It was the slur heard ‘round the world — but it is the Don Imus fallout which has become a serious question for some of television’s most highly visible journalists.
When the radio talk show host called Rutgers women’s basketball team members “nappy-headed hos” last week, he set off a national firestorm that resulted in his two-week suspension (set to begin next Monday) and a countrywide debate on race relations.
While Imus has spent the past several days apologizing, less noticed has been some internecine conflict taking place under the NBC News umbrella.
Yesterday morning on the Today Show blog, allDAY, Al Roker called for the firings of Imus and his producer, Bernard McGuirk. “I, for one, am really tired of the diatribes, the ‘humor’ at others’ expense, the cruelty that passes for ‘funny,’” Roker writes. “Don Imus isn’t the only one doing this, but today he’s the one in the hot seat. What he said was vile and disgusting. It denigrated an entire team and by extension, a community and its pride in a group that had excelled.”
Clearly, Roker struck a nerve; an editor’s note says responses to his post were overwhelming. Like any good blog debate, they were also varied. “If you don’t like Imus, then watch/listen to something else … Who appointed you, and the likes of Rev. Al and Jesse Jackson as the ‘deciders’ of what is racist?” asks Cindy Feldman, while Cathy Husni writes, “I agree with you Al. I think it is high time that radio personalities take responsibility for their actions regardless of what their skin color is.”
Meantime, Imus had some harsh words for Matt Lauer and Brian Williams on his show Tuesday, according to Chick-A-Boomer: “The reason I’m not going to go on there and debate Al Sharpton and Matt Lauer is because Matt is, for whatever reason, is going to be on Rev. Sharpton’s side, whether he is or not. I thought the report that NBC News last night did and Brian Williams was disgraceful,” Imus said. (Imus did go on Today, where Sharpton again asked him to resign.)
And Imus’s guests, many of them journalists, are facing a dilemma, as the Washington Post reports. Bob Schieffer of CBS News said his friendship with Imus will withstand the controversy. “If it were anyone else, I wouldn’t have anything to do with them,” he said. “But I’m not going to sever a relationship with someone who has apologized for what he said.”
A story in today’s Newsday acknowledged that though all three network evening newscasts led with the Imus story Tuesday, they left unsaid whether their journalists would appear again on his show.
CBS’s Andy Rooney — “a frequent Imus guest who was suspended by CBS nearly 20 years ago for making a homophobic remark” — told Newsday this on the Imus situation: “It was a dumb thing he said I don’t think it was vicious and he genuinely wishes he hadn’t said it. It was really stupid of him to say, but I can’t condemn him.” Chuckling, Rooney added, “I would go back [on the show] if he asked me — sure — but I hope he doesn’t ask me.”
But back to Al, who today wrote a rousing reply to all the “passionate responses” he got following yesterday’s post. To those who complained that he was denying Imus freedom of speech, Roker writes, “Far from it. Don Imus has the right to say whatever he wants, however hateful, stupid or uncaring. He DOES NOT have the right to say it on public airwaves or on the cable broadcast of a publicly owned company. That is a privilege, just as you do not have the right to have a license to drive a car.”
Christina Hernandez is a CJR intern.
“Don Imus broadcasts under the NBC News banner via MSNBC. This is a reflection of my company,” Roker adds. “I won’t stand for the idea that someone who has the privilege of working under the aegis of NBC News could damage this organization with the taint of racism and sexism.”