Civil Liberties

Imus in the Mourning


Partly mummified radio host Don Imus has apologized for calling the Rutgers University Women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

He has appeared on Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show to make amends and has been suspended for two weeks by CBS Radio, which airs his program, and MSNBC, which inflicts it via low-rated cable TV on a largely indifferent America. (Talkers mag, the radio industry bible, rates Imus the 14th most influential DJ in the country.)

As off-putting and unfunny as his original comments were, his various attempts to channel the sociologist-cum-uncomedian Lenny Bruce may be even more pathetic–and far funnier in an unintentional way:

"What I did was make a stupid, idiotic mistake in a comedy context," Imus said on his show Tuesday morning, the final week before his suspension starts.

Asked by NBC "Today" host Matt Lauer if he could clean up his act as he promised on Monday, he said, "Well, perhaps I can't." But he added, "I have a history of keeping my word."

The radio host tried to shift some of the focus from himself, saying, "that phrase originated in the black community. … I may be a white man, but I know that these young women and young black women all through that society are demeaned and degraded by their own black men and that they are called that name."

I'm sure that all women realize they owe Imus a debt. I know that, as a Rutgers grad, I too feel empowered that he's out there digging through social degredation on everyone's behalf.

More here.

The response to racially offensive remarks is inevitably complicated, overdetermined, and filled with ultra-bogus posturing on all sides, especially, it seems, when it's an "idiotic mistake in a comedy context." That was certainly the case with Michael Richards, and it seems to be the case in this instance too, where humor doesn't really enter into the equation at all. If you compare Imus to his long-time rival Howard Stern, one of the main differences is that, no matter how outrageous he got, Stern was always clearly working in a satirical vein while Imus lacked that dimension.

Perhaps there's nothing worth taking away from this controversy other than two glorious weeks being free from Imus in the Morning.

Tim Cavanaugh saluted the United States of Umbrage and the long, happy life of America's anti-defamation industry here.