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From AJR,   April/May 2007

Kicked to the Curb   

Online Exclusive » Kudos to MSNBC for dropping “Imus in the Morning.”

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.     

Cry me a river.

Not long after NBC News pulled the plug on simulcasting "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC, private investigator Bo Dietl, an Imus buddy, and others were on the air protesting the unfairness of it all.

Of course, Don Imus' defenders say, what the shock jock cum media-and-political-elite pal said about the Rutgers women's basketball team — calling the players "nappy headed hos" — was indefensible. But, still, the death penalty was out of line.

Imus is a good man, the argument goes. He says outrageous things, but he's really not a racist. After all, Imus said Rep. Harold Ford's loss in the Tennessee Senate race last year was due to racism. And what about all the good Imus does for autistic kids on his New Mexico ranch?

Then there's the broader point raised by Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Scarborough Country": The incredibly ugly depiction of black women, the blatant misogyny, is so rampant in hip-hop culture, what's really achieved by taking out some clueless old white dude?

Scarborough no doubt is right. The problem goes way beyond Don Imus. His departure from cable television — as of this writing he will return to CBS Radio after a two-week suspension — is hardly a panacea.

But sometimes you have to take a stand. Sometimes someone has to say: "Wait a minute. This is just not right."

Imus has a history of saying truly offensive things about African Americans and about many other individuals and groups. That's a major part of his shtick.

But this time Imus clearly crossed a line and touched a nerve. Perhaps it's because his ugly comment was directed not at a major player in public life, but at a group of admirable young women athletes, innocent victims who were outrageously slurred — and for what?

So I have no interest in booking a seat on the Imus martyrdom bandwagon. He's lucky he's skated as long as he has.

It's easy to take a cynical view of MSNBC's decision. It came not only after an unrelenting drumbeat of criticism but also in the wake of a mounting defection of advertisers from the Imus program.

But the resolution is also refreshing. After all, Imus signed a pact awhile back with columnist Clarence Page to refrain from racist comments. Guess that wasn't the answer. The notion that an apology — in this case a grudging one, after Imus initially belittled the contretemps — wipes everything away is sometimes a little too facile. So good for MSNBC.

Two other thoughts:

--Scarborough is right about the broader problem. Let's hope Jesse Jackson's call to "detoxify" the airwaves with a retreat from the demeaning depiction of women in some — too many — hip-hop lyrics becomes a reality.

--And it's important for all of the A-list journalists and politicians who have played such a big role in Imus' success — from Tim Russert to John McCain to Chris Matthews to Joe Lieberman — to be more careful about what clubs they are joining, whether it's with Imus — should he remain on the radio — or anyone else.