I’ve been watching the unfolding furor over Don Imus’ controversial comments made during the April 4 broadcast of his Imus in the Morning radio show. I’m a fan of Don Imus and his show; it’s one of the few places where I find honest discussion of political and social issues. Whether he’s got NBC’s Chief Washington Correspondent David Gregory, Congressman Harold Ford Jr., Senator Chris Dodd, or any of the other frequent guests who come to pay homage at the feet of radio’s most famous grump, the irreverent questions and insults that Imus and his team employ are often entertaining and, for anyone paying attention, can usually be counted on to remove the veneer of self-importance from our political celebrities.
Like him or not, Don Imus has become adept at sparking important political and social discussions without the usual Washington artifice.
Unfortunately for Imus, he now finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a tumult of social discussion that will silence him for a fortnight – and may well have him looking for a new broadcast home before his suspension is over.
I’m a fan of Imus in the Morning, but I write to neither defend nor further denigrate the statements that put him at the center of this debate.
Instead, I’ll point out that while the results of his acerbic wit have sparked a tremendously important and long overdue discourse on the state of America’s social awareness, we are dangerously close to seeing nothing accomplished from the opportunity.
Rutgers University on Tuesday paraded before the cameras a number of the institution’s officials who uttered the expected platitudes. They condemned Imus’ words, praised the accomplishments of the women’s basketball team, and told us how badly we should feel for the young women who were so hurt by it all.
Then the team’s coach, C. Vivian Stringer, stepped up to the lectern and rightly tried to change the focus by telling the world that there are bigger issues at play here. Where Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have turned their attention to Imus and his employers in an effort to have him ousted, and where Imus has reminded the world of all his charitable work for children with cancer, sickle cell anemia, sudden infant death syndrome, autism, and wounded veterans, Ms. Stringer spoke of a moment in her childhood when she had an opportunity to advance racial equality in her school and how the young women on her team found themselves in a similar situation on a much larger stage.
Hers was a poignant point, but the school made a critical mistake in putting the members of the Rutgers team in the spotlight. With the exception of team captain and ad hoc spokesperson Essence Carson, those ten women were not prepared for the pressure of such an important moment and the inevitable irrelevant questioning from news, sports, and entertainment media reporters.
As a team they were certainly prepared to represent their school on the basketball court and to deal with the pressure of a national championship tournament, but as individuals they were not prepared for the cameras and questions. Tip drills, wind sprints, and the repetition of scripted plays during practice were useless at a moment when serious social issues were being asked. Rutgers should have better understood what was at stake. This wasn’t a public relations event for the Scarlet Knights, but a potential REM cycle in realizing Martin Luther King’s dream.
There will be more time for deeper contemplation of this event. We all have an opportunity to look into the mirror and ruminate on what role we have played and can play in this issue. Assuming Imus returns to the airwaves in two weeks, he’ll have an opportunity to do as he has pledged and to make a conscious effort to use his famous platform to continue the dialog and further raise our collective awareness of race in the United States.
I hope Don Imus is allowed to return, and I hope he does just that and I hope he’s able to do so without the varnish he’s so famous for seeing through in others.