In an April 11 editorial about nationally syndicated radio host Don Imus' use of the term "nappy-headed hos" to describe the Rutgers University women's basketball team, the Rocky Mountain News downplayed the racially charged remark as part of the show's "traditional coarse frat-boy humor." In addition to ignoring Imus' history of inflammatory comments, the News sought to shift the focus to the use of such language in pop culture.
An April 11 Rocky Mountain News editorial on the controversy over radio personality Don Imus' reference to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" downplayed Imus' documented history of racist and sexist commentary as the show's "traditional coarse frat-boy humor" -- which it misleadingly asserted the show "has been slowly getting away from." The News also compared Imus' remark to what it called the "more serious issue" of the use of such language in popular culture, particularly in rap music, echoing Imus' own defense that the racial slur he used "originated in the black community."
From the editorial "Imus in the Wringer: His comment highlights an even more serious issue," in the April 11 edition of the Rocky Mountain News:
You can be sure that a controversy over an outrageous talk show host has spun completely out of control when a White House spokeswoman is asked about the president's opinion of it.
Spokeswoman Dana Perino wisely sidestepped the question of whether a two-week suspension was appropriate for Don Imus, saying that was up to his employer.
She's right, of course, but make no mistake: When Imus offhandedly referred to the successful Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos," it was indeed, as has been widely pointed out, racist and misogynist and also, as has been less widely noted, gratuitously cruel. These young women were demeaned after reaching the championship game, and they had no meaningful way of striking back, unlike most of Imus' other targets.
It was one of those peculiar instances that could have been a passing boorish outrage but somehow struck a national nerve. Imus made the remark last Wednesday, dismissed it as lame humor on Thursday, apologized on Friday, spent the weekend on damage control and, on Monday, was doing the now-familiar apology tour of the contrite celebrity.
The irony is that the Imus show had been slowly getting away from its traditional coarse frat-boy humor and more into biting commentary on politics and the media, and the ratings kept improving as he did. The host asked politicians, journalists and authors blunt and needling questions -- and then gave them time to answer. It was often a refreshing contrast with the morning fluff on the broadcast networks -- although not always, of course, as his comment on the Rutgers team made clear.
As Media Matters for America has extensively documented, Imus' April 4 remark was not just "coarse frat-boy humor," but part of a lengthy history of racially offensive and inflammatory comments that has continued in recent months. For instance, Imus on February 8 told Bill Richardson, the Mexican-American governor of New Mexico, to "besa mi culo," which loosely translates to "kiss my ass." Imus' executive producer, Bernard McGuirk, suggested on the March 6 broadcast that that "bitch" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) would pander to African-Americans by wearing "cornrows and gold teeth." And as the Forward newspaper reported in a December 8, 2006, online article, Imus during his November 30 broadcast referred to the "Jewish management" of CBS Radio as "money-grubbing bastards."
Additionally, as noted in a July 18, 2000, article in The Village Voice, Imus referred to former Defense Secretary William Cohen as "the Mandingo" and to Cohen's African-American wife as "a ho." As The Boston Globe noted in a March 27, 2004, article, " 'Mandingo' is also the title of a 1975 movie in which a black male slave is paired intimately with a white female slave master." That article reported that frequent Imus guest Mike Barnicle had apologized for similarly using the term on his own radio show to refer to Cohen's wife, Janet Langhart. The Village Voice article described other racially charged insults that Imus has made about specific individuals:
The muckraker Philip Nobile has been tracking Imus's racist rap in a series for the webzine tompaine.com. When you take this patter out of laff-riot context, it's strikingly similar to the drollery of David Duke. Imus and his buds have called O.J.'s lead attorney "chicken wing Johnny Cochran," Sammy Davis Jr. "a one-eyed lawn jockey," Patrick Ewing "Mighty Joe Young," Defense Secretary William Cohen "the Mandingo," and his black wife "a 'ho."
In an appearance on the April 9 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, Cohen noted that "at one point when we married -- they played 'Jungle Fever' " on Imus in the Morning and that Langhart "was referred to as 'brown sugar' " on the show.
A May 26, 2000, article in The Washington Post (accessed through the Nexis database) similarly reported that "sometime around 1995, when the New York Times hired African-American journalist Gwen Ifill to cover the White House, Imus reportedly said: 'Isn't the Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.' " The article further stated that Imus "doesn't deny the Ifill comment, but says he can't find a record of it," and added, "Whether he said it or not, Imus apologized to Ifill on the air after he was criticized."
On the April 10 edition of Imus in the Morning, Imus asserted, "I never said anything about Gwen Ifill. This was a comedy routine where we make up the news which we've been doing since 1968 on the radio." Later in the program, Imus said "it was intended to reflect the absurd philosophy we perceived of, I guess it was the Reagan administration -- not that we thought the Reagan administration was a bunch of racists, that's not the point." On the April 9 edition of the program, Imus said that "I did not say that, and obviously there are ways to check that. I didn't say that."
Furthermore, on the July 19, 1998, broadcast of CBS News' 60 Minutes, Imus reportedly admitted to reporter Mike Wallace that McGuirk was on his show "to do 'nigger' jokes" and admitted to using the word "nigger" himself.
MIKE WALLACE: You told Tom ANDERSON, the producer, in your car coming home that Bernard McGuirk is there to do "nigger" jokes.
DON IMUS: Well I've n -- I never use that word.
MIKE WALLACE: Tom?
TOM ANDERSON: I'm right here.
DON IMUS: Did I use that word?
TOM ANDERSON: I recall you using that word.
DON IMUS: Oh, okay, well then I used that word, but I mean -- of course that was an off the record conversation -- [LAUGHTER]
MIKE WALLACE: The hell it was!
In contrast to the News, an April 11 editorial in The Denver Post stated, "For nearly 40 years, Don Imus has built a successful broadcast career of acid entertainment, filling the air with chatter of current affairs and sports. Too often, he's indulged himself with abrasive snits and racially charged commentary." The Post editorial (an online version appeared April 10) further noted, "His schtick often includes making fun of racism by pretending to be racist. He and his cast routinely denigrate women, religion, overweight people and, most certainly, racial groups."
In addition to downplaying Imus' history of inflammatory comments, the News also attempted to shift the focus of the controversy from Imus' racist remarks to the "bilge that can be found" in popular rap music:
The flap also spotlights one other issue. As John McWhorter, a black scholar with the Manhattan Institute, wrote this week, "Where, after all, did Imus pick up the very terminology he used? Rap music and the language young black people use themselves on the street to refer to one another." The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who are leading the clamor for Imus' head, might ask themselves how the depiction of women as "hos" penetrated far enough into the popular culture that a 66-year-old white male would use it as a casual reference.
On a nearby page in this section, Michelle Malkin gives readers a taste of the sort of bilge that can be found right this minute in songs atop the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart. Surely that is a far bigger issue than Imus' continued employment. Do Jackson and Sharpton plan to target these purveyors of vile misogyny and human debasement, too? If so, it would do more for the culture than merely forcing Imus off the air.
The News' observation about the language in rap music echoes Imus' own defense, noted by Media Matters, that the slur he used "originated in the black community." He stated: "I may be a white man, but I know that ... young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected ... by their own black men and that they are called that name." As Media Matters noted, Rev. Al Sharpton objected to this defense, saying, "We have said that we are against the degrading that is done even by blacks. ... Wherever he says this originated from does not give him the right to use it."