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The hidden victim of the Imus scandal

Mike Folger | Monday, April 16, 2007

Thursday was a watershed moment in the world of radio. Don Imus, nationally syndicated host of the Imus in the Morning Show, was fired Thursday over the racial slurs that he made toward the Rutgers women’s basketball team. The comment, which referred to the women as “nappy haired hos,” was appalling and bigoted. The women of Rutgers basketball have been victimized by this remark and the pain inflicted should not be trivialized.

The other, less obvious victim of this scandal is the American public. Imus’ actions warranted punishment and political fallout, and normally I would be satisfied that both have occurred. CBS and MSNBC removed Imus, and politicians including Barack Obama and Harold Ford (politicians, I might add, that Imus vigorously supported in their bids for office) have refused to ever appear on his show. I wonder, however, if this fallout is genuine.

If the parties believed the moral choice was to dissociate themselves with Imus, what took so long? Where were they the day after the incident? The fallout for Imus didn’t begin until five days after the comments were made, far longer than it takes to make such decisions. This belated response from all parties is not coincidental. There was not a genuine reaction to Imus, but companies and politicians simply pandered to the American public.

All of those “shocked and outraged” now knew the reputation of the Imus show. For years the program has made comments far more racist and offensive than the ones made about the Rutgers basketball team. The show has a running impersonation of Cardinal Egan, the Archbishop of New York, that slurs Catholics as racist, homophobic and bigoted. Jewish people were also called “thieving Jews” and “Christ killers.” In reference to Serena Williams suggesting she might appear on the cover of Playboy, another cast member responded, “More like the cover of National Geographic” (yet another Best of Imus segment). They even went as far as to refer to Martin Luther King Day as James Earl Ray Day (his assassinator).

Apparently CBS, NBC, Obama and Ford could face this bigotry, but Rutgers’ comment has crossed the line. Has it really? Or has the public been victimized by the self serving hypocrisy of politicians and the media? Once this issue became polarized, many seized the opportunity to condemn the man whose controversial style they supported.

What is sad about this event is that instead of engaging in a serious debate about racism and stereotypes, the American public will have to settle for holier than thou companies and politicians on their soap boxes deriding the racism they profited from until it became inconvenient. Imus never hid what he was. He was a controversial and sometimes racially offensive figure. His show was about making money and helping lead the fight against cancer and autism. If only all the other parties could be as candid with their agendas, perhaps real issues on race would be addressed.

Mike Folger


Zahm Hall

April 16