Sunday, April 15, 2007

Don Imus

Jim's intro: I asked Ava and C.I. to write about this and think they've done an amazing job; however, I was hoping they would provide specific links to various points they've made in the last two years on this topic. Their response? "We don't go back and read the reviews." They should. But here are Dona, Ty, Jess, Kat, Rebecca, Mike, Wally, Betty, Cedric, Elaine and my picks for recommended readings that have addressed this topic before:

"TV commentary: About the women "
"TV: Katie Was a Cheerleader "
"TV Review: There's always a platform for some "
"TV: The not-so-universal White Boy blues "
"TV: Looking forward . . . by looking backward?"
"TV Review: Commander-in-Chief aka The Nah-Nah Sisterhood "
"TV: Boys' WB!"
"TV Review: The Simple Life"
"TV Review: The Bull of Malibu"
"TV review: The Simpsons"

Those are our picks for the top ten Ava and C.I. commentaries that have addressed the issues at play last week.


Don Imus. Jim asked us to address it. We are.

We'll start by noting the elements at play are elements we've addressed often in TV commentaries. Does anyone not know what happened?

Imus aired on MSNBC in a live version of his radio broadcast that was carried by CBS on radio stations throughout the country. If you are late to the party, Don Imus is a pig. Don Imus has always been a pig and, for those who do not believe life has its own built in deus ex machina, he will die a pig. Between now and then, he'll just spash the mud on everyone around him.

Referring to the Rutgers' women's basketball team, he called them "nappy headed hos" as part of an exchange with a fellow pig (who had offered that they were "hos") in the midst of an infantile, "your mother" type exchange. What followed that was pressure from various groups for MSNBC and CBS to declare whether they stood with Imus or against him. Sponsors begn pulling their ads. (Proctor & Gamble was among the first to pull.) In the early days, a two week suspension was announced by MSNBC and CBS. This was followed by MSNBC's decision to no longer carry a televised version of the radio program and, then, by CBS cancelling the radio program.

If you were late to the party and you've just absorbed all the above, take a deep breath, you'll need it.

Imus and his piglets were White males. They were of the opinion that they were natural and universal and that anyone not like them was not merely "different" but had a bulls eye painted on.

Where do you go from there? We thought FAIR but then we looked. This FAIR media advisory tells you that Imus had a "racial outburst." And sadly, this was true of much of the coverage. Women of all races were insulted in the exchange, African-Americans of both genders were insulted in the exchange. This goes to the issue of what we address (over and over) in the TV commentaries: "White male is not universal." White Straight Male is not universal. FAIR, in that action alert, wanted to tell you that it was a "racial outburst."

That's very disappointing. So was CounterSpin on Friday when Richard Prince appeared, interviewed by Steve Rendall, and he commented that women weren't doing a great deal on the issue. Quote: "And also absent seem to be the White women who apparently were late to the party . . . ." Prince goes on to note that he doesn't see many of them on the air; however, here he is (besides using our phrase of choice) saying that White women didn't grasp the issue early on. A similar point is made at The Black Commentator where Anthony Asadullah Samad writes, "But so far, the National Organization of Women (NOW), the nation’s leading feminist voice that never met a bandwagon it couldn’t catch, has yet to latch on to this issue." He sports not only his hatred of feminism, he also flaunts his ignorance.

Since Rendall allowed Prince's false claim to stand without question, let's provide the reality check that is sorely needed, in fact let's slap it in the face of the ignorant and the women haters:

Does "Imus" rhyme with "Disgust"? Well, not quite. But it oughta.
I tuned in to the NCAA women's college basketball championships mostly to see a great game between Rutgers and Tennessee, but also to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Title IX, the law that required equal opportunities for women and girls in educational institutions, including sports as well as academics.
But on sports radio station WFAN in New York, and broadcast all over the country by CBS Radio and MSNBC Television, host Don Imus wasn't talking about the game. He was talking about the players, and so was WFAN's Executive Producer Bernard McGuirk, who called the Rutgers players "hard-core hos."
Imus, who had already commented that the players were "rough girls," added "nappy-headed hos" to his description of the second place team in the country.
Read the transcript or watch the video.Take action by sending messages to General Manager Chuck Bortnick of radio station WFAN, which produces Imus' show, to Karen Mateo, Communications VP of CBS Radio which owns WFAN, and to MSNBC television which airs and promotes the show.
Your message to WFAN, CBS Radio and MSNBC? Tell them "You don't have to let Don Imus keep peddling racism and sexism on your airwaves. It's time to Dump Don!"
You can use our letter, modify our letter, or write one of your own.
If you also want to call your local station, you can
find the stations that carry Imus in the Morning.
Thanks for
taking action with NOW!
For equality,

Kim Gandy

That e-mail alert (entitled "Dump Don Imus") hit our inboxes Sunday, April 8th, at 7:25 pm (PST). That would be Easter Sunday for some. (Remember that as we work through the press coverage.) NOW is a organization for women, for all women, but since it was specifically slammed, we'll note it. For context, we'll note FAIR's first (and only) action alert e-mailed
"Racism Is to Be Expected From Don Imus" which hit Rebecca's inbox Monday, April 9th. In PST, the time was 8:15 pm -- nearly twenty-three hours after Kim Gandy (NOW president) had sent our the NOW action alert.

Also Monday, Maretta Short, the president of the New Jersey chapter of the NOW, appeared on Democracy Now! addressing the issue alongside Al Sharpton. (Short is African-American.)

Let's deal with the mainstream media. Let's talk New York Times. If a mainstream outlet offered more shameful 'coverage,' we're not aware of it. This wasn't one article, this was the entire reporting. For the record, the Rutgers' women's basketball team made the front page of the paper on April 2, 2007 (lower right-hand corner as part of a blurb for the D1 article). Last week, Bill Carter, David Carr and Jaques Steinberg proved both that they were Docker Boys and that they just didn't get it. Jaques-excuse found a way to discuss issues of racism and sexism (or ignore them) by talking to . . . White men in a story published Wednesday. (We're not linking to that trash, we're not even providing the title.) David Carr achieved an amazing feat on Friday by covering the offensive Don Imus in such a manner that he himself (Carr) was offensive. "Flying Solo Into the Teeth Of a Maelstrom" began on C1 (Business Day section) but you had to flip to C5 to be greeted with this: "By seeking absolution from people with their own political agenda, Mr. Imus lost custody of his apology." Carr, it's time to go up a waist size in the Dockers -- they've clearly begun to cut off the oxygen to your brain. Study that remarkable line. "Their own political agenda." Now he can beg off with, "I was referring to Al Sharpton!" -- if he wants. As if slamming Sharpton somehow makes the entire thing play less racist. But Sharpton's a "person," he is not "people." Who are the people, Carr? Might they be the "you people" (a phrase Imus used which Carr describes as "a hoary racial trope"). "Political agenda"? Calling out racism and sexism is now to be referred to as a "political agenda"? Striving towards equality is now a "political agenda"? At least he didn't call it a "hidden agenda."

Here was the biggest problem with the paper's coverage and why the writers (Steinberg, Carr and Carter) all tended to come off like Archie Bunkers in early middle age, they didn't get it. Whether they wanted to or not can be argued. But they didn't get it. Why they didn't get it may be reflected in their articles where they seemed to always seek reassurances from White men. If someone shot up a hospital, would you rush to get the opinions of various realtors on the topic? No, one would assume you would speak to patients, doctors, nurses and other care givers. But The Times coverage seemed to think it really did not need to be 'bothered' with listening to African-Americans or women as it, instead, rushed off to one White male after another (while never once noting which Times' staff had appeared on the Imus show).

So we've talked some independent media, we've talked mainstream. Though women, including feminists of all colors, did speak out (even if they were often shut out by big media), it only took "Stab" to remind us how some of the (uninformed) comments about women can exist in the first place. In a posting at The Huffington Post that just tickled The Nation so much they had to repost it, Stab made a fool out of herself. Repeatedly. And that fool reflection reflects on The Nation for choosing to post that crap at their website.

When Tricky Dick insulted peace activists by calling them "bums" and Jane Fonda then addressed a group with, "Hello, fellow bums," that was funny. Fonda, a peace activist, had valid reason to lampoon that term. Stab and The Nation? Do either (wrongly) think they're seen as supporters of African-Americans? If so, please correct them quickly. As we traveled last week, speaking on campuses, we heard many complaints about the Imus coverage. None of it matched the very real anger at Stab's nonsense which went up Friday at The Nation but was already being slammed when it appeared at The Huffington Post (April 11th). Let's speak really slow, a White woman writing "Nappy Headed Hos of the World Unite" isn't funny. As one African-American female (junior year) asked, "Where does she get off?" We have no idea but we hope the stop is soon before she does even further damage.

Proving that you don't have to be a Docker Boy to just not get it, Stab wallowed in her ignorance by writing, "Of course it's the ho, not the hair, part of Imus's comment that hurts, with its suggestion of unlimited sexual availability." Really? How nice of you, as a White woman, to tell African-Americans that it was about "sexual availability." And how typical of The Nation, in all its White-ness, not to catch how damn offensive that comment was. Stab then wants to imagine herself as an African-American male and, as such, the most natural thing in the world for her is to refer to another African-American male with the n-word. Does anyone at The Nation actually read? Stab's written a racist column (full of stereotypes) while claiming to decry the sexism (and noting that it's not just about race -- rap isn't "race," though she gabs on rap for a bit). How did The Nation miss this?

A 19-year-old African-American female in Atlanta stated, "I'd tell her, 'If that's your idea of helping me, shut the hell up.'" We agree. It's the sort of 'cute' writing Stab's relied on more and more of late. It doesn't require any real thought, just ripping off something from the past and slapping it onto a water cooler topic for today.

The Nation? Well, they made Howard Stern a cover boy so it's not all that surprising that they had no "Take Action" on Imus. When the Howard Stern cover ran and some complained, the reply back was "This is a free speech issue!" Stern, who would move to satellite shortly, was in danger. Stern, who had insulted people of color, women and LBGTs pretty much every half hour of his program, needed to be defended on the basis of free speech. Not only that, he needed to be on the cover of The Nation.

The reality is Stern had (finally) turned against the Bully Boy so it was time to 'claim' and 'stand with' him. It's the same sort of shit that allows some to claim other racists (they're comics!) too numerous to list. Those offended by stereotypes of Asian-Americans should be aware that, last week, The Nation's editor and publisher elected to go on a show hosted by a man who's refused to apologize for his offensive stereotypes.

We addressed him last year. That's one of the many examples Jim offered when he told us "You have to write this." What you saw play out was a White male finally get called out on his behavior (only because the advertisers dropped him -- two women at MSNBC made that very clear, they had complained about Imus before and been brushed off). It's the behavior we've noted many times, in many commentaries.

If you're not White, male and straight, forget it, you don't matter, your opinions do not matter, your stories do not matter, your feelings do not matter. That's the message television sends week after week as it finds yet another White boy (of all ages) to star in a TV show, as it searches for another spot for the White boys on the network's schedule (often by getting rid of female led shows that are ratings hits).

"What's it like to tackle those issues?" Jim asked. "That's what you should write about."

What's it like? We hear about the e-mails from Ty but don't make a point to read them. (Ty responded to some angry e-mails attacking our point that Moronic Mars existed in a White, Male world.) Why? Early on, for daring to assert that Nick Lachey, Tom Welling, or some White boy flavor of the month wasn't all that, we ended up receiving threatening e-mail. Now this isn't "Oh, we were called sluts." These were graphic e-mails, detailing how we would be raped and killed in minute detail. One of them included a description of a sweater that one of us (Ava) actually owned and wore. We didn't need the hassle. We stopped reading the e-mails on our commentaries. We get a report on them from Ty. If you question the predominance of White males in lead roles across the TV spectrum, you better believe you're going to tick off someone. Prior to the graphic threats, we were prepared to read the e-mails. We've had our say, by all means, have your say.

And if you thought we were "bitches" or "sluts" or whatever else, there's nothing you can call us in an e-mail that we haven't already been called in real life (or, by this point, probably in an e-mail as well). We don't sweat it.

Why? Because this stuff needs to be called out and it isn't. The Nation doesn't need to rush out a cover of Howard Stern, though they did. If you are not White, male and straight, you have some very real enemies. (You have Queen Bees and Uncle Toms who sell you out as well.) What we write here is nothing new, nothing revolutionary. Anyone could do it, everyone should. But there's been this refusal/reluctance. When we were heard about Stephen Colbert's aired racism, we were appalled. We were appalled by his mocking 'apology.' We were most appalled by the fact that he gets links (and recently a visit from Katrina vanden Heuvel) from all around the so-called left web. What's going on there?

It's "popular"? It's "funny"? We wonder how many of those finding it either have bothered to listen to Asian-Americans because we heard about it and it wasn't a source of joy.

Similarly, the ultimate pig, Bill Maher, has repeatedly gotten fluff from the so-called left.

When that happens, if you're not one of the targets, you may be able to laugh or ignore it. But what does that really say about your beliefs in inclusion that the feelings of Asian-Americans, or women, or African-Americans, or any group (any non-White Straight Male group) matters so little to you that you're going to endorse and promote such a person?

With the hideous Patricia Heaton, after her fluff piece in The New York Times, we heard some rush in to assure us she was "good" and "misunderstood" and just about everything including sugar and spice. She's a hideous person in real life and she's done hideous things. A fluff piece doesn't change that. We'd love it if Heaton's streak of bad luck (which continues) resulted from her politics but it doesn't. It results from the fact that she's a pig whose lack of manners resulted in her current status.

Don Imus is a pig. His being gone from the airwaves has to do with corporate America refusing to sponsor his program. (We should note that we were told Lesley Moonves actually was surprised by the opinions he received and that he was responsive to them.) Did America change last week? Let's repeat, Stephen Colbert who traffics in racist stereotypes and made it worse by mocking Asian-Americans in his 'apology,' had Katrina vanden Heuvel on his show last week. In fact, last Sunday, when The Nation sent out no alert on Imus (or any other day last week), they did send out an announcement of the appearance.

Last week, Imus went down in flames and you saw the Old Boys Network rally to try to provide him support. The left shouldn't feel too proud about that when so many of their own are more than willing to appear on similar shows.

We think the most educational aspect last week was not in what happened to Imus but in the way people responded. NOW and feminists were slammed for doing nothing when, in fact, they were on the ball from early on. The mainstream press, led by The Times, went to White Men to determine whether Imus was racist and sexist. Stab embarrassed everyone with her thoughts of what it would be like if she were an African-American male and assorted other details no one needed to hear. Along with Kim Gandy, the strongest commentators were Dave Zirin (in text and on KPFA's The Morning Show Wednesday), Al Sharpton (who grasped very clearly that it was a double insult -- to race and to gender) and Harvey Fierstein who (on the op-ed pages of The New York Times last Friday contributed "Our Prejudices, Ourselves") noted, "Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged." We think that sentence pretty much sums up what you see on your TV screen today.

It's been encouraged, it's been giggled over, and if you called it out you just didn't get that it was "good fun." If it's just "good fun," where are the airings of similar points from non-White, non-male, non-straight performers or characters? As we noted in "TV Review: There's always a platform for some" (June 18, 2006):

We know a woman who self-identifies as feminist in odd years only. (We didn't realize that until we were discussing this review. We knew she was a feminist, some years and others not, but when we tracked it, it did work out that she only identifies in odd years, or, if you prefer, non-election ones.) This being an even year, she's again one of the loudest champions of South Park. She's in TV and that's all we'll say because she agreed to go on the record with why she enjoyed the show provided she wasn't indentifed. (She was warned, and already knew, of how we feel about South Park.)
"It's funny, that's just it," she explained to us, this White woman, self-identified "independent" voter who voted for Al Gore in 2000 and Bully Boy in 2004.
Was she bothered by the the portrayals? (She is, after all, in programming. Woops, that slipped out.)
"Not at all. We need to hear all sides."
What sides does your network offer, what sides does any network offer, other than White Male? "Well, there are lots of shows."
Name one.
"Well, I can't think when I put on the spot."
A talking piece of feces was offered as "innovative, you've never seen that before!" No, we certainly hadn't and didn't feel we were any better off for having seen it.
But that's the mentality at play. It's easier to get a talking feces on the small screen than it is to get the point of view of a person of color, female, GLBT, ect.
[. . .]

So you get more of the same. Which brings us back to our sometime feminist friend (remember, it's an even/election year so she's not identifying as a feminst today). So, if these gross comedies are "funny" and she's comfortable with them, has she fought for any gross comedy starring women or people of color? She hasn't seen any. Well feedback, surely she could give a promising sitcom feedback that if the creators changed it to a gross comedy, the network might be interested?The thought's never "struck" her.
She does admit that she would be more likely to "root" for a gross comedy with males because "Everyone's got one." She's running with the herd. So are too many TV critics and that, along with media consolidation, is the reason TV is so unwatchable.

Imus' departure, not lamented by us, didn't clean the landscape and, judging by mainstream and independent commentary, didn't even sink in to many commenting. There were a lot of important types talking to, not with, and certainly not listening. While we were on campuses in Georgia and Tennessee last week, we briefly shared our thoughts on TV in general and then tossed back for the topic of Imus. (We were on campuses speaking about Iraq. Imus was an issue brought up by students.) We hope we've represented the comments of students in this piece. All students, even White males. As Dave Zirin demonstrated, not all White males fail to "get it."
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