Imus Apology Tour: Will It Save His Job?
As I write this, radio/MSNBC curmudgeon Don Imus has spent more than an hour contritely apologizing on his show for the nasty commentary streak that led him to call the mostly-black Rutgers University basketball team "napppy headed hos" last week.
Insisting that "I'm not a bad person...I'm a good person, who said a bad thing," Imus detailed talks over the weekend with black politican Harold Ford, black evangelist DeForest B. Soaries and Rutgers' athletic director, in an effort to arrange a meeting with the team, the coach and their parents.
He had also agreed to appear on a radio show hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton at 1 p.m. today, and has extended an invite to the reverend to appear on his show Tuesday morning.
What made Imus embark on an apology tour to rival Michael Richards' post n-word trek? The I-man himself described an "explosion of newspaper articles" which criticized his words; he didn't mention the explosion of broadcast coverage that also outlined his awful words, including pieces on CNN and National Public Radio.
Full disclosure: I'm also chair of the media monitoring committee for the National Association of Black Journalists, which has aggressively criticized Imus' words, directly asked journalists scheduled to appear on the show not to lend their name to his program, called companies which advertise on the show to stop supporting him and encouraged columnists and journalists to spread the word about his awful activities.
This morning, he has talked about supporting Harold Ford Jr., playing sermons from black preachers, presenting black musicians such as the Blind Boys from Alabama on his radio show and hosting minority children at his ranch for severaly ill children, the Imus Ranch.
His primary defense: that the show makes fun of everyone, no holds barred. Imus also took note of Soaries' explanation that many black people think white peopel secretly hate them -- no mater how nice they are on the surface -- and jokes like his words about the Rutgers women only confirm that feeling.
His conclusion this morning: "Here's what I've learned: that you can't make fun of everybody, because some people don't deserve it. Because the climate on this program has been the way it's been for 30 years, that doesn't mean it has to be that way for the next five years. That's got to change...I'm sorry I did that. I'm embarassed that I did that. I am a good person. I did a bad thing. And that will change."
What he didn't mention until later, was his program's long history of racial insults. I've covered this in a previous post; Imus now disavows many of the more racist statments attributed to him and show, including calling Gwen Ifill a "cleaning lady" when she went to cover the White House for the New York Times and saying producer Bernard McGuirk was hired to do "nigger jokes" when interviewed by 60 Minutes.
Unfortunately, there are a lot more instances of Imus' bigotry, including repeated references to black athletes as animals and simians, calling Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz a "boner-nosed Jewboy," called Patrick Ewing "the missing link," Shaquille O'Neal "a car-jacker in shorts," and the Knicks "chest-bumping pimps." NBC had to apologize in 2004 for comments on Imus' show calling Palestinians stinking animals and repeated references to "ragheads."
So, even as Imus whines that black journalists have not covered his charitable work, he might want to consider that this history is what kept some people skeptical about his motives.
Imus has a lot of powerful friends -- as I write this, Howard Fineman of Newsweek is calling Imus courageous for taking time on his show to apologize for calling a successful basketball team a bunch of hos -- so truly calling him to account for his actions will be difficult. "Things have changed," Fineman said. "You can't do the same kind of humor you used to do years ago." No duh.
It seems obvious that Imus touched a nerve here. No matter how many black people he may help in his personal life, he has spread awful sterotypes which do much worse damage. And as sorry as he may be about what happeend last week, Imus has not fully acknowledged his show's past history and not yet directly promised to stop the race-based humor.
Far as I'm concerned, it's still not good enough.