The media’s immersion in Imus proves yet again that nothing interests them half as much as themselves. Oh, what joy it is when they can talk in public about what they spend most of their time discussing in private — namely, each other. In just a couple of hours I must have heard at least a dozen pundits, from Bernie Goldberg to Whoopi Goldberg (who now has her own talk radio show), weigh in and go on and on.
Earlier in the day I had spoken to Angela Burt-Murray, the editor of Essence, which is a very good magazine for black women. She is definitely part of the off-with-his-head brigade. Her take: “A two week suspension for Don Imus is a two week vacation for Don Imus. He needs to be fired. What he said was totally unacceptable. It was racist. It was sexist. It was unprovoked. What on earth would make him think those young women were prostitutes?”
I think most black women would agree with Angela, and I respect her opinion. Essence, unlike most women’s magazines today, takes on issues. It has not been shy about criticizing all who the editors believe demean black women, even if it means criticizing important black men. In the last couple of years, the magazine has campaigned against the misogynistic lyrics in rap songs and the derogatory way black rappers, including music superstars, picture black women in their MTV videos. Their campaign is called “Take Back the Music.”
But then, I think that Sean Hannity, intent on beating up on Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who are leading the charge against Imus, also has a point. Certainly Jackson and Sharpton have freely expressed their own racist and anti-Semitic sentiments. With them, it is a little like — dare I say it? — the pot calling the kettle black.
And then there is the “chastise, forgive, and forget” contingent, mostly made up of politicians such as McCain and Rudy, as well as media elites such as Greenfield and Oliphant, who have appeared with Imus in the past few days. All of them, no doubt, have benefited from airtime on his show, and I’m sure they don’t want to lose that big audience. Besides, Imus has also been able to really sell books.
I have never listened to Imus, and the only times I’ve seen him have been when I was flicking through channels in a hotel room, trying to find the morning news. But what struck me the few times I did watch him was his amazing arrogance. And, while I know we’re not supposed to criticize people for their appearance, this funny-looking guy in a funny-looking cowboy hat sure does get a lot of power when he’s sitting behind a microphone. David Frum in his Diary gives an example of Imus’s arrogance. For years, right up to this current fracas, he has been able to freely use his power to sneer at others and get the audience to laugh along. Imus, quite simply, is a bully, and he’s made that pay big. And like a bully about to lose a fight, he has started sniveling and proclaiming what a good and generous guy he really is.
The other great bully on TV right now is Rosie, who has her daily soapbox on The View. It’s her schoolyard bullying tactics, which she so effectively employs on that girlie show, much more than her crackpot conspiracy theories, that I find most objectionable. Day after day, like a true grade-school tyrant, she shouts down anyone who disagrees with her, steps on any applause another opinion might elicit, and, like Imus with his sidekicks, gets the other women on The View to agree with and support her.
Rosie is also an expert at playing the victim and making excuses for herself. As she constantly explains, she suffers from depression and her mother died when she was young — and she is very generous, too. Of course, Rosie, in true bully fashion, is afraid to have anyone on the show who might have the power to say, “Hey, Rosie, put up your dukes,” and then, through argument, win a fair fight with her.
Maybe the next media tempest will be when Rosie goes too far. Although she is very well protected, it probably will happen, and the pundits will once again have the chance to talk about the one thing they all agree upon — the enormous power those in media now have.