My Evening With Hannity & Colmes: Stepping to the Dark Side of the Imus Debate
Hours after finishing my first -- and likely only -- appearance on Fox News Channel's shoutfest Hannity & Colmes, I'm stuck wondering why I allowed myself to be part of the dog and pony show which has become the cable TV news prime time game.
The short answer is easy: The National Association of Black Journalists wanted to provide someone to talk about the apparently imminent return of Don Imus to a national radio perch. The group has already issued a statement opposing his rehiring -- I've explained in this space before what I think the radio host needs to do before a responsible radio programmer can give him a gig -- so as chair of the group's Media Monitoring Committee, I put myself in the line of fire.
I refer to it that way because the producers told me both conservative firebrand Sean Hannity and his supposed liberal co-host Alan Colmes were on the same side of this issue -- supporting the right of a guy who called respected PBS, NBC and New York Times journalist Gwen Ifill a cleaning lady to take back a high-paying radio jobs months after he was fired.
I knew it was going to be an argument, but I hadn't watched these knuckleheads in action for awhile. I wound up talking over both of them to make my points while they called me a hypocrite and National Organization for Women representative Sonia Ossorio looked a little tongue tied. (I found it interesting that Hannity compares Imus, who has shown mostly contempt for black culture in his jokes, to Chris Rock, who clearly loves black culture and black people, simply because Rock curses more than Imus) We argued, I said my piece, no one changed their mind -- in the end, I contributed to the argument culture I hate so much on cable TV, hence the need for the shower.
But I wanted the experience of doing the show, so I knew for sure what it was all about. What disappointed me more, was seeing the displays on some of the other programs.
As a makeup artist was toning down the shine on my forehead, I heard Rick Sanchez on CNN asking "could your child be getting advice that could get them killed?" in one excited promo. Later, he spent long minutes laughing as he quizzed Democratic talking head Bill Press on a measure Democratic speaker Nancy Pelosi supports condemning the massacre of 1-million Armenians in Turkey during world War I.
I do think it's possible to talk about these issues in ways which are meaningful. I did that back when Imus was first ousted on Howard Kurtz's CNN show Reliable Sources. I don't think it's possible to have that kind of discussion on these kinds of shows.
It's unfortunate, because it's a discussion worth having. Imus never owned up to a decades-long legacy of cracking racist jokes on air. And if he doesn't acknowledge it before he starts his new job, I expect more of the same from him. And as flawed as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton may have been as messengers to challenge his history, just try getting the attention of these noise-addicted cable TV news outlets without their participation.
Most of all, I blame the executives at CBS Radio, MSNBC and any other media outlet who employs race-baiting personalities such as Imus, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and Neil Boortz, to name a few. These executives know who they are putting on air -- MSNBC had to apologize publicly to Arab American groups and gay groups for other incidents just a few years before Imus was fired.
But they put people who want news and information shows free from prejudice in the position of having to publicly protest, target advertisers and stage revolts by their own employees of color before they will act against a man with a 30-year history of stereotypical jokes. As professional, mainstream broadcasters, they should act before it gets this far. But Imus and his ilk make too many people too much money.
In a job where I have spent years insisting the subtlest media images have an impact, I couldn't ignore this one. Whether Imus' next move divides us further mostly depends on Imus himself and the men who sign his paycheck.