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 April, 2007


 Don Imus is not alone, but he should be.

Imus And the “Mourning”

By Al Owens
Words are some mighty powerful things. Say the right ones and you, too, can become President of the United States. Say the wrong ones and, well, you too can be Don Imus.

Last week Imus, the television and radio morning show host strung together three words that has launched yet another flurry of lead stories on every cable station but the Disney Channel. Unless you’ve been on death row these past few days, you already know Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos”, after they played in and lost the national championship last week.

For starters, I’m truly offended about this kind of talk. First and foremost in my mind is the fact that the coach of the Rutgers basketball team is a native of Edenborn. C. Vivian Stringer is among the greatest college basketball coaches ever. Her team lost the big one last week, but I’m still mighty proud of her and her accomplishments. Anybody from Fayette, County Pennsylvania should be.

What it must have taken to have earned the kind of universal respect Stringer has earned through hard work and talent, her and her team should not be the subject of such nonsense.

Now let me discuss Don Imus. I used to look up to the guy. When I was a young broadcaster, back in the early 1970’s, he was one of the best. His album 1200 Hamburgers to Go, is a classic example of how the those powerful words can be used in way that can make people laugh despite themselves.

That album had Imus on the air, calling a fast food restaurant and ordering 1200 hamburgers. He didn’t just order them - he special ordered them as such: “I’d like 128 of them with no pickles. Can you make 230 with no pickles but with double cheese? And can you hold the lettuce on 45 of those”? That kind of routine inspired me to call a telephone operator and recite Jim Croce’s song Operator on the telephone and the radio simultaneously. “Operator, can you help me place this call? You see the number on the matchbook is old and faded…”

I was truly happy to learn in the late 1970’s, when I moved to work as a reporter in Cleveland, that Imus had been hired as an afternoon disk jockey there. He was still funny then. One of his routines, as the Right Reverend Billy Sol Hargis made me laugh so hard I nearly passed out.

But somehow since then, he’s developed a mean streak. In 1996, he gained national headlines for his speech at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., for making remarks about Hillary Clinton, who was seated only a few feet away. The laughter he got that night can only be described as nervous. The publicity he got for that night was nearly universally negative.

Since then, there have been a number of occasions when he’s apparently crossed one line or another. Each caused a stir, but none like the one that’s currently forcing real news to wait its turn.

Yet, all of this isn’t really about Don Imus. It’s about what’s been happening with increasing frequency lately. Within 8 or so months, Rush Limbaugh gets caught on camera mimicking Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease; Michael Richards unleashes a racist tirade on camera and probably puts an end to his career as a comedian; Ann Coulter calls presidential candidate John Edwards a faggot; Senatorial candidate George Allen apparently causes his own political demise by using the Macaca non-word.

Someday, somebody will figure out that some things just aren’t funny, or open for discussion.
I’d thought we’d already learned that when Earl Butz, the then Secretary of Agriculture couldn’t be inoculated by his position when he was forced to resign for telling a cruel racial joke way back in 1976.

That Howard Cosell, a guy who nearly stood alone in the broadcasting community and who faced death threats for defending Muhammad Ali when he refused to be drafted, could still face derision after using the phrase, “look at that little monkey run”, when referring to a black football player.

That the Reverend Jesse Jackson still pays for stupidly calling New York City “Hymietown”, in 1984. Didn’t Mel Gibson throw himself on the mercy of public opinion with those drunken anti-Semitic comments?

Limbaugh himself had already sledge hammered the wrong nerve and been fired from ESPN in 2003 for making the silly argument that a black quarterback, Donavan McNabb, wasn’t as good as the media made him out to be – as if the media was elevating him out of some kind of athletic affirmative action devise.

Limbaugh probably won’t learn from that experience. I’m fairly certain Jesse Jackson and Mel Gibson have learned from theirs. I’m thinking Don Imus may learn from this one too.

He’s been suspended from his radio and television program for two weeks. There are calls for his removal – period. This is not one of them. Maybe that’s because these past few days I’ve watched him clumsily dangle in the wind, struggling for some of the appropriate and powerful words that will help make people understand he’s not really that person who said that really stupid thing last week. I don’t know if he is or isn’t that person.

I just don’t like watching a proud man grovel. Well, maybe just a little.