Don Imus should have been fired years ago. He was a radio host whose sheer inarticulateness may have been even more shocking than his purposeful crudity; an alleged humorist who had said nothing memorable or funny since the dawn of the Clinton era if not earlier.
Anything on his show that was even remotely amusing invariably came from his guests or sidekicks; by the end of his run, Imus had become a pathetic echo chamber for those sitting next to him in the studio or checking in by phone. (Ironically, the very episode that caused his downfall began with a racial crack about the Rutgers women’s basketball team by one of his longtime stooges, with the unoriginal Imus merely repeating the offending phrase and adding a couple of words of his own to help seal his own demise.)
That said, his firing at this time and for this reason served only to further elevate the image and reputation of two men who in a saner, more judicious media environment would be shunned as a couple of pernicious race hustlers. Unlike Imus, neither Al Sharpton nor Jesse Jackson can be fired, their precise means of livelihood one of life’s more perplexing mysteries. But their influence would be a shell of what it is if the media hadn’t been so accommodating of them throughout their public careers.
The latest example of that accommodation occurred, rather fortuitously, at the same time the Imus saga was playing itself out. The North Carolina attorney general dropped all charges against the white Duke lacrosse players whose names had been dragged through the mud for a year after they’d been accused of rape by a young black woman. Sharpton, and even more so Jackson, had made statements that were strongly supportive of the accuser and that appeared to presume guilt on the part of the accused.
There’s not a journalist alive who believes Jackson or Sharpton would have evinced even a whit of interest in the case if the accuser and the accused had been of the same race, or that they would have lent moral support to the accuser had she been a white woman making a similar accusation against a group of black students. But mainstream journalists, with a couple of exceptions, once again gave the pair a free pass.
And how about a hand for the most craven performance by a network executive in recent memory? Leslie Moonves, come on down!
After waiting several days to ascertain which way the political and advertising winds were blowing, Moonves, president and CEO of CBS (Imus’s program was carried nationally by CBS Radio) announced a two-week suspension for Imus – but within 48 hours, as more advertisers cut their ties with Imus and MSNBC canceled its simulcast of his show, decided to fire him outright.
Imus, Moonves righteously intoned, “has flourished in a culture that permits a certain level of objectionable expression that hurts and demeans a wide range of people. In taking him off the air, I believe we take an important and necessary step not just in solving a unique problem, but in changing that culture, which extends far beyond the walls of our Company.”
Left unsaid was the five-year contract Imus had recently signed – Moonves’s concern about “changing that culture” was apparently non-existent before advertisers began fleeing Imus en masse – as well as the not insignificant role played by CBS and parent company Viacom in the spread of the very culture Moonves would now have us believe he laments.
Getting back to Jackson, it seems the only concession the media ever make to his long history of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks is a seemingly obligatory mention of his 1984 “Hymietown” statement. Highlighting “Hymietown” and ignoring Jackson’s other, considerably more incendiary words about Jews is yet one more way journalists treat Jackson with kid gloves.
Incendiary words such as “I am sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust”; “Zionism is a poisonous weed that is choking Judaism”; “One who does not think that Arafat is a true hero does not read the situation correctly”; “When it came to the division of power we did not get from the Jews the slice of cake we deserved … the Jews do not share with us control of wealth, broadcasting stations and other centers of power”; Democrats who support Israel do so because of “the Jewish element in the party…[it’s] a kind of glorified form of bribery.”
There’s more, of course, but one can understand why reporters fearful of appearing too harsh on Jackson content themselves with a quick reference to the relatively innocuous “Hymietown” statement before beating a hasty retreat.