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Debating Don Imus: Should He Get His Job Back? And Who Gets to Debate the Question?



Donimus I generally get along with Mike James, the guy who runs the TV news-centric Web site NewsBlues. But one place we part company is on issues of race.

James seems to think that black folks in media who complain about racism mostly use the charge to seek special treatment, and he devotes considerable space on NewsBlues to stories which seem to illustrate that fact. As somebody who thinks much of TV news is not particularly friendly to people of color -- black women can't even wear their hair in a natural state on most TV newscasts -- I wind up disagreeing with him often. Like yesterday.

In a blurb titled "hate mongers," James railed against "the eternally-outraged National Association of Black Journalists" which issued a statement criticizing news that radio personality Don Imus might return to the airwaves soon as Dec. 1, just six months after losing his job for calling women on the Rutgers University basketball team "nappy headed hos." "Shouldn't "journalists" aspire to neutrality...regardless of skin color?" James wrote. "Not so with the NABJ, which, by its very definition, promotes exclusivity and encourages separatism. It is built on entitlement and discrimination...not journalism."Nabj

To no one's surprise I disagree. I think the NABJ's stance is based on our commitment to rooting out institutional racism wherever it lies in journalism. Don Imus had a long history of deploying humor based on racist notions -- MSNBC recently had to apologize to Arab groups and gay groups for some of his more awful jokes -- and the group thinks a six month vacation, $20-million payday and new radio forum is hardly punishment enough for all the ills he's espoused on his show.

Talking about this has been easy for me; it's my job to deliver opinions on media. It's also not particularly unusual for journalists to deliver opinions on media issues they aren't actively covering as reporters. If journalists can deliver high-minded opinions on the presidential primaries and the need for a federal shield law, they can certainly speak out on whether Don Imus should return to radio.

Imus1 Still, while I sympathize with the NABJ's position, my own feelings about this are a little more nuanced. I think it's more important that Imus publicly apologize for what he really did wrong -- basing a 35-year-career, in part, on insulting people of color -- coming clean on past transgressions while pledging to never go there again.

If he's willing to do that -- admit publicly that all the jokes about ragheads and beanie-wearers and hook-nosed jewboys and cleaning ladies and apes and god knows what else were awful and wrong -- I'd support putting him back on the radio tomorrow.

Without that, he could sit on the sidelines for 100 years and I wouldn't want him back in the game.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:41pm]


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