The last thing the world needs is more bloviating about Don Imus, particularly from an anonymous media drone like me. But I’ve been waiting on the reaction to the firing of Imus before weighing in, and I’m not surprised by what’s happened, or what’s not happened.
I cry no tears for Imus, the dessicated old dinosaur whose appeal has always escaped me. His firing is an example of cosmic justice, not about what he said about the Rutgers players, but in keeping with a long-established pattern of coarse, juvenile and repulsive comments he’s made for years, not only about non-whites, but about gays and women as well.
But I do admit to being a regular (or, obviously, a formerly regular) listener to Imus in the Morning, not because of Imus or his chuckling sidekicks, but because of his ability to book many of the most prominent names in American political culture from network news anchors, to titans of the press, to presidential candidates and other high-profile politicians.
What’s curious is that all these media people — from Brian Williams to Tim Russert to Frank Rich to Bob Schieffer to Charlie Gibson — have barely issued a peep since the Imus debacle broke. It was fun hearing these guys interviewed (though Imus was about as lousy an interviewer as you can imagine), because there was a loose informality about these little moments, big wigs hanging with the “I-Man” as they always called them. It was a club, one good ol’ boy chatting with another.
Politicians were also a big part of the mix, of course. The latest blow of karmic bad luck for John McCain, for instance, was that Imus was such a vocal supporter on the air. But, he courted the Democrats as well. Chris Dodd even announced his candidacy on Imus. Have we hear much from these folks either? (Hillary Clinton gets a pass here, because she’s never been in the Imus club and has in fact been the object of vilification from the rancid old cowboy).
What’s going on here? After watching Imus implode, it’s no wonder that these big names aren’t rushing to his defense. But I think it might be a case that these folks never listened to Imus when they themselves weren’t on his show and had no idea what he was saying between his interviews. I listened to the show through podcasting and thus got only the newsmaker interviews, so I never heard much of his caustic remarks either.
African-American journalists have largely avoided Imus over the years which suggests that they were listening in on what he was saying on the air, or that they’re white counterparts were willfully ignorant — or worse, indifferent — to the racist and sexist cracks.
Imus reminds me a bit of Larry King, not that old Larry harbors such opinions and I don’t mean to imply that he does. These two men both seem to be examples of mediocrities who stumbled into positions of immense media power, modern incarnations of Chance the Gardener, rising not through talent but by happenstance. I suspect Imus will vanish from the scene because whatever power he has solely came from the chair he was sitting in. Same goes for King. Powerful names will always flock to people like Imus and King because of the megaphone they control, but wouldn’t it be nice if those positions were filled by people who could at least be called an elite journalist, interviewer, comedian or commentator, none of which can applied to the I-Man or Larry.
So, as we wait in vain for the I-Man’s buddies to stand up for the guy not that he’s down (my goodness, you should have heard the sucking up these people were capable of), the central question of the I-mess is not “How can he say such things?” but “How did a guy like that get into a position like that?”