More on Don Imus

10 04 2007

Gwen Ifill on Don Imus

For the link-phobic:

LET’S say a word about the girls. The young women with the musical names. Kia and Epiphanny and Matee and Essence. Katie and Dee Dee and Rashidat and Myia and Brittany and Heather.

The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University had an improbable season, dropping four of their first seven games, yet ending up in the N.C.A.A. women’s basketball championship game. None of them were seniors. Five were freshmen.

In the end, they were stopped only by Tennessee’s Lady Vols, who clinched their seventh national championship by ending Rutgers’ Cinderella run last week, 59-46. That’s the kind of story we love, right? A bunch of teenagers from Newark, Cincinnati, Brooklyn and, yes, Ogden, Utah, defying expectations. It’s what explodes so many March Madness office pools.

But not, apparently, for the girls. For all their grit, hard work and courage, the Rutgers girls got branded “nappy-headed ho’s” — a shockingly concise sexual and racial insult, tossed out in a volley of male camaraderie by a group of amused, middle-aged white men. The “joke” — as delivered and later recanted — by the radio and television personality Don Imus failed one big test: it was not funny.

The serial apologies of Mr. Imus, who was suspended yesterday by both NBC News and CBS Radio for his remarks, have failed another test. The sincerity seems forced and suspect because he’s done some version of this several times before.

I know, because he apparently did it to me.

I was covering the White House for this newspaper in 1993, when Mr. Imus’s producer began calling to invite me on his radio program. I didn’t return his calls. I had my hands plenty full covering Bill Clinton.

Soon enough, the phone calls stopped. Then quizzical colleagues began asking me why Don Imus seemed to have a problem with me. I had no idea what they were talking about because I never listened to the program.

It was not until five years later, when Mr. Imus and I were both working under the NBC News umbrella — his show was being simulcast on MSNBC; I was a Capitol Hill correspondent for the network — that I discovered why people were asking those questions. It took Lars-Erik Nelson, a columnist for The New York Daily News, to finally explain what no one else had wanted to repeat.

“Isn’t The Times wonderful,” Mr. Nelson quoted Mr. Imus as saying on the radio. “It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.”

I was taken aback but not outraged. I’d certainly been called worse and indeed jumped at the chance to use the old insult to explain to my NBC bosses why I did not want to appear on the Imus show.

I haven’t talked about this much. I’m a big girl. I have a platform. I have a voice. I’ve been working in journalism long enough that there is little danger that a radio D.J.’s juvenile slap will define or scar me. Yesterday, he began telling people he never actually called me a cleaning lady. Whatever. This is not about me.

It is about the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. That game had to be the biggest moment of their lives, and the outcome the biggest disappointment. They are not old enough, or established enough, to have built up the sort of carapace many women I know — black women in particular — develop to guard themselves against casual insult.

Why do my journalistic colleagues appear on Mr. Imus’s program? That’s for them to defend, and others to argue about. I certainly don’t know any black journalists who will. To his credit, Mr. Imus told the Rev. Al Sharpton yesterday he realizes that, this time, he went way too far.

Yes, he did. Every time a young black girl shyly approaches me for an autograph or writes or calls or stops me on the street to ask how she can become a journalist, I feel an enormous responsibility. It’s more than simply being a role model. I know I have to be a voice for them as well.

So here’s what this voice has to say for people who cannot grasp the notion of picking on people their own size: This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field.

Let’s see if we can manage to build them up and reward them, rather than opting for the cheapest, easiest, most despicable shots.

Gwen Ifill is a senior correspondent for “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” and the moderator of “Washington Week.”

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3 responses

11 04 2007
john

Rutgers team angry but will meet Imus

Imus Struggling to Retain Sway as a Franchise

11 04 2007
B. J. Trotter

Media frenzy fails to mention …

Media frenzy fails to mention …

(Read time: 3 minutes)

Don Imus:

• Has raised more than $50 million in an annual radiothon with New York radio station WFAN to benefit the Tomorrow’s Children Fund, the CJ Foundation for SIDS and the Imus Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Donations also funded the completion of cancer research facilities located at New Jersey’s Hackensack University Medical Center.
• Raised $10 million for a new state-of-the-art rehab facility for “America’s Fallen Heroes” returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
• Is singularly responsible for pressuring Congress to raise veterans’ death benefits from $12,000 to $100,000 for a surviving spouse and $400,000 for children left behind when they reach age 18.
• Has batlled untiringly for autism, sickle cell anemia and sudden infant death syndrome research.
• Was the only media voice asserting Katrina victims were neglected because they were African-Americans.
• Challenges government and confronts politicians on issues which affect Americans.
• Calls on the carpet every politician interviewed over the condition of veterans’ hospitals and health-care in this country.
• Has helped numerous authors reach #1 on bestseller lists.
• Is, along with his wife Deidre, dedicated to removing toxic chemicals and carcinogens from your environment.
• Is a member of The National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
• Tells it like is regarding corruption in government and unethical politicians.

Don Imus will meet with the young women of the Rutgers basketball team and personally apologize for hurting them. These women say he doesn’t know them. I hope they will get to know the work Imus does and the man he is.

Imus’ good deeds do not amerliorate the hurt he caused these young women, but a bit of context and perspective might be in order.

Do you really want to join the witchhunt to silence this man?

If you don’t think Imus himself is the butt of sarcasm and bad jokes, just take a look at his biography on MSNBC.

Or, surf the blogsphere.

11 04 2007
Terry

I think public reaction may be justified, however; I would like to see people just as upset about all the fat statements that Imus and any other person think are perfectly all right. I do think we tend to overreact to every thing that we feel is objectionable. What ever happened to the attitude if it don’t kill me then it won’t ruin my life. I agree with may of the commentators I have heard that said, “It was wrong and distasteful of Imus but if this is the most I have to worry about in my life then I consider myself lucky.” I have seen more hate from people commenting than I ever heard from Imus in his comment. Thank you for allowing to express my position on this subject.

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