Don Imus’ timing couldn’t have been worse. The uproar over his comments about the mostly black Rutgers University women’s basketball team being “nappy-headed hos” comes only a few weeks before the annual meeting of General Electric, the parent company of the MSNBC television network that airs his morning program. Accuracy in Media will be there.
Do you think GE chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt is going to want to answer questions in front of hundreds of shareholders about why his subsidiary puts Imus on the air? And why NBC News personalities like Tim Russert regularly appear on the show?
Another big problem for the shock jock is that his wife Deirdre, an environmentalist who piggybacks on her husband’s fame, was planning to launch her new book on Tuesday on his show. She also has appearances scheduled on ABC’s “The View” and “The Martha Stewart Show.” Her book is about cleaning products, which she should think about using in her husband’s mouth.
What will save Imus are his connections to current and former GE and NBC officials. He has interviewed former GE chairman Jack Welch on the air, giving him an opportunity to sell books, and Imus has given GE vice-chairman and NBC chairman Bob Wright and his wife a platform to talk about finding treatments and a cure for the autism disorder that struck their grandchild. Deirdre Imus works with the Wrights in a group called Autism Speaks. In short, Imus and his wife have ingratiated themselves with the top brass.
On Monday, Imus was desperately trying to contain the damage to his show and his reputation from the charges that he is a racist. He wants people to know that he is really a good man and that he hosts kids with cancer at his corporate-sponsored ranch in New Mexico.
In order to atone for his sins, Imus also announced that he was going on a radio show hosted by Al Sharpton, whose reputation was permanently stained by his association with the Tawana Brawley hoax, in which a black woman falsely charged white men with rape. It is a sign of our twisted times that Imus can be forced to pay homage to a character like this. But if he doesn’t satisfy Sharpton, who has called for Imus to be fired, there could be fireworks at the GE annual meeting on April 25 at 10 a.m. in Greenville, South Carolina, at the Carolina First Center. You can find the details about the meeting here.
With Imus twisting in the wind, it is fascinating to watch his mostly liberal collaborators in the media try to avoid being affected by the stench. They all went on the show in the past knowing that that he specializes in making fun of people. But they excused that in order to reach his audience and, in many cases, sell their books.
Consider Howard Kurtz, the media reporter for the Washington Post who appears fairly often on the Imus show. Imus made his offensive remarks on April 4, a Wednesday. On April 6, Imus apologized on the air. Two days after that, on April 8, Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” media watchdog show aired on CNN. Did Kurtz say anything about Imus’s remarks and the propriety of people like Kurtz appearing on such a show? I watched the show. Please check the transcript. I can’t find anything. Can you? Instead, he devoted a segment of his show to Rosie O’Donnell’s recent controversial remarks and female bloggers getting threats from readers. Doesn’t this omission say something about Kurtz’s objectivity as a media correspondent? Perhaps this will be a topic at the Washington Post annual meeting on May 10. AIM will be there, too.
To top it off, Kurtz’s “Media Notes” column on Monday includes nothing about the Imus controversy and his own appearances on the show.
Lisa de Moraes of the Post wrote a Saturday story about how Imus has been making controversial and offensive comments for years, and how MSNBC has been apologizing and disassociating itself from Imus for years. She conveniently forgot to mention that her colleague, Howard Kurtz, appears on the program. A walking and talking conflict of interest, not only does Kurtz appear on MSNBC, but there is also an alliance between the Post and MSNBC. The website MSNBC.com hosts articles and features from its “partners,” including the Post and Newsweek, a subsidiary of the Post company.
Kurtz is a media watchdog with no bite. He certainly wants to avoid biting himself and his own employer.
New York Times reporter David Carr reports that NBC News uses the Imus program, which is a money-maker for the network, “to promote the brands of Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory. Tom Brokaw was a frequent guest, and his replacement, Brian Williams, has been sanctified by the I-man, as they call him. Chris Matthews from MSNBC has appeared, as have anchors and journalists from CNN and CBS and, on the print side, by reporters and editors from Newsweek and popular opinion columnists from The New York Times.” Carr neglects to mention that one of those Times columnists is the Bush-hater Frank Rich.
But MSNBC’s problem isn’t just Imus. The network features another smear artist, former sportcaster Keith Olbermann, who names a “Worst Person in the World” on a nightly basis and whose program consists of interviewing other liberals who agree with him. I don’t watch the program but when I was named the “Worst Person in the World,” I examined what Olbermann had said about me and discovered that he had flat-out lied.
The Imus case seems different because Olbermann is considered by some a laughable crank while Imus is charged with being a racist by the left-wing civil rights community and many others. But throwing Imus overboard won’t end the controversy over the strange entity that MSNBC has become.
Cliff Kincaid is Editor of Accuracy in Media and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org