April 9, 2007

Imus' Tone Deafness Nothing New

Don Imus, the national radio talk-show host for NBC, got himself into some hot water last week when he used racially derogative terms to describe a women's college basketball team. Calling them "nappy-headed ho's", Imus compared them unfavorably to a supposedly "cute" and predominantly white competing team. Today, Imus attempted to apologize to Al Sharpton on the latter's own radio show, but Sharpton didn't let him off the hook:

Don Imus said on his nationally syndicated radio show today that he was a “good person who said a bad thing” by way of explaining his comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team that many critics have called racist. ...

Later in the day, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been calling for Mr. Imus’s resignation, upbraided him on his own radio show, “Keepin It Real,” as the two discussed his comments.

“This is not about whether you’re a good man,” Mr. Sharpton told Mr. Imus, who was a guest on the show. “This is about setting a precedent that allows racist language to be used on mainstream, federally regulated television and radio.

“What you said is racist,” he said.

I'm amazed that Imus still has a show after these comments. After all, Howard Cosell got kicked off of ABC for referring to a black running back as a "little monkey," even though (a) he often called his grandchildren the same thing and didn't intend it as a racial insult, and (b) Cosell had worked tirelessly to support Mohammed Ali during his career. Jimmy the Greek got bounced from CBS for suggesting that the dominance of African-American athletes came from breeding decisions by slave owners. Al Campanis, a man who had worked hard to boost black baseball players, got forced out of the Dodgers organization for voicing some strange ideas about why there weren't more black swimmers.

At least two of these three men did more for racial equality than Imus has ever done, and gave much less reason for offense than Imus. Yet Imus gets to hold onto his job -- at least, so far.

Crazies.JPGI'm not saying Imus should get canned for one rather offensive and somewhat malicious offense. But it's not the only time Imus has demonstrated a tone deafness on race, either. Next week, I will be interviewing Bernard Goldberg for the release of his new book, Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right: How One Side Lost Its Mind and the Other Lost Its Nerve, his latest look at the political scene. It has not hit the stands yet, but I have started reviewing the proofs -- and Goldberg has a chapter just for Don Imus and his cluelessness on race. Titled "Don Imus and St. Charles", Goldberg recounts another conversation where Imus managed to insult most of the civil-rights movement:

On this particular day he was talking to Charles Barkley, the retired basketball star, whose book about race in America -- Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man? -- had just come out in paperback. They started out by talking about the death, the night before, of Coretta Scott King. Sir Charles, who grew up in Alabama, told Imus how much she and her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., had meant to him.

This gave Don an opening to tell Barkley that, "In my view, just as a white man, it doesn't seem to me that a lot has changed since those marches in Selma."

Not much had changed? At the time of Selma (1965), most black people in the South couldn't vote, let alone hold public office as many do now. Jm Crow laws still segregated public facilities, and civil rights workers were still getting attacked by law enforcement with the tacit approval of state governments. Plenty changed in 42 years -- and it was people like the Kings who made them change. That isn't to say that more work isn't needed, but only an oaf would insist that nothing had changed since the march from Selma to Montgomery.

Charles Barkley would have none of it. He told Imus that he was wrong, and then talked about what the African-American communities needed to do now, rather than feed into some ignorance how no progress had been made by the civil-rights movement. Goldberg calls Imus a "sissy", but in reality, Imus thought he would pander to his preconceived notion of Barkley's state of mind -- and Barkley called him on it.

Imus spent today pandering as well, it seems. Sharpton wouldn't have any of it, either. Maybe he shouldn't lose his job for making a couple of really bad mistakes, but perhaps these kinds of incidents demonstrate that Imus is very overrated.

Michelle Malkin and Hot Air have more.

UPDATE: Regarding Campanis, here's the Wikipedia entry on the controversy:

Campanis' infamous remarks took place on the late-night ABC News program Nightline, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Major League Baseball debut (April 15, 1947). Campanis, who had played alongside Robinson and was known for being close to him, was being interviewed about the subject. Nightline anchorman Ted Koppel asked him why, at the time, there had been few black managers and no black general managers in Major League Baseball. Campanis' reply was that blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager" for these positions. Elsewhere in the interview he said that blacks are often poor swimmers "because they don't have the buoyancy." Koppel says he gave Campanis several opportunities to clarify ("Do you really believe that?") or back down on his remarks but Campanis dug himself in deeper with his replies. A protest erupted the next morning and he resigned two days later.

UPDATE II: Stuck on Stupid and Confederate Yankee have more thoughts. Fox News' Brit Hume announced a short time ago that NBC is suspending Imus for two weeks, which seems appropriate.


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Comments (31)

Posted by kymar [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 5:31 PM

Woah, woah, woah - Campanis comments had nothing to do with "swimmers." I remember well when he made them: It was on NIGHTLINE, it was about why there weren't more black managers, and he was given several chances to repair his jaw-droppingly racist remarks. He came across as a confused, old man who might somehow somewhere have had a cogent thought justifying what was coming out of his mouth, but he clearly had to go, for his own good. He probably did almost as much for the cause of black managers and coaches as once upon a time the Dodger organization did for the more basic issue of blacks in pro sports.

Posted by chsw [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 5:41 PM

Sharpton has called white store owners in Harlem "white interlopers," has called for boycotts of Asian-American businesses that serve black areas because the owners are not black. There is a lot more like that about Sharpton that will come up on a websearch. Who the hell is Sharpton to tell anyone that they are a bigot? Why does he think that he has any moral authority? Has the sulfur in his hair relaxer penetrated his brain?


Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 5:48 PM

Gotta throw in with chsw: a race-baiting con man like Al Sharpton is the LAST person who should be setting himself up as the judge, jury and executioner about racism.

Posted by arb [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 5:49 PM

"Later in the day, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been calling for Mr. Imus’s resignation, upbraided him on his own radio show, “Keepin It Real,” as the two discussed his comments."

Al Sharpton has a show called "Keeping It Real?" Ask Tawana Brawley or Steven Pagones about that.

Posted by cruit [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 5:59 PM

When Sharpton jumps all over the Rap artists like 50 Cent,Snoop and others, who insult women every single day,then he can criticize Imus.
Until then he is a hypocrite!

Posted by vnjagvet [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 6:39 PM

The women's basketball team from Tennessee is not "predominately white", but nearly all black as is the team from Rutgers.

As a matter of fact, the racial makeup was about the same for both teams as a look at the respective rosters will confirm.

Posted by SoldiersMom [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 6:59 PM

I ran into Sharpton at the Reagan airport in DC last year. He was coming out of a food line that I was standing in. Just as he was passing, I said out loud, "Hope you're not going to Louisiana." The lady standing next to me said, "Hope he's not going to North Carolina either." This was about 6 months after Katrina and we'd had all the race baiting we could stand after Jesse's visit.

I know he heard me, but didn't acknowledge the comment or me. I was in one of my "bring it on moods too, so it was probably best, for me, that he moved on." Every time I've ever lost my temper, I've regretted it.

Posted by Right2thePoint [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 7:02 PM

I disagree with what Imus said, but I also agree with others that this is just cherry picking faux outrage.

It is not so much an issue of what was said but who said it.

I could even imagine the scenario where if you got an audio tape of the offended teams dressing room over a season, you may even hear more offensive terms used between team members but in jest that would never be commented on.

Posted by krm [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:02 PM

I don't believe it to be true, but if the secularists who run the media and academia really believed their own rhetoric, it would be hard to say that years of breeding for certain characteristics (at the expense of others wouldn't produce the results reflected in some of the comments that have caused furor over the years).

Posted by jr565 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:44 PM

This is a continuation of the controversy about ten years ago about a children's book called "Nappy Hair". A teacher who taught the book in class, was drumbed out of the school and shouted down by angry mobs.

It was stupid then and its stupid now. What is racist about using nappy hair? Is it in combination with the word HO? C'mon, if you put on HBO comedy shows or listen to rap you'll hear more ho talk that Imus ever uttered.

IF people want an apology fine, let him apologize,but it's not like he was burning crosses on peoples lawn. And for Mr. Sharpton, mr Tawana Brawley, mr race card, racist demagogue, to demand an apology and not accept it, screw him.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:44 PM

Imus is an aging loudmouthed boor, so utterly taken with his own clever precociousness, that he was almost predestined to stick his head in some political correctness oven sooner or later. And Al Sharpton is one of the sickest race-baiting poverty pimps and conn men in living memory. I'd say they were made for each other!

Today's radio show must have sounded like a marriage made in Hell!

Posted by jr565 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:56 PM

here's an article from Newsweek in 2007 about a woman who accepts her "nappy" hair as natural and not at all ugly. Some black people view nappy hair with pride. In fact, straightening of the hair is considered a sign of uncle tomism by some.


I could care less either way if people straighten their hair or keep it curly,but the words Imus used were about hair and that type of hair has been called Nappy by countless numbers of people with no racial conotation. Its simply an adjective that describes a certain type of hair. I"m getting sick of drummed up racial controversies over words that were they spoken by one group of people would cause not the slightest bit of racial outrage, and if spoken by another group is a sign of racism.

What's more offensive is that he called them ho's. But even there, HO is now a ubiquitous word in comedy and rap and entertainment.

Posted by unclesmrgol [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 8:57 PM

At least Imus apologized. I'm still waiting for Sharpton to do the same.

Posted by Monkei [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 9:04 PM

this is all utter crap, Imus is a shock jock comedian. When Chris Rock and the 2 bit rappers stop doing the same then I will be the first to jump up and call for Imus' head on a platter.

Posted by owl2 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 9:39 PM

And Al Sharpton is one of the sickest race-baiting poverty pimps and conn men in living memory. I'd say they were made for each other!

Sums those two up nicely. Bet Imus was shocked when the hit squad came after him though. He should have remembered all those funnies that he ran on the Clintons. They are setting up firewalls beginning with Bill Clinton himself attacking Chris Wallace. Now they cancel Hillary's FOX debate. Think that clears up why Bill went balistic on purpose. Obama/Hillary/Edwards will not allow any MSM unless it is certified Dem MSM.

Posted by DubiousD [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 10:43 PM

Captain, you're being completely unfair to Al Campanis. His comments were taken out of context by the MSM (at the time, there was no blogosphere to provide any balance.) And you should know better than relying on a Wikipedia entry as your primary news source.

For the record:

Campanis' comments about black managers not having the "necessities" referred to their lack of managerial experience, not their lack of intelligence. The argument he outlined was basically a Catch-22; namely, owners won't hire people without prior managerial experience, but you can't get managerial experience unless somebody hires you. Since in 1987 virtually the only black in baseball with managerial experience was Frank Robinson, he was the only one who could count on his phone ringing if one of the opposing managers got fired by their respective bosses. And this was generally true. Look at the managerial rosters back in '87 and you'll see a game of musical chairs. Rarely did any owner trust any new manager with his ballclub unless that individual had years of experience at either the major league level or at least at AAA. Campanis DID NOT say he was opposed to blacks becoming managers on moral or philosophical or that they were intellectually inferior to whites in any way. He may have been wrong in how he surmised the situation, but he was being pragmatic, not racist.

Similarly, in his comments about black swimmers, Campanis claimed that many black inner city kids do not excel at certain sports activities (like swim meets) because many blighted inner city schools do not offer students sporting programs like swim teams. Hence many black youths don't get the practice and training they need. Hence, they lack, as Campanis crudely put it, "buoyancy."

And the last part points to Campanis' problem, the problem which lead to his downfall as Dodger GM. It wasn't what he said, it was how he said it. Given that Campanis was completely, utterly linguistic challenged, even in his mother tongue, most of what he said sounded Archie Bunker-esque when in fact racism was never his inclination.

Think I'm parsing his language? Then go back and find a transcript of Campanis' 1987 Nightline appearance. If I have misrepresented his views in any way, I will recant.

Posted by Bennett [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 9, 2007 11:13 PM

David Carr in the NY Times this morning (business section, registration required at the site) had an interesting article about how Imus is protected by his friends in the media because he gives them time on his show. I have occasionally watched and am always surprised by how sycophantic so many of them are, politicians who go on there are as well (McCain, Kerry, Dodd, etc.). Imus has always skirted the "politically correct" line and more than once crossed over it. And yet his guests keep coming back. I think it's an inner circle kind of thing, people like Mary Matalin go on his show as well as Paul Begala, or they used to. He's on the inside of that circle, the confluence of media and politics. He will survive this.

Posted by CayuteKitt [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 12:02 AM

Posted by chsw at April 9, 2007 05:41 PM

"Sharpton has called white store owners in Harlem "white interlopers," has called for boycotts of Asian-American businesses that serve black areas because the owners are not black. "

There is also Jesse Jackson's infamous slur against NYC by calling it "Hymietown".

Black leaders, Black rappers, Black singers, Black role models.....so many of them refer to their "own people" as niggers, hos, and nappy haired, and go on to refer to other races in derogatory fashions such as those mentioned.

If they want to be treated with "respect", then it's about time that they started treating each other and other races with the kind of behavior and language and respect that they so vociferously demand for themselves.

I'm not excusing Imus' thoughtless and foolish words in any way. I'm just saying that civility is a two way street, and too many African American leaders and role models refuse to honor the street signs.

Posted by jehu [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 12:24 AM

I don't know the exact details of the Campanis incident but the thing about black swimmers is actually true. On average people of African lineage have greater bone density, and that results in less bouyancy. Honestly I don't even understand what's racist about that. Even if it were wrong, it's not a statement about moral worth, but merely of biology. Calling the Rutgers players 'nappy headed hos' is a different story, since its purely pejorative.

However, Imus runs his mouth for hours a day and insults everyone, even people he likes. I'm not sure the instant case is worthy of extreme sanction when other instances were not. A suspension is reasonable although going to Sharpton and co. is pretty sickening to see in any context.

Posted by trapeze [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 1:45 AM

Sorry, but I cannot possible disagree more with most of the above comments.

This has nothing to do with Sharpton. Sharpton is an opportunistic race baiter pure and simple...what you see is what you get and everyone knows it. So forget the hypocrisy angle...really, who cares about the idiot?

Imus described a group of college athletes as whores. Put aside the "nappy-headed" adjective for a second and just reflect on the whore part. Theses women are not stupid. They are not lazy. And, barring evidence to the contrary, they are not offering their bodies for sex to all comers. And no, they are not famous like other women that he has (for reasons that must make sense only to Imus) refered to as "hos" in previous incidents.

I guess that I am just an old fashioned kind of person but if someone called my daughter a whore, nappy-headed or not, on a national broadcast (or anywhere else) then I think I would probably re-arrange his face. I hope that Imus gets his wish to meet with the players, their parents and coaches. I hope they take him apart. He should be tarred and feathered.

And yes, I sincerely hope that this idiot is permanently retired. Imus isn't Howard Stern. He isn't Opie & Anthony. No, Imus has always wanted to be taken seriously as a conduit to the politically powerful. Now that he is in trouble for shooting off his mouth he wants to hide behind the "entertainer" personna. Well too bad...it isn't washing and the reason is because of his vanity in wanting to be taken seriously.

I am continually disgusted with what passes for entertainment in our modern era. I won't miss one more foul-mouthed, insult artist. I hope that Imus goes down with as much humiliation as he has doled out to others.

Posted by thoughttheater [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 2:54 AM

See a tongue-in-cheek visual of Imus and his newfound buddy, Michael Richards, hanging out and counting sheep...here:


Posted by superdestroyer [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 6:37 AM


The second leading scorer at Tennesse is white and Pat Summit has had white All-Americans play on her team before. This is very different from the coach at Rutgers, C. Vivian Stringer, who started her coaching career at Cheney St, a HBCU and has basically only recruited black players.

I think one of the things that no one wants to talk about is how race is veiwed differently in women's sports than men's sports.

Posted by Richard [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 7:01 AM

"This has nothing to do with Sharpton. Sharpton is an opportunistic race baiter pure and simple...what you see is what you get and everyone knows it. So forget the hypocrisy angle...really, who cares about the idiot?"

You see nothing ironic about Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson or Al "Diamond Merchants" (referring to Jews) Sharpton calling Imus a racist and demanding an apology?

Posted by Al_Maviva [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 7:23 AM

The Revvum Jacksum's and Al Sharpton's foibles are a separate issue from Imus' racist language.

Jackson and Sharpton have a legit point, even if they run afoul of the 'throw the first stone' dicta.

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 8:59 AM

100% with trapeze. Enough with the myopia already. People try to dissect "nappy", ignore the other word and the context entirely, and call it a day. Fools.

Since Campanis has been discussed as a counterexample, I would point out that he was actually attempting to discuss a substantive topic, actually discussing race. The country was newer to frank discussions about race then, and more naive to the pitfalls of P.C. Campanis' firing was arguably as awkwardly good-intentioned as his original comments were.

Imus is insulting truly exceptional young women on the heels of a great achievment in the most race-baiting terms, from a position 1000x more comfortable, respected, and visible than his targets. The slap on the wrist is a disgrace to the industry that has enabled him. We will see what the long-term consequences are.

Posted by Youngest Elder of Zion [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 9:30 AM

Re: Imus' Tone Deafness Nothing New

Imus isn't tone deaf about race or anything else. He is an extremely perceptive comedian with an exquisite ear for language and the effect of words. That's why he's risen to the top of his profession (shock jockeying) - saying things far more offensive, racist (and funnier) than "nappy-headed hos" on a daily basis for decades. i.e., last week Imus was just doing what he's always been paid $$$millions to do. So the question is, what's new? And the answer is, the Liberal Thought Police saw an opening and rushed in - and for some reason, this time Imus decided to open the door for them.

Posted by krm [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 9:54 AM

trapeeze and biwah - I would be upset at anyone saying my daughter looked like a whore.

I would be even more upset with my daughter is covered herself in tattoos and made herself look like a whore.

Imus is an idiot. But he is being figuratively lynched for noting that, between two predominently black teams, one looked relatively cleancut or wholesome and the other made themselves look like street trash.

Men in sports can be castigated for looking thuggish. Absent the racially offensive terminology, women in sports ought to be subject to the same sorts of ciriticism as men.

Posted by Muse Unamused [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 10:43 AM

April 10th comment:

Politically correct lame brains get overly offended by everything and nothing--let it go 70x7 with an apology. I don't like calling any girl a "HO" especially if she isn't! But what a to-do over 'YOU PEOPLE' today. It is ridiculous to get offended by being called a person or a member of a group of people to which one belongs for one reason or another. Anyone still pointing fingers is still stuck in the past, to which we all are to one degree or another, as experience relates.

There is much TODAY requiring bonding society. Talk about offensive, take any group requiring a Southern state or the United States to waste legislative time TODAY wringing our hands over LONG GONE ills of yesteryear's society, i.e., slavery. No one stands blameless or at fault for the past. Live in the present and do well.

Slavery was practiced for eons in Africa and around the world, including this hemisphere, tribe against tribe. Since the passing of the 19th and 20th Centuries, slavery no longer enjoys international acceptance; it is no longer internationally tolerated. It's current existence is internationally deplored.

The American Southern States paid dearly with their blood during the Civil War defending State's Rights that unfortunately at the time included the institution of slavery. Women, children and men working in a Yankee baron's factory or mine or rail road during the 19th Century fared no better than working on a decent Southern gentleman's plantation--different but not better. The shedding of so much blood during our war between the states paid whatever price today that anyone would require! Do not forget that State's Rights included many valuable Constitutional standards now lost, another price paid. In losing slavery, we also lost State's rights, and the Federal government has bloated beyond limits.

A decent apology goes a long way. If the "offended" refuse the apology, the fault lays in their own mind. Even without an apology, get over it the best you can and do well.

Posted by trapeze [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 12:38 PM

A few responses:

To Muse Unamused...not sure how slavery impacts this issue but...slavery is most certainly tolerated today on an international basis. Although it is not tolerated IN western countries, it is absolutely tolerated BY western countries. Muslim nations around the world are guilty of it more often than not. http://www.antislavery.org/ And yes, a decent apology goes a long way...where is the apology for all previous instances? Why didn't he apologize the very next day? Why is he apologizing to Sharpton at all? The answer to most of these questions is that Imus is desperately trying to save his meal ticket...pure and simple. That leaves sincerity a distant second in the motivation department.

To krm...there are certainly acceptable ways to criticize the outward appearance of someone...calling them a whore isn't one of them...and MY daughter wouldn't have a tattoo. Calling a man a thug is not the same as, say, calling him a male prostitute.

To Richard...I thought I made it clear that this wasn't about Sharpton, et al. What they have said ( and the entire rap "music" industry have said ) over the years does not excuse this. It isn't (or shouldn't be) a quid pro quo situation. Why hold those idiots up as examples?

Don Imus uses the public air waves (a taxpayer supported medium) to enrich himself at the expense of others. Personally, I think that the FCC has been negligent in enforcing decency standards in regards to the entire rap "music" industry. However, if someone wants to voluntarily purchase that trash it is their business. Imus needs to be sanctioned because of the FCC nature of his business.

Saying that this is OK just because of these other examples of rude, offensive and demeaning speech is not right. All of the conservative talk show hosts that are lining up behind Imus remind me of the Republicans that lined up behind the corrupt William Jefferson (D-La) over his congressional offices being searched by the FBI. Somehow, somewhere the public needs to put its foot down and say, "Enough is enough." This may be that time.

We cannot clean up the hearts and minds of these people and I am not advocating that it be tried. But we, as a society, should stop tolerating purely offensive speech on our public airwaves. We should not want our children to inadvertently hear this kind of speech on the radio and/or television.

Posted by trapeze [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 1:30 PM

Sorry, one final thought...

Reference the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan under "defining deviancy down" in regard to defending this type of free speech.

Here is a link: http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/formans/DefiningDeviancy.htm

Gosh, I miss this kind of Democrat.

Posted by Ron [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 10, 2007 5:09 PM

Captain, let's also not forget that Rush was fired from ESPN for saying only what the sports media would like to see re: “a successful black quarterback". Nothing like what Imus and his pal there said with such a racist tinge. And let’s not forget Trent Lott losing his leadership position over a remark that was not racist and which was made in celebration of a birthday for a fellow senator.

I’m sick of the double standard for liberals (and he is a liberal) vs. conservatives. True conservatives should not let this go until Imus has been relieved of his position at both MSNBC and on the radio. If MSNBC thinks this will go away after 2 weeks, they are sadly mistaken. And I can’t understand why the suspension doesn’t take place for a week. Perhaps they figure that a week’s full of on-air apologies will mitigate this whole affair.