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Media Cash In on Racism

Here's a question for the janitors who sweep up after Don Imus, the on-air “talent” for media giants CBS radio and MSNBC TV.


Do you think you'd get canned if your bosses heard you call some women on the 10th floor “nappy-headed hos?” That's what Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team.  Imus apologized, as well he should, but his comments were too outrageous to be ignored.  Nevertheless, his corporate sponsors, who were enriched by Imus's advertising revenues, only reluctantly lowered the boom on him. 


MSNBC called the remarks “deplorable,” “racist” and “abhorrent,” but only after several major sponsors pulled their ads did the company announce that it would stop simulcasting Imus' show. CBS denounced the episode and said the company was “disappointed by Imus's actions... which we find completely inappropriate.” But instead of firing him right away, they tried to gloss over the incident by giving him a two-week vacation, er, suspension.


So why was racism shielded by a microphone when it wouldn't have been shielded by a broom?


The first reason is money. 


Imus reached the summit of the raunchy realm of shock radio as a vendor of the vituperative, making millions by making mean. In the last decade or so, he's semi-morphed from shock jock to political pundit, but he hasn't shed his nasty tongue. He's crossed the racism/sexism/religion-bashing line numerous times in his 40-year broadcasting career.


What is newsworthy about the latest Imus insult in the morning isn't that liberal and conservative commentators alike expressed moral outrage at Imus' remarks—it's that they agreed that Imus shouldn't be fired for saying it.


“Let the market handle it,” they said. Meaning, if he can't keep his advertisers, then the networks are justified in firing him. In other words, racist remarks shouldn't cost Imus unless they cost his employers. Racism is tolerable as long as it's profitable—this is the bottom line. So much for ending racism, making the cultural conversation more civil, and simply doing the right thing.


The second reason is also money. 


Imus's bosses own many recording companies that pump out racist/sexist bile far worse than Imus's words. If Imus had simply played one of the many vile rap or hip hop “ho” songs heard every day on hundreds of radio shows, there wouldn't be any beef or suspension.


Let's recall that CBS and the other networks are suing for the “right” to deliver the f-word anytime without any FCC interference.  While corporate profiteers genuflect before the First Amendment, the hip hop slop keeps making millions.  The last thing they want to do is make words like “ho” and “nappy-headed” unacceptable in the marketplace.


The media hypocrisy doesn't end with the big corporations.


Who are the two leading moral arbiters of all things racist, whose campaign to fire Imus is being showcased on every network and cable news show?  Who else but the two antidotes for liberal guilt – Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.


Public pummeling by the twin barons of bigotry is part of Imus's penance. Media big shots expect us to believe that they really are morally outraged and that the shaming of Imus by Sharpton and Jackson will help end racism.


The Rev. Al called the suspension “not nearly enough. I think it is too little, too late.” He said that presidential candidates and other politicians should refrain from going on Imus' show in the future.  That's if he ever gets another show.


The Rev. Jackson, never one to miss turning somebody's buffoonish blunder into a jackpot for his Rainbow Push bank account, is carping that NBC and MSNBC have no black anchors or hosts. They're “all day, all night, all white.” Here's a guy with a rhyme for every time.


Does Jackson think he's the one to convince us that blacks never make stupid, racist comments? Does “Hymietown” ring a bell? How about brother Al's remarks that spurred the anti-Jewish riot in Crown Point, New York, resulting in eight deaths? How about the defamation suit damages he still owes a white prosecutor as a result of leading the Tawana Brawley hoax? Or how about the Duke lacrosse players he immediately attacked as rapists who've just been declared innocent by the North Carolina attorney general?


If the media are serious about eradicating racism, Sharpton and Jackson can't be the poster guys. It couldn't get any more ludicrous unless they use Ludacris.


This dark cloud does have a silver lining.  America has tolerated hip hop's cultural poison far too long, but now that Imus directed it at a group of innocent young women, we're finally starting to get it.  Even Jackson and Sharpton will have to confront the rap community now. 


Jan LaRue is a member of the Culture and Media Institute's Board of Advisors.