversity into account.

Imus's advertisers couldn't afford to be associated with racist, misogynistic views, and neither could NBC. This doesn't portend any sort of chilling effect on free speech, as some have suggested. It doesn't mean that white males are being relegated to the dustbin of history. Last time I checked, guys, you still ran most of the world. You just have to be a bit nicer these days, and you have to share.



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