The Other Shoe Drops at the Tribune; Anna Nicole Smith Baby Daddy Sweepstakes Winner Is: Don Imus
This is the kind of week that would kill lesser media critics.
It helps that the stalwart guys in our business section have agreed to help me out by bird dogging the story about the Tampa Tribune's serious downsizing -- 70 positions eliminated; distribution discontinued in Citrus, Manatee, and Hardee counties; page size reduced by another 4 percent, or a half-inch; daily zoning eliminated.
This seems to be the other shoe dropping in a process which started with the hiring of president and publisher Denise Palmer from Tribune Co. Mostly known for implementing severe cuts at the Baltimore Sun -- and firing award-winning editor Bill Marimow when he resisted -- Palmer's arrival brought lots of nervous speculation from Media General employees concerned that the company replaced a publisher who once served as editor of the paper with an executive lacking that connection to the newsroom.
Now we see some serious retrenchment for a newspaper that once sought to rival the Times for influence in the entire Tampa Bay area. The heart-rending question that Tribune employees must face now: Who will leave, and why?
Imus Blows Up My Day
Much as I love writing stories which spark debate, this Imus story has my telephone, email and comments sections blowing up.
Today, I'll estimate I received 50 or more emails, 30 or so comments on the blog and calls including local and out-of-town radio stations and American Journalism Review. Yesterday, I turned down the NewsHour wth Jim Lehrer and CBS Radio -- too close to my own deadlines -- but talked to WMNF-FM and the Associated Press. Appearances on WFLA-AM and WTVT-Ch. 13 are scheduled for tomorrow.
I can sum up what I've said in a few lines:
--- Yes, there are black people who have used the terms "nappy headed" and "ho." One idiotic talk show host in Denver kept playing the line from a Stevie Wonder song where he describes himself as a "Nappy headed boy" as some kind of proof of hypocrisy. I don't mind that white people don't understand such phrases -- I actually wound up explaining what it means on one radio show -- I mind that people refuse to hear the truth when it is presented.
Imus came up with a loaded term which brought added meaning. In the media critic biz, we call them "code words" -- phrases with extra cultural meaning beyond their literal value. "Nappy headed hos" conjures an image of worthless, poor depraved young women, and this is a game Imus plays often.
When he sees black athletes, he makes references to animals and monkeys. When he deals with Jewish people he calls them money-grubbing, comments on the size of their noses and describes the skull caps of their religion as "beanines." Imus knew exactly what he was saying about the Rutgers women and refuses to acknowledge that it was racist and it was part of a pattern.
As Dr. Phil says, you can't change what you don't acknowledge. And Imus didn't come close to acknowledging the problem.
---in the past, I have been to cavalier about dismissing the tangled racial misteps of the two guys speaking out loudest about all this, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. These guys have some apologizing of their own to do -- particular Shaprton, who refuses to apologize for the Tawana Brawley incident and past anti-Semetic statements he's made.
Still, all that doesn't mean Jesse and Rev. Al aren't making valid points now. As he broad coalitino of partners who have joined them -- NOW, NABJ. The Hispanic journalists associaton, Women In Media and more -- ae testrament to how right they are this time.
My biggest problem with Jesse on this, is that he tends to make sweeping statements about a lack of diversity at media outlets without knowing the details. When I met him in Dallas a few years ago, he castigated CNN for lacking diversity, forgetting about Suzanne Malveux, Soledad O'Brian, Don Lemon, Rick Sanchez and other minority anchors. This time, he criticized MSNBC without noting Alison Stewart and Lester Holt.
--- Yes, there is an example of a black radio host losing his job for making racist statements about someone from another race.
--- Though people are talking a lot about race in the wake of this incident, I'm not sure we're listening very well. Black folks are too busy being angry and white folks are too busy feeling persecuted. Perhaps, as time passes and we get some distance, we'll come away with better lessons.
Me, I'm just happy a guy who has offered a haven for racist comments for decades finally got his comeuppance, including several sponsors dropping off his show. Too bad the revelation of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby will probably knock him off the front page...