Todayâ€™s pop quiz: Whoâ€™s going to take a tougher stand against racism, prominent journalists or FORTUNE 500 companies?
We now know the answer, courtesy of Don Imus, who thought it was funny to describe the African-American college students who play basketball for Rutgers as â€œnappy-haired hos.â€
His palsâ€”well-known journalists Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield, top dogs Evan Thomas and Jon Meacham of Newsweek, and othersâ€”have reacted by saying, in effect, that the show must go on.
But American Express, General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Staples decided that enough is enough, and pulled their advertising. Seeing all that money headed out the door, General Electric-owned NBC said on Wednesday that its MSNBC cable network would drop Imus in the Morning.
Strange, isnâ€™t it? Journalists who are so frequently accused of being liberal make excuses for a bigot, er, I mean, shock jock. Corporations which are so often seen as uncaring do him in.
This fuss over Imus comes in the context of his long, well-documented history of making or tolerating racist, sexist and anti-gay â€œjokesâ€ on his program. He compared black reporter Gwen Ifill (then of the New York Times) to a cleaning lady. He backed up one of his sidekicks who said that Venus and Serena Williams should pose in National Geographic and not Playboy. He replayed a comment by his brother Fred who said, about the search for an alleged murderer of gay men: â€œWhy are their bothering to catch this guy? Heâ€™s just whacking off freaks.â€ [Thanks to Imus Watch on www.tompaine.com for this list.]
In that light, please consider what some prominent journos have been saying about Imus.
CBSâ€™s Schieffer: â€œIâ€™m not going to sever a relationship with someone who has apologized for what he said. I hate what he did, but heâ€™s still my friend.â€
Newsweekâ€™s Meacham: â€œWe donâ€™t want to rush to judgmentâ€¦.Imus appears genuine about changing his tone.â€
Peter Osnos, former Washington Post reporter, now a book editor: â€œHeâ€™s not a bigot. But he was a jerkâ€¦I would prefer not to see him driven off the air.â€
Friendship is wonderful, but these enablers and apologist ought to walk down the hall and ask their black colleagues what they think about Imus. I suspect they’d be told that Imus’s “jokes” provide cover for the racist, sexists and homophobes in his audience.
Corporations, by contrast, don’t have friends or feelings. Big business has to be, well, business-like in dealing with Imus.
Put another way, the people in charge of Amex and P&G and Staples may care about racism, sexism and homophobia, or they may not. But they are being paid to care about their black, female and gay customers and employees. Imus, they decided, had crossed a line. Maybe it was the fact that he was going after college girls. Maybe it was the low-key dignity of their response. Maybe it was the way the Internet amplified his comments. Whatever. The companies pulled their ads.
Then NBCâ€”reacting not to Imusâ€™s stupid comment, which after all was made a week ago, but to the advertiser pulloutâ€”announced on Wednesday that it would take Imusâ€™s program off MSNBC. The network did not suddenly discover its moral qualms about airing Imus. But NBC, it turns out, is quite literally more sensitive than the big-name journalists it employs.
Two cheers for capitalism.
Jeers for the journalists.