Imus Returns to Radio Contrite -- to a Point
Those who expected Don Imus to return to the airwaves blasting at those who cost him his high-paying TV and radio jobs in April got a bit of surprise, as the longtime shock jock delivered a message of conciliation and temperance in his triumphant return.
"I think that what happened is what should have happened," he said, in a long speech which came near the 6 a.m. start of his show this morning. "You don't get to decide how the news media is going to treat a remark you made...everytime I would start to get pissed off about (how the media wrote about it) I would remind myself, if I hadn't said what I said, we would not be having this discussion."
Imus helmed his show from the Town Hall concert hall in Manhattan's Times Square, speaking before a live audience that cheered his every word. (they had paid $100 a head to attend, with proceeds going to his Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer). As firings go, Imus' fall was well-compensated; reportedly he negotiated a multi-million dollar severance from CBS Radio and signed a new, five-year deal with Citadel Broadcasting and syndicator ABC Radio likely worth millions.
Though some former guests might have second thoughts about appearing on his show, Imus announced a stellar returning lineup Monday, including historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential candidate and U.S. Senators John McCain and Chris Dodd, James Carville, Mary Matalin and his own wife, Diedre Imus. Levon Helm, former members of The Band, provided the music -- a countrified, folk-tinged rock blend that The Band pioneered more than 30 years ago.
The silence was palpable as Imus described a four-hour meeting with the Rutgers University basketball team April 12, the same day as news was spreading that he'd been fired by CBS Radio and MSNBC for calling them "nappy-headed hoes." Imus described how, even as he was explaining his history of charitable work and volunteer efforts "that was so irrelevant to how they felt....it sounded like one lame excuse after another."
"I don't know if its melodramatic to call it a life-changing experience," he said of the emotional meeting, "but it was pretty close.
"I was thinking how fortunate it was that I had been fired," said Imus of that moment. "Because, if I was coming there apologizing to them without being fired, they would think I was trying to save my job. (But) I was there trying to save my life; I had already lost my job."
Imus also thanked many media personalities who supported him during and after his fall, from standup comics D.L. Hughley and Damon Wayans -- though he mildly criticized them for saying his slur against the Rutgers' team was not a problem -- to radio personalities Sean Hannity (whose support for Imus I faced down personally), Curtis Sliwa and Opie and Anthony. Though he spoke about avoiding a "Larry King talk show tour" to explain himself after his firing, Imus has spoken with ABC's Barbara Walters for Thursday's 10 Most Fascinating People program.
This new program, which the shock jock called "the new incarnation of Imus" is already syndicated on at least 20 stations nationwide, including WTAN-AM in Clearwater (where I heard the show over the station's streaming audio feed). The show is also telecast on the rural-focused RFD TV, available in 30-million homes (but not on Bright House cable here in Pinellas).
Imus also announced two black cast members: standup comic and actor Tony Powell, talking sports, and Karith Foster (a comic who calls herself a Jewish African American Princess). Presumably, these two will keep Imus from some of his biggest problem areas, making stereotypical comments about black athletes, Jewish people and women. "It is a thrill to be here on the Tyler Perry version of the Imus in the Morning show," Powell said, cracking wise about his addition to the cast. "It's the Oprah-sponsored version of Imus."
Imus himself joked a little about payback: "We signed for five years. And reason we did, is because that's how long it's going to take to get even with everybody." And even though he now has two black castmembers, Imus also welcomed back Bernard McGuirk, the producer he once told CBS' 60 Minutes that he hired "to do nigger jokes," and who first uttered the infamous slur against the Rutgers team back in April.
It's hard to know how critics will take to Imus' returning attitude, but it will likely go down well with advertisers skittish about his reigniting the controversy from April. For those of us who have marked his long history of stereotypical comments, Imus' focus on the Rutgers incident without acknowledging his 20-year history of similar on air comments still leaves some doubt about how his show will handle such humor when it involves famous people of color.
Still, Imus pronounced himself ready to start a nationwide dialog on race, even while assuring his audience that not much would change on his show: "Dick Cheney is still a war criminal. Hillary Clinton is still Satan. And I'm back on the radio."