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The NAB and Don Imus
by Paul H. Rosenberg (rad [at] gte.net)
Thursday Sep 21st, 2000 1:24 AM
Don Imus is so well connected to elite media and politicians, he couldn’t possibly be doing hate radio, could he? Not unless hate radio is integral to America’s corporate media system!
The NAB's Hate Radio Olympics -- Don Imus

Don Imus employs a very different kind of hate speech from Laura Schlessinger, but just like Schlessinger he lies his head off in denial. Imus describes his show as "goofy people poking fun," but when internet magazine TomPaine.com tried to run a critical op-ad in the New York Times featuring a sampling of the Imus show on-air slurs, the Times refused to run it because the language violated their advertising standards. (The Times did run a version with the offending language deleted.)

Under the cloak of "poking fun" Imus and company ridicule blacks as "car-jackers," "thugs," "gorillas" and "mandingos," gay men as "homos," "freaks" and "faggots," lesbians as "lesbos" and "carpet munchers," Jews as "Heebie Jeebies," "Jewboy" and "boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jewboy," Arabs as "towel heads," Indians as and "dot heads" and "Gunga Din," Japanese as "gooks," Chinese as "urine-colored," and amputees as "pogo sticks."

This decision by the Times was particularly revealing, since (A) the Times advertises on Imus in the Morning and (B) editorial page editor Howell Raines is an outspoken Imus fan (C) three star Times columnists -- Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Tom Friedman -- are regular Imus guests. This shows that the Times is caught up in the same contradiction-fraught web of denial and deceit as Imus himself.

Imus has plenty of other well-connected friends in the media, including David Remnick and Joe Klein from the once-high-class New Yorker, the self-styled media critic Steve Brill at Brill's Content, the Washington Post's Kay Graham, Howard Kurtz, and Lloyd Grove, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter and Evan Thomas, and George's Paul Begala and Laura Ingraham. Indeed, Imus is so well-connected in the corporate media that without the internet and TomPaine.com , he could have continued indefinitely without challenge.

As with Schlessinger, denial is deeply interwoven with hate on the Imus show, so it's helpful to identify some of the distinctive forms that it takes:

(1) The first form of denial was already mentioned, that it's all just "goofy people poking fun." The Times refusal to print the words used is the first piece of evidence against this defense. The second is to look and see who's laughing. Humor is an age-old expression of social privilege, of the domination one group holds over another. The ability to define what's funny, is just one more prerogative of power. Forcing people to laugh at their own humiliation, degradation and powerlessness is a devastating way of supercharging that humiliation, degradation and powerlessness. Ridiculing them when they refuse to do so is a desperate attempt to continue forcing them to accept humiliation, degradation and powerlessness as facts of life. Of course, humor can be used to do just the opposite as well. The relationship between humor and hate speech has to be discovered by looking at particulars--not by simply assuming that the two are mutually exclusive. They're not. Logically, Imus might just as well say, "we're not saying anything bigoted, we're just speaking English!" This defense is no defense at all.

(2) The second form of denial--perhaps it should be the first--is simply to deny that there's anything hateful or offensive on the show. Call this the Dr. Laura ("I have never made an anti-gay commentary") defense. Imus himself makes this argument repeatedly, never quite recognizing that the different ways in which he makes this argument frequently contradict one another--an intriguing topic for another time.

For now we'll simply note that TomPaine.com decided to test Imus's claim (to Jeff Greenfield on Larry King Live, Feb. 24, 2000) that the show doesn't make a practice of airing "racially offensive stuff." Philip Nobile monitored the Imus show for a week, and reported frequent "offensive cracks about lots of groups including blacks, gays, and foreigners." He then extended his watch over a period of four additional weeks. You can read the remarks he found and decide for yourself.

  • [
IMUS WATCH: Week of March 20-24th ]
[ IMUS WATCH II: A Pattern of Racism, Homophobia, and Bigotry? Week of April 3 - 7th. ]
[ IMUS WATCH III: Bigot In The Morning? You Decide. Week of April 10-14th. ]
[ IMUS WATCH IV: Barney Frank Chastises Imus (and Those Who Go on His Show). Week of April 17-21st. ]
[ IMUS WATCH V: More of the Same Week of April 24th - 28th. ]

Interestingly enough, at the end of this period an incident occurred that was so disturbing it caused two Imus show regulars to walk out in the middle of a show.
  • [
IMUS WATCH VI: Imus Priest Condemns Imus Bigotry, May Quit Show! April 28th Incident. ] (3) The third form of denial is the claim that Imus and company are "equal opportunity" in choice of targets; but somehow the rich and power, the white and male never get their chance to come in for the same kind of derogatory abuse. There's a simple reason for this, of course: terms of hate speech are expressions of power relations, which simply means that there are no equivalent terms to dehumanize and demonize members of dominate social groups. The Imus defense of "Equality opportunity" group slander is a defacto impossibility. Yes, he may also criticize people with wealth and power, but calling Oprah Winfrey a "flatulent cow" has a history behind that would be utterly lacking even if Imus someday decided to use the same abusive term to refer to Christine Todd Whitman.

(4) The fourth form of denial is to claim that Imus is simply engaged in insult humor with a satirical racial edge that comes down to us from Lenny Bruce. But again, as Village Voice media critic Richard Goldstein noted [ "The Hierarchy of Hate Speech" ], "An entertainer like Imus can trace his lineage to Bruce, with one crucial distinction: Lenny made fun of the powerful and their orthodoxies. You won't find Imus mocking WASPs on a regular basis. Instead, this rude dude focuses on groups whose status is still contested, such as blacks, immigrants, and gays."

(5) The fifth form of denial is simply to say that people who criticize Imus are humorless, "politically correct," or too stupid to realize it's satire. Once again, this denial of what Imus is doing depends on accepting the social definitions of dominant groups as to what constitutes a good sense of humor and related matters.

  • When a bunch of schoolyard kids gather together to make fun of a kid who limps, is it his problem that he's got no sense of humor? Or is it those who laugh at him who lack a genuine sense of humor, who know nothing of the wonderful, enriching, life-affirming power of the humorous outlook on life? It's the ones who have to get their laughs from humiliating others who are truly lacking in a genuine sense of humor.

    "Politically correct" is simply a catch-all term to dismiss any criticism whatsoever without even attempting an explanation. It's simply another label used by a dominant group to dismiss anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable, and avoid the necessity of facing up to unpleasant facts.

    As for the claim of misunderstood "satire," Richard Goldstein's article [
"The Hierarchy of Hate Speech" ], gets to the heart of the matter: satire is humor that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. Lenny Bruce did satire. Don Imus does the exact opposite. What's behind all these various forms of denial is a simple truth: power relationships in our country are changing. There's a definite trend towards racial, ethnic and gender equality--however far we are from true equality--and greater acceptance of differences such as gender orientation and disabilities which were virtual taboos only a few short decades ago.

At the same time, the vast expansion of corporate power since the 1960s has produced an objective condition of individual and collective powerlessness that's experienced daily but is virtually invisible because it goes unrecognized and unnamed in our increasingly corporate-media-dominated lives. In her recent book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of American Men, Susan Faludi described a related, even more long-term trend, the cultural undermining of traditionally productive and nurturing models of masculinity, which also had its roots in the corporate culture of post-WWII American capitalism.

Faludi began her explorations into contemporary masculinity seeking a deeper understanding of the roots of the phenomena she described in her Pulitzer Prize-winning . She discovered that the plight of American men is striking similar to that faced by American women just before the beginning of the Second Wave Feminist Movement. Like women in the 1950s, men today--and white men in particular--face a problem with no name.

In place of that problem with no name, the NAB Hate Radio Olympians (along with many others) offer a theater of resentment against shadow others--blacks, women, gays, lesbians, immigrants, foreigners, etc.--who can be offered up as scapegoats instead of doing the much harder work of facing up to inner demons and learning to decode the structures of corporate power that feed them even from before we are born. Because there's an increasing awareness that outright group hatred is or ought to be socially unacceptable, there's a huge demand for forms of group hatred with built-in plausible deniability. And that's what makes an NAB Hate Radio Olympian: their ability to excel in the plausible deniability that accompanies their particular brand of hate radio, producing their own uniquely styled radio theater of free-floating resentments.

Next Section: Howard Stern

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assorted comments about thisSteve Rendall, FAIRTuesday Oct 3rd, 2000 11:45 PM
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