Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hot Air Vipers

Unless you’ve been living in a wilderness cave, you’ve heard that radio and television personality Don Imus, recently lost his job for making racist and sexist comments about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team. There has been something of a national discussion going on ever since. Some folks think that Imus made a “mistake” and his apology should be enough. Imus certainly did make a mistake in calling those young women “nappy headed ho’s” – but it wasn’t a one time event. Don Imus has been polluting the airwaves with sexist and racist commentary for the last 30 years. He just happened to go too far this time.

Imus once referred to respected African American journalist Gwen Ifill as “a cleaning lady,” when she worked at the NY Times. He called the paper’s sports writer, William C. Rodhen a “quota hire.” He once called tennis player Amelie Mauresmo “a big old lesbo.” The people who appeared regularly on his show were not immune. He called Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz a “boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jew boy,” and frequently accused NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory of being “drunk or queer.”

A mere apology was unlikely to teach Mr. Imus a lesson. In 2001, Imus fired sportscaster Sy Rosenberg from his show for calling tennis star Venus Williams “an animal” and saying that she and her sister Serena had a better chance of posing nude for National Geographic than Playboy. At the time, Imus called Rosenberg a “moron” and a degenerate.” After Rosenberg apologized, Imus rehired him. Apparently there was no lasting lesson learned from that incident – because 6 years later Imus was the one making moronic comments.

What happened? Why the outrage? Why, after 30 years of insult, did the public suddenly care? I believe there are two parts to that answer. Imus insulted the wealthy, the famous, and the powerful – and he was allowed to get away with it. Many people who ought to know better were guests on his show. It was like a high school clique – where everyone wants to be friends with the popular kid, even though he/she is mean, because in spite of the mean, they’re the cool kids. When Imus tried using the white version of homeboy slang on a women’s basketball team – young women who aren’t rich and powerful, just fine athletes, and smart, dignified women – he went too far. Abusing the powerless from his lofty corporate media pulpit proved one racist/sexist statement too many for Imus.

The second part has been building for a long time. Most of the people in this country are sick to death of the nasty, divisive crap spewed on the airwaves. We are sick of the ugliness of our national discourse – whether it’s radio, television, or politics. I heard that repeatedly during the 2006 elections from folks all over the state. It may be that we the people have reached a near saturation point after years of Imus, Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck, Savage, O’Reilly, Boortz, and the rest of the hot air vipers. This could be a window of opportunity – the first step in bringing back some civility. Make no mistake - Imus is hardly the only offender. The African American community needs to take the young misogynist rappers in hand, and impart to them the error of their ways. That, however, is a different discussion and one for a different day.

Sexism and racism are staples of conservative talk radio. In 2005, radio personality Glen Beck called the Katrina survivors who didn’t evacuate from New Orleans, “scumbags.” On May 17 that same year, he also announced he was thinking about killing Michael Moore. On March 31, 2006, Neal Boortz said that US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s “new hair-do” made her look “like a ghetto slut,” “an explosion at a Brillo-Pad factory,” and “like Tina Turner peeing on an electric fence.” On October 21, 2005, Boortz suggested that a Katrina survivor living in an Atlanta hotel turn to prostitution. “It beats the hell out of sucking off of the taxpayers,” he said.

On March 2 of this year, hot air balloon Rush Limbaugh discussed Senator Barak Obama on his nationally syndicated show. He said, “Since Obama has – on his mother’s side – forbears of his mother had slaves, could we not say that if Obama wins the Democratic nomination and then wins the presidency he will own Al Sharpton?” On March 1, 2005, Limbaugh opined, “women live longer than men because their lives are easier.” In April 2005, he announced, “women actually wish for sexual harassment.” I think that might be a case of transference, Mr. Limbaugh.

On April 6, on his nationally syndicated radio show, Bill O’Reilly said that Virginia Beach mayor Meyera Oberndorf “should be baking pies, not running a major city.” On June 11, 2004, he told his then co-host Lis Wiehl that she was on his show “because you’re good looking, so I got somebody to look over” while on the air.

There are endless quotes showing the contempt that these men have for women, and people of color. Now, before the defenders of free speech get all bunched up and head to the keyboards, I’m not suggesting that these idiots don’t have the right to free speech. They absolutely do. But we the people who “own” the public airwaves also have rights. We have the right to insist on a higher level of discourse.

There is one more way to look at this situation – one that many of you should agree with. Don Imus was a product. The market forces (i.e. the public) determined that they were no longer interested in this product. The advertisers learned that the product was no longer viable in the marketplace, so the product was removed from the shelves. In short, a veritable triumph of capitalism, and the free market system.

“Live by the shock – die by the shock.” Bob Edwards, speaking of Don Imus

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