Ifill v. Imus

April 10, 2007 by susan
Gwen Ifill

The I's Have At It

by susan
Can we take a brief moment to look at Gwen Ifill's op-ed today in the NYTimes? Like Ifill, I have never heard Imus, unless he's making the news for offending someone else. My understanding is that he's a so-called shock jock, handing out kudos and knee-breaks as he sees fit, without any adherence to right or left ideology. He has a face made for radio, as they say, with an odd aura of the sepulcher to it. But that would be judging him on appearance, which would be unfair.
So let's look at his words, which wouldn't be.

As Ifill writes, and others have noted, Imus has been at this sort of insult for a long time. As when Ifill was covering the Clinton White House for the NYTimes, and Imus is quoted as saying, "Isn't the Times wonderful -- It's letting the cleaning lady cover the White House." Clarence Page, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, who is African American, says he got Imus to take the pledge to stop racial insults a decade ago, but apparently he's back-sliding. And, according to Page, he hasn't been asked on the show since.

So, is this just another case of a mote in the eye of PC liberals who are getting their dander up over nothing more than a little friendly jab, or at worst, a tasteless gaffe?

Well, first of all, no. There's a pattern here. And second of all, I'm sick of it all, so stop it already. Who are we as a nation if these are the people we listen to day after day, and pay them the big bucks to be rude and crude? What does it say about our taste, our (egad) values if adults find this sort of banter amusing? And what is it teaching kids who hear it as well?

OPN (Old Person Nostalgia) alert. Radio in my day, children, was mostly men -- except for the soaps -- and mostly boring. But there was not this culture of insult, racial or otherwise, that thrives today. (Okay, the Amos and Andy show was, um, not radio of yesteryear's finest moment.) It's as if whole chunks of the population have refused to grow up, and are stuck in a rebellious junior high mode, complete with taunts and sexual innuendo most of us got sick of after a few bad years on the school bus.

But this latest thigh-slapper of Imus's, calling a winning and much admired women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy headed ho's" goes beyond the usual locker room idiocy of puerile men doing stupid things. Those words don't just form and tumble out without years of a mindset -- and a culture -- that allows the thoughts behind them to exist. Whitefolks like Imus just can't seem to see blackfolks through a lens that isn't clouded by sexuality and stereotype. The "nappy-headed" part of this insult speaks of his revolting racism, but the "ho" part speaks of his sickening sexism, with a vulgar racial twist.

Yeah, we've come a long way baby, and things are better, which is why we have articulate and smart women like Ifill -- and the phenomenon of Oprah -- doing the work they're doing. And, far as I can tell, with enormous grace and generosity of spirit as they do it. Oprah trashed James Frey into a Million Little Pieces for writing a lie of a memoir, but that's about as nasty as she gets.

They understand, as Imus and his ilk apparently don't, their responsibility towards building a better, more civil world, where hope supplants cynicism, and approval -- rightly earned -- supplants insult.

As Ifill writes, "This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field. Let's see if we can manage to build them up and reward them, rather than opting for the cheapest, easiest, most despicable shots."

Amen. Meanwhile, it's time for NBC news and CBS radio to can Imus permanently and allow him to sit silently in eternity's waiting room with his own sorry thoughts. A two week suspension is meaningless in the face of the hurt he has consistently caused, no matter how many apologies he now offers.

Posted in


Anonymous (not verified) | April 10, 2007 - 3:13pm

Thanks for writing this; I too was moved and impressed by her op ed .
As you and she point out, it's not so much about who Imus is and what he says, but who we are that we buy and listen to such stuff.
Grow up America; sharpen you wits. There are so many ways to laugh and be funny without sitting in the sewer of racial degradation.


leftymn (not verified) | April 10, 2007 - 4:09pm

I fall into the camp of those who believe Imus should not be fired, but that the viewer/listener has the ability to simply switch the channel, let the advertisers decide... also though it does not diminish the coarseness or despicable nature of the Imus comments, Ifari Hutchinson, an African American conservative writer has an interesting post at Huffington Post also asking Americans and African Americans to make rap artists accountable for the same despicable culture of disparagement of women that is widely popular among a large portion of young America.
Worth taking a look at Huffingtonpost.com


susan | April 10, 2007 - 7:57pm

Hey Lefty, that's a good point about the rapsters and comics who also promote this kind of demeaning view of women. As Hutchinson writes on the HuffPost, "The black rap shock jocks . . . made Imus possible. They gave him the rappers' bad housekeeping seal of approval to bash and trash black women. In many ways, their artistic degradation has had even more damaging consequences for young black women." And he quotes the horrifying stats of black-on-black violence against women.
Amen. I've been yelping about this for years, after channel-surfing one afternoon when we first got cable TV, and discovering BET. In mid-afternoon, post school-time viewing, nearly every rap video it played featured simulated sex acts of a not very creative nor loving sort, with a leaden overlay of male ownership, yeah, pretty much pimp to ho.
Yet whenever I proposed writing about it or making a commotion of some sort, I was advised by those of my chattering class that as a white woman, I shouldn't touch a topic that was so culturally loaded. Talk about the bigotry of low expectations! We're supposed to tip-toe around a topic that encourages violence against women because it's "their" culture? I don't think so. But I couldn't get any traction. And most people had never seen it, and thought I was just giving in to my inner prig.

That said, I think there is a difference in the sordid misogyny of what much of rap is all about and what Imus did. By referring to a specific group of women, he personalized it. I keep trying to imagine what I would be feeling right now if one of those young women were my daughter, or if I was their coach. Even though they're not, and I'm not, seeing them tonight on the News Hour made me cry, and it was oddly reminiscent of the way I felt watching Anita Hill speak truth to power about Clarence Thomas, lo those many years ago. (Kids, go look it up.)

Watching Imus making his now infamous remark, I almost get the feeling he was pathetically trying to be hip, like the teenage boy who wears billowing jeans slung well below his skinny keister, or the white guy who calls his ritzy neighborhood "the 'hood".

But please, he's an experienced and highly paid public figure, who by now should have learned the difference between provocation and personal insult.

And then there's the bigger question indeed, about what sort of culture clamors to see its most insulting and demeaning behavior writ large and glamorized? But that's for another day.


Babs (not verified) | April 10, 2007 - 7:58pm

When I was raising kids (do we ever really stop?), the conventional wisdom was that a severely needy child would do almost anything to get attention, and if that meant doing something obnoxious or sometimes even illegal, so be it. Bad attention was purportedly better than no attention at all.

If that's true, it explains a lot about Imus and Junior and Randy Moss and Britney and Anna (RIP), Peter Pan, the Joker, et al.

We have your basic chickie/eggie thing here, don't we? I keep hearing that radio and TV and films give the public what it wants. Is that really true, do you think? Does Imus meet a need or desire amongst his listeners? And that need would be . . . ???


susan | April 10, 2007 - 8:10pm

Dunno. Never heard him before now. I get the feeling that he's the raspy-voiced tough-guy with heart. Talks trash, but builds cancer centers for kids. Speaks his mind, pulls no punches, but underneath he's all about character and independence and all the thangs that made this country great. And I'm making that all up. I have no idea.


Anonymous (not verified) | April 11, 2007 - 8:34am

He's a lefty-Can him!


Anonymous (not verified) | April 14, 2007 - 8:30am

Sorry I'm late commenting here, but for anyone who believes Imus was treated harshly, go to Media Matters for America online and listen to and read what Imus and his two vulgar (understatement) hench had to say about Jill Carroll, the Journalist who was kidnapped and subsequently released in Iraq. It's one of the most shocking things I've come across.
How extraordinary that I have a place to write this! Thanks.


Anonymous (not verified) | April 14, 2007 - 9:35am

"Media Matters" ? Now there is an Unbiased source!! NOT


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Anonymous (not verified) | April 14, 2007 - 10:05am

For almost forty years I smoked; not alot, but socially, which is a euphemism, I guess, for when I drank. It was fortunately never quite an addiction for me, and yet........I loved to do it. And as the years went on, and smoking became more and more frowned upon, there was something more and more compelling about it. It occurs to me: It was the shock value. "Where are you going?" my dinner companions would ask. "To smoke" I'd reply, with a sassy little smirk. "Aw, c'mon, WHY? It's poison!" "Yeah, so I hear" I'd reply, more little smirks. And then out on the stoop there'd be a little gaggle of fellow poisoners, sharing that burst of light-up fire, tittering together, we few, we happy few, bonding over our evil habit.
And then one day, almost aged 60, I said to myself, ya know what? Grow up. This isn't funny or cute. It's deadly; it's toxic. It hurts you. It hurts those around you. Just stop it.
I won't go into the reasons I finally "grew up" but the point is, I did, and I quit. Easily. Yes, from time to time, I still mourn that free devilish little self that said "screw reason, screw health, screw life - I'll do what I please". But overall, my life is better now for having grown up and quit.
I write this because it occurred to me last week, as the Imus saga unfolded, and having read Susan's Imus post, that maybe something similar has happened to us with regard to the "shock jock" genre. Yes, I'm as irreverent as anyone. Maybe more than most. There's something titilating about using those "no no" words, something devilishly fun about verbal play with the toxicity of hurting people, behind their backs, of course. And if you laugh, and get a laugh, well, everyone knows it's just a joke. And by the way it's only done with our politically correct peers; we'd never say those words in front of a real racist, or sexist. Imus went too far; with the help of Gwen Ifill, and others, we shook ourselves awake, commentators, staffers at the networks, advertisers and finally the networks themselves. No more room for Imus humor in our lives.
As Susan put it, early in the week, "enough, already. Just stop it." Grow up, America, grow up, me. The world has too much toxicity already to allow those of us who know better to indulge in hurtful, poisonous "humor" It ain't funny anymore, if it ever was. And neither is smoking. I quit, both.


susan | April 15, 2007 - 12:43am

Hey, I love this. Right on. There's hypocrisy crusted all over the Imus flap, in that there are plenty of other toxic blabbermouths being paid to insult and demean, but maybe this is a healthy first step. I'm glad you quit -- wish more would join you.


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