I first heard a Don Imus radio show in the mid-70s, after a friend who knew me well enough to appreciate my warped sense of humor tipped me off to his irreverent approach to broadcasting.
The first time I tuned in Imus announced that he would take a call from the 50th female caller, and then proceeded to pick up and hang up the phone, time after time, announcing "caller 26, caller 31, caller 42," until finally reaching the magic number 50. Thereupon he supposedly convinced the caller to disrobe, and talked her out of her blouse, bra, panties, etc., with a constant commentary - "Are you naked baby?" - to the vast enjoyment of his listeners.
At that time, in that place, I thought it was pretty funny, and I became a fan.
Imus wasn't considered a 'shock jock' at that time, because I don't think anyone was using that term yet. But he was a ground breaker and he was funny.
My previous experiences with New York radio had also been tremendously positive, when my fellow Marines and I would listen to Cousin Brucie and Dan Ingram on WABC while travelling though the 'Tri-State Area' on weekend liberty runs.
Imus's new format was fun, he still played music, and very good music at that, and on top of it all he was funny, and kept me tuned to New York radio.
Imus's personal problems caused him to come and go from the New York scene, but eventually he got it under control and landed back there for good. In the mid-80s I listened to virtually every hour of every show he did for a three month period when I was an investigative reporter sitting in a vehicle for hours on end doing surveillance for a story series.
By then he had surrounded himself with a talented crew of comics and straight men, and had added pre-recorded skits including Crazy Bob - The Original Old Timer; and Moby Worm. In between he played music, really good music, and he was funny.
I lost track of Imus for a few years when I moved to Florida where the morning drive time was dominated by Bubba The Love Sponge and other radio stations that focused on the horrendous rush-hour traffic, or Oldies or the Top 40. But when I moved back to New England in 2001 I again went looking for Imus to start my day.
What I found was someone who said he was Imus, and looked like Imus, but to me he wasn't Imus. He was on both radio and cable TV, broadcasting over MSNBC, but somewhere along the line he had transformed from a witty, relevant though acid-tongued entertainer, to another in a long line of ho-hum political pundits.
He was solidly attached to the liberal Democratic view of politics and the world. Even though he had enraged Hillary Clinton with pointed barbs about missing Rose Law Firm records at the White House Correspondents Dinner in the 90s, he could be counted on to host an unending line of liberal politicians, operatives and columnists.
There were some bright spots. Occasionally Mary Matalin or John McCain would appear and insert some common sense information into the daily rants of the Bush haters and Bush bashers. But their appearances were too few and far between.
Imus was always complaining that MSNBC has minuscule ratings, and even with a new studio and occasional live appearances by blues or country western bands he couldn't get away from the lunacy and stodginess of his new format. He didn't play enough music, I could hear the Democratic National Committee talking points at dozens of other spots if I was so inclined, and he stopped being funny.
I really liked his support for the troops and all the fund-raising he has done for the wounded coming back to America for rehab. I admired his efforts to make life better for kids with cancer at his ranch in New Mexico, and I applaud his support for parents who have lost babies to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
But somewhere along the line it occurred to me that if he could continue those worthy programs without doing daily broadcasts it might be a better use of his time.
I don't remember who was talking on the Imus program when I made my permanent switch to Fox and Friends. I think it was that Oliphant guy who writes for one of the Boston papers, but I'm not sure, and that is my point. Imus's show had become solidly forgettable.
I hadn't heard any more about him until last week when he burst onto the national consciousness after making an incredibly stupid, unfunny, derogatory, racist remark about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.
Amid all the uproar, my first thought was that Imus had finally found a way to reverse his declining ratings. He had been saying outrageous things that ticked people off for more than 30 years, and while his most recent commentary was reprehensible it certainly wasn't out of character. But it was drawing attention to his show.
I finally tuned in MSNBC for the first time in a couple of years, just to hear what he was saying about it.
But as the reaction against him continued to grow, and the two most hypocritical black men on the national political scene, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, called for him to be fired, I began to grow suspicious.
For starters, Imus has long been attempting to ingratiate himself with the black urban scene, referring to the comings and goings of whatever Rap artist is currently in the news, and making references to "getting down, with my bro' Snoop," or commenting on the latest escapades of "Fitty-Cent." In addition to sounding absolutely ludicrous, (small l, not referring the other rapper) it occurred to me that Imus was desperate for ratings and would go to extremes to attract audiences that otherwise would ignore him.
It was this combination of desperation and far-left leaning politics that was making Imus so unattractive to what had previously been a dependable audience. Yet, Imus had made other comments over the years that were equally reprehensible and could have raised an equal ruckus, but they didn't. He was ripe for outrage for instance, when he referred to a black female journalist at the New York Times as a 'cleaning lady.'
So why now? Well, maybe he has seen that MSNBC is going nowhere and he was looking for an opportunity to jump ship, both from that venture and his morning show on CBS radio. Some commentators are saying this is a great opportunity for him to join Howard Stern on Sirius Radio.
Maybe it is. But the biggest question I have is why has he suddenly become the target of the black activist community?
Look at what happened in sequence. First Sharpton and Jackson, neither of whom can attract any kind of following in Middle America, come out screaming 'racist,' even though they have had plenty of opportunities to do this for years. They make all kinds of noise about his use of the word "ho" which is black, urban, rap slang for "whore," although that word, usually used in the company of "bitches" is a mainstay of Rap music lyrics.
Then, wonder of wonders, Sharpton and Jackson start taking shots at Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, a black politician who has eclipsed both of them in popularity not just in the Democratic Party but also on the national scene. They claimed he was not fast enough to denounce Imus and thus doesn't speak for the real black community in America.
Obama also has shaken the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to its core with his fund-raising prowess, and although she didn't comment on the the Imus incident either, it was only Obama who was singled out for criticism.
Hillary finally had something to say about this after Obama said he would never appear on the Imus show again. He had only appeared once, but that was enough for Sharpton and Jackson.
Why would Obama suddenly find himself in the midst of this controversy? Because his meteoric rise to the top of the Democratic political scene not only threatens Clinton's chances for a shot at the White House, it also draws support away from Sharpton and Jackson, who make buckets full of money by selling out the very black community they claim to represent.
How so? By ignoring the huge black American middle class, that since the mid-60s enactment of civil rights legislation has been doing very well for itself in the capitalist world. But activists, especially phony hypocritical activists, can't make a living from complaining about things going well for their constituency.
So they have to continue pressing the image that all is not well, and in this case, the issue of the day is that all white Americans think young black student athletes are nothing more than "bitches and ho's." If Barack Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Bill Cosby, Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell and thousands of other successful black Americans are seen as the true leaders of America's black population, then donations to Sharpton's and Jackson's lavish lifestyles could and probably would suffer.
As would the Democratic Party.
So first make Imus's comment a national issue, then turn it so it becomes a useful political tool. Increase Sharpton's and Jackson's visibility, and possibly their viability, make Hillary look like a rational, reasonable leader, undercut Obama and voila, the status quo is restored!
But central to this theme is that Imus first had to be tossed under the bus. My question is Why? He has been sucking up to the urban black community and the far left side of the Democratic party for a long time. They kept him under their umbrella and tolerated previous commentaries of this nature without so much as a peep. Why did this one line suddenly become the flash point?
Maybe someone with far better sources inside the Democratic party can answer those questions. Maybe we'll never know.
But regardless, there is one thing Imus should have known. Male Rappers not only glorify drugs and violence, and not only refer to women as bitches and ho's, they refer to themselves as "gangsta's." They glorify the world of the streets, street crime, and the street fighters.
One thing common to all street fighters whether they are American Rappers or Islamo-fascist terrorists is that they will never trust and never accept an outsider who sucks up to them. They may make use of suck-up artists and allow them to hang around if there is a temporary benefit to it, but when that benefit is gone, the suck-up artist is gone too.
Imus could talk all he wanted about his Bro' Snoop, but it was his Bro' Snoop who issued a statement a week after the incident began, saying straight out that in his world it is allowable for black men to refer to black women as bitches and ho's, but white boys like Imus better not.
That is a tough lesson to learn, especially if you have allowed yourself to believe that you really were part of the community or movement you have been sucking up to. Imus wasn't raised in the 'hood, he isn't black, and he would never be truly accepted in that environment.
If Imus really wanted to make a positive difference he should have been working far more, and far more publicly, on behalf of the black middle class.
Imus has been around a long time and he should have understood that. He sure as hell understands it now.
Thursday, April 12, 2007