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Media and Crisis Management

Imus is back – Good!

Posted on: July 29th, 2012

Potpourri: Imus is back – Good!:

As I write this in 2009, Imus is back on a national TV network in the morning, Fox Business Channel, and already giving CNBC a run in the ratings.  Seems an appropriate time to revisit a column I wrote when he was fired by MSNBC two years ago.

Two wrongs happened in the spring of 2007.  First, shock jock Don Imus made demeaning sexist and racial remarks about innocent college athletes.  Second, Imus was thrown off the air.

If you never watched or listened to his morning radio/TV program, and many haven’t, then you probably don’t care what happened to him especially after learning of his nasty talk about the Rutgers women’s basketball team and then seeing their classy response.

I want to tell you first about myself and then explain why I think an Imus return is necessary.

To this day I have still not watched a re-run of Seinfeld since Michael Richards (Kramer) went nuclear with the N-word.  I have no tolerance for such outrage.   I remember the thunderous teachings of the late racial sensitivity tutor Rev. Charles King of Atlanta who said it’s a white man’s world.  He said unenlightened white men think, “What’s the big deal about racism.  I never committed a racist act, I have black friends, and if minorities can’t succeed then it’s their own fault.”  King drilled into you that a minority person, especially in the presence of the majority, rarely forgets his skin color for long and suspects he is always being judged through that prism.  So, with that as a background I am not surprised nor do I disagree with African Americans demanding the head of Imus.  Standing in their shoes, I would too.

When I saw Imus’s flip ignorant characterization of the Rutgers team contrasted with the non-hateful and non-judgmental response of the players who accepted his apology, I knew the radio host was doomed.  How could anyone stand up for him now?  Few did.  Personally, in spite of Imus’s gross insensitivity, I was angry at the looming loss of one of the rarer programs I had seen (more on that later).   When the usually sweet-tempered Al Roker of the Today show called for his dismissal, I began to write a fiery rebuttal to Roker’s blog but erased it because I was so irrational.  “Why am I upset,” I kept asking myself?  Then I realized it was because, as a longtime viewer of the Imus program, I felt disenfranchised by its demise.  “They are taking it away and I am powerless to stop it,” I thought.  Then: another thought.  So this is what powerlessness feels like.  This is the feeling of disenfranchisement.  And it’s all about the loss of a stupid radio show.  Pretty lame compared to a lifetime of disenfranchisement and powerlessness that minorities often feel.  The anger vanished.

Yet I am disappointed.  Imus danced on a knife-edge of racial, sexist, and homophobic banter that in hindsight seemed destined to hit a brick wall, but he was more than that.   He gathered some of the smartest, most talented and politically involved people for conversations of depth where the bombastic and shallow could not survive.  He championed sick children, Katrina victims, mistreated servicemen, unpopular causes; plus he invited musicians, writers, and thinkers into a forum of no equivalent.   He was talking of going to Baghdad.  All was mixed with Imus’s verbal bomb-throwing that made you laugh, gasp, and wonder what would happen next.

I want Imus to return, but under certain conditions.  Looking back on it, watching the old program, as much as I enjoyed it, was like laughing at a friend’s racist joke.  You didn’t tell the joke, but you accepted it, tolerated it, and thus ensured its repetition.  And each telling reduces our collective humanity.  I sense Imus gets that now.  So, “Come back, Don, and this time as with so many other issues, provide the forum to discuss the tripwire of racism that caught you and still haunts all of us in the 21st century.

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