In terms of media saturation, Don Imus is this month’s Anna Nicole Smith. The radio host has had a good thing going. His program is broadcast on more than 70 radio stations and cable network MSNBC most weekday mornings.
Along with big money, Imus earned standing among politicians and media personalities. Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd announced his presidential candidacy on “Imus in the Morning” last January. Senators Lieberman, McCain and Biden appear regularly. Chris Matthews, Tim Russert and Brian Williams frequently check in.
Imus evidently sees himself as a power player; some pols play along. When Senator John Kerry impugned U.S. soldiers in what he called a botched joke right before last fall’s elections, Kerry cancelled his scheduled appearances elsewhere and called into the Imus program to apologize.
That day Imus worried about one of his personal Democratic favorites, then-Congressman Harold Ford, who was locked in a tight Senate race. He said to Kerry, “You’re not going to Tennessee for Harold Ford, are you?”
Kerry responded in the negative and Imus continued: “I’m begging you to stay away, because I really need that one. Just don’t screw this up.”
“Don, I’m going to heed your advice. I have no intention of screwing it up,” groveled the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.
Now Imus is doing the groveling. Last week he called the members of a college women’s college basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” For those few of you who don’t enjoy as much rap as you should, “hos” is slang for prostitutes.
Most of the players on the team are black. The remark instantly shifted moral paragons the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton into overdrive. Jackson plans nationwide protests on a daily basis.
He wants Imus fired and to undergo “serious sensitivity training.” He wants the networks to hire more blacks. He wants the networks to give him money. OK, so Jackson didn’t explicitly articulate that final condition, but we all know how he operates.
Sharpton invited Imus on his own radio program Monday to apologize yet again. Last Friday Imus apologized on-air for his “insensitive” and “thoughtless and stupid” remark. By Monday morning, he was asking to personally apologize to the women’s basketball team. Monday evening brought a two-week suspension for Imus from both MSNBC and his principal employer, CBS Radio.
Imus has gotten away with saying disgraceful things about assorted ethnic and religious groups for years. One of his more contemptible routines is an anti-Catholic feature in which his producer, Bernard McGuirk, tosses a FedEx envelope on his head as a make-believe bishop’s miter and is introduced by Imus as “Cardinal Egan.” The real Edward Cardinal Egan is New York’s archbishop.
McGuirk’s cardinal character spews blasphemous filth in an Irish brogue. He makes the sign of the cross as though conferring a blessing. Much of what he says can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
Here’s one of his toned-down offerings, a “prayer” he led the show’s cast members in last January:
“Lord, we continue to pray for the Godfather of Soul
That by Martin Luther King Day someone will stick him in a hole.
Lord, hear our prayer.
“Lord, we pray that Barbara Walters tells Rosie O’Donuts to take a hike
Before she gets her dusty — kicked by that vicious bull dyke. Lord, hear our prayer.
“Lord, we pray that Rush Limbaugh and his wannabes apologize for our war dead
And that someone slips a noose over Rush’s chicken hawk head bejesus. Lord, hear our prayer.”
This was after “the cardinal” lamented, “In the wake of a gay priest scandal, the Catholic Church (has) a Pope who wears red Prada shoes bejesus.” And after he described Hillary Clinton as “a Zamboni-a—, carpet bagging, closet lesbo (who’s) perhaps the next president. That is, unless the jug head mulatto with the Jew-hating name and virtually no experience overtakes her.”
This is elegant compared to some of his tirades, such as one last July when he castigated “smelly towel-heads and Hebes” in the Mideast. Or this year’s Good Friday prayer in which he rhymed the words resurrection and erection. If you have the stomach for it, several of the cardinal routines can be seen on YouTube.com.
The targets of these barbs have a right to be offended. Even more repugnant, however, is the implication that a Roman Catholic cardinal would harbor such distasteful, despicable feelings. That is, or should be, an affront to all people of faith regardless of denomination.
It’s reported that Imus agrees with his suspension and plans to change the tenor of his program. “Here’s what I’ve learned: that you can’t make fun of everybody, because some people don’t deserve it,” said the radio host.
Do you think he’ll include Catholic cardinals in that group of people who shouldn’t be made fun of? Not a prayer.
This Mike Bates column appeared in the April 12, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.
Mike is a Capitol Hill Coffee House staff writer.