MSNBC DUMPS IMUS; EXPERT PANELS STILL BOYS' CLUB .. Don't get me wrong; I do see real progress in MSNBC's dumping of its "Imus in the Morning" simulcast, even if it does give us the sad spectacle of a senior member of radio royalty suddenly dethroned for doing pretty much what he has always done. Indeed, given all of the slurs with which Don Imus has gotten away over the years, it's not that difficult to understand how he can really believe that he's not a racist even though he says horribly racist things. After all, he has just been giving the people what they want. But the Imus show seems to have been a guilty pleasure for his listeners -- sorta like porn, one imagines. Fun until someone knows just what you're getting off on. (Not that I would have any idea.)
This time, it was the double-whammy of Imus's sexism combined with his racism that did him in, along with the particular distribution of racial characteristics among the people in this story: powerful white man with lots of money doesn't simply insult black women young enough to be his granddaughters with a racist slur; he sexualizes the slur. Now we're beyond the bounds of garden-variety bigotry; we're into a form of misogyny that evokes the most volatile and undiscussed aspects America's history as a slave-holding nation. As Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer told Keith Olbermann, the uproar over Imus's comments was "about the degradation of women."
So, while bleeding sponsors, MSNBC President Steve Capus last night expressed his anguish over cutting Imus loose, attributing the change not to a business decision, but to internal discussions with NBC employees. And then, for the rest of the night, MSNBC show hosts discussed the channel's decision with panel after panel of experts, populated, with one exception, entirely by men. (Thank goodness that Joe Scarborough likes to fight with Salon.com's indomitable Joan Walsh or, out of a total of about a dozen commentators, there would have been no women featured on Imus segments of the cable channel's three major evening shows: "Hardball," "Countdown," and "Scarborough Country.") And while the producers did a pretty good job maintaining a racial mix on the panels, they apparently couldn't find a single African-American woman to comment on Imus's firing -- despite the fact that, just miles from MSNBC headquarters in Secaucus, New Jersey, New Jersey NOW staged a rally that was led by African-American leaders in the women's movement. Until more women hold major positions of behind-the-scenes power in mainstream media, things will likely remain as they are: a bunch of guys debating whether or not another guy who verbally assaulted a group of women in a sexualized manner deserves to be fired for having done so. It's this very phenomenon that permitted Imus to get away with this crap all these years. MSNBC should be ashamed of its own sexist coverage of its own crisis of sexism.
--Adele M. Stan