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Referring to host Don Imus' April 4 comments on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning -- in which the radio host referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" -- and the controversy that ensued, former* Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant began his appearance on the April 9 edition of Imus in the Morning by stating: "Good morning, Mr. Imus, and solidarity forever, by the way." Oliphant also referred to political pundits like himself who appear on the show as Imus' "constituency."
During the interview, Oliphant related a discussion he had with New York Times reporter David Carr, who wrote an April 7 article about the controversy, saying that Carr "calls up, and the first question he asks me is, 'Are you thinking about not appearing on Imus?' And for once in my life, I answered a direct question with a direct answer. I said, 'No, I'm not.' " Oliphant described Carr's questions as "a cute little trick to see if your constituency would falter" and said he was "very happy to say no." Oliphant also said that "those journalistic giants at Fox News are wondering how your regular posse could possibly appear, and the answer is, 'It's simple: We know you.' "
While purporting to "know" Imus, Oliphant apparently disregarded Imus' history and that of his executive producer, Bernard McGuirk -- as well as frequent guest and former Imus sportscaster Sid Rosenberg -- of making racially insensitive and incendiary remarks, which Media Matters for America has extensively documented.
Later in his appearance, Oliphant asserted, "I don't know beans about hip-hop culture or trash-talking, or what do you call those things where you run on forever? Riffs, or whatever. But even I could see the beginning of what appeared to me to be a riff. And the train went off the tracks, which, you know, can happen to anybody." Oliphant added that "what counts when the train goes off the tracks is what you then do." Oliphant's train-off-the-tracks comment echoed remarks earlier in the program by Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman, who said of Imus' show, "[T]he form of humor that you do here is risky, and sometimes it runs off the rails."
Oliphant concluded his appearance by restating, "[T]hose of us who, through an accident, were scheduled [to be on the April 9 broadcast], who know better, have a moral obligation to stand up and say to you, 'Solidarity forever, pal.' "
From the April 9 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:
IMUS: Good morning, Mr. Oliphant.
OLIPHANT: Good morning, Mr. Imus, and solidarity forever, by the way.
IMUS: Thank you.
OLIPHANT: That's pretty easy. You know, I don't know if you know this, but yesterday, The New York Times tried to put me and [Newsweek assistant managing editor] Evan Thomas -- who was on earlier -- on the spot. Did you know that?
IMUS: No, sir.
OLIPHANT: This guy -- David Carr, who writes a pretty good media column on Mondays --
OLIPHANT: -- calls up, and the first question he asks me is, "Are you thinking about not appearing on Imus?" And for once in my life, I answered a direct question with a direct answer. I said, "No, I'm not." And he says, "Well, why not?" And I said, "Because, being the world's most boring person, I had taken the trouble to go all the way though this episode from about two minutes before you said what you said last Wednesday, and then all the way through the statement you made spontaneously on Thursday and then the more prepared one you made on Friday, and I said that's it. That took care of it as far as I'm concerned."
And -- but it was a cute little trick to see if your constituency would falter, and I was very happy to say no.
IMUS: Well, I appreciate that. I don't think your loyalty is misguided or that I am --
IMUS: -- unworthy of it, but I do.
OLIPHANT: Well, you know, one of the things that you're condemned to do in my racket is if you know something in a situation like this, you have a moral obligation to say so. And this is one of those occasions where, as you said earlier, fairness and accuracy and context matter. And what -- for what it's worth, what I really appreciated was the fact that, No. 1, you understood how important it was to get across to those wonderful athletes on the Rutgers basketball team what was really in your heart.
And secondly, I have this understanding that you understand the really dangerous moment in these episodes. And, you know, I'm thinking of, you know, an 8-year-old black kid being driven to school by his dad or mom who hears this and wonders what he just heard. And it's in that initial hurt that all these problems begin to show up.
And so what I told David Carr was I didn't think for a second like that. You should also know that your -- our good friends, those journalistic giants at Fox News, are wondering how your regular posse could possibly appear, and the answer is, "It's simple: We know you."
OLIPHANT: What I thought would be instructive for people is to go back on the tape to a minute or so before this happens and see if you can see it developing. Now, believe me, as you well know, I don't know beans about hip-hop culture or trash-talking, or what do you call those things where you run on forever? Riffs, or whatever.
But even I could see the beginning of what appeared to me to be a riff. And the train went off the tracks, which, you know, can happen to anybody. And, of course, what counts when the train goes off the tracks is what you then do. And that's why I, you know, didn't have a moment's hesitation talking to this guy from The New York Times yesterday. Of course I didn't think about reacting like that because I saw the whole episode in context, including your statements about it.
IMUS: A lot of friends of mine called, but I didn't want to put up -- put anybody on this morning who wasn't scheduled, because I can make my own case, and it is what it is.
OLIPHANT: But to me, that only means that those of us who, through an accident, were scheduled, who know better, have a moral obligation to stand up and say to you, "Solidarity forever, pal."
IMUS: Thank you, Tom.