In more than three decades in radio, Don Imus has pushed the envelope with sexist, homophobic and racist remarks that more than once got him into hot water. But his politically incorrect satire has been tempered by an intellectual and considerate side: He runs a camp for sick kids, cares about politics and has an eye for books that can catapult them onto the best-seller list. That combination of irreverence and seriousness is why fans tune in, why CBS Radio syndicates and MSNBC simulcasts his show, and why A-list political and media guests often have a few minutes to spare for the “I-Man.
” Now the 66-year-old Imus finds himself on a new playing field in the wake of fury over his calling players on the Rutgers University championship women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos” last week. Experts say that the uproar, which led to a two-week suspension of Imus starting April 16 (because of charity broadcasts scheduled for this week), indicates that watchdogs, aided by the Internet, are shifting the boundaries for radio and television personalities.
“Before the Internet and the blogs, if the mainstream media didn’t call you accountable, the tree fell in the forest and no one heard it,” said Boston University journalism professor Tobe Berkovitz. “I’m having a hard time understanding where Don Imus’ comments have anything to do with the 19th or 20th century,” said Richard Levick, a Washington, D. C. , crisis strategist. “They are remarkably archaic in their racism and sexism. ” Critics were not satisfied by the network sanctions.
“This appears to be nothing more than an effort by NBC News and CBS Radio to make the controversy go away,” said Karl Frisch, spokesman for Media Matters for America, which originally called attention to Imus’ remarks on mediamatters. org Wednesday. “They must take responsibility for continuing to air Don Imus after years of similarly bigoted language. ” Meanwhile, Imus’ high-profile political and media regulars are under pressure to quit chatting on the air with a man whose comments the Rev. Al Sharpton called “abominable” and “racist” and whose actions prompted the Rev.
Jesse Jackson to protest Monday outside NBC in Chicago. It is unclear whether Monday’s sanction will dampen that drumbeat. Imus’ allies began to come forward as CBS and MSNBC executives huddled separately before announcing their suspension of one of radio’s original shock jocks. Two Republican presidential contenders, Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, said they accepted Imus’ apology and would return as guests on his program. “He has apologized,” McCain said. “He said that he’s deeply sorry. I’m a great believer in redemption.
Whether he needs to do more in order to satisfy the concerns of people like the members of that team, that’s something that’s between him and them. I’ve certainly made many mistakes in my life, and I’ve apologized, and most people have accepted that apology. ” Said Huckabee: “He’s continued to have me on his show when I said stupid things. What Imus said was wrong, but he seems genuinely sorry. He’s certainly not the first celebrity to put his foot in his mouth — and he won’t be the last. ” But Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama said Monday, “The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds.
With a public platform comes a trust. As far as I’m concerned, he violated that trust. ” And Bob Steele, who teaches ethics to journalists at the Poynter Institute, said it is “unwise for journalists to go on his program. It not only condones his behavior but gives a level of credibility to him and his program. ” He says Imus does talk “about substantive issues, which is why politicians and journalists go on. But you have to look at the whole picture. You can’t just look at one corner and say, ‘Yeah, he talks about good issues,’ and ignore the serious problems. “
Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says the incident is bound to affect Imus’ long-term future. “Imus has always had it both ways. He can be quite lowbrow and off-color. He can seem like the everyman political analyst, non-ideological but incisive. Political and media people crave his imprimatur precisely because they want to appeal to his audience. “If Imus cleans up his act and goes into anger management or rehab like a damaged comedian or actor, it may annoy his audience base that like him precisely because he goes right up to the edge. ” http://www. usatoday. com/life/people/2007-04-09-imus-analysis_N. htm