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The Nation Needs Don Imus… NOW


When irascible morning talk jock Don Imus lost his job back in April – punished, I think unfairly, for describing the Rutgers womens basketball team in rude language considered both racist and sexist – the timing could not have been worse. The longest presidential campaign in the history of the world was just getting underway, and Imus, the loudest voice of political reason in a market saturated with self-interested punditry, was suddenly silenced as a result of his poor choice of words and political correctness taken to extremes.

As I wrote at the time, the nation missed a golden opportunity to engage in serious discussion over the state of race relations in the American melting pot and engage in constructive dialog about Imus’ comments and their context. That time has long passed, and, sadly, little was gained from those unfortunate events. Don Imus lost his job and Al Sharpton lost interest in that situation, finding new controversies in Jena, Louisiana and Madison Square Garden to occupy his time and mercurial attention.

Interestingly, however, as Don Imus seems poised to return to radio, Al Sharpton – largely responsible for Imus’ ouster by threatening to boycott his long list of advertisers and make life generally uncomfortable for his employers – also seems willing to let Imus return to the mic without much of a stink. Prevailing industry wisdom has Don Imus back in the broadcast booth in December.

That’s too late. The nation needs Don Imus on the air, and it needs him now.

With New Hampshire giving serious consideration to a December primary, the nomination process will be at the point of no return by the time Imus and Company have a chance to skewer the rolling road show of political theater that we call the presidential primary process. Thus far in the campaign, there have been no voices willing to wonder aloud why a newly minted senator with just over one term in office, and another in his first term, are getting more attention than senators with 25 and 23 years’ of distinguished national public service, respectively.

Yes, Senators Biden and Dodd were frequent and friendly guests, but they were also targets of Imus’ barbs when they deserved to be. They knew the rules and played the game with Imus, and reaped the rewards. Senators Clinton and Obama also served as foils for Imus’ humor, though neither were ever guests of the show. I wonder if that was because they also understood the rules, but were unwilling to play by them. Imus in the Morning was not a kind environment for highly scripted, tightly controlled politicians.

Like him or not, there’s no denying that Don Imus has a knack for seeing through the rhetoric and boiling issues down to a question of what matters for the average voter. Politicians readily lined up to be guests on Imus in the Morning, even though they knew full well Don would call them on their BS. In one memorable exchange, New York Senator Charles Schumer went on the air with Imus a month before the Rutgers debacle that led to Imus’ firing with the intent of taking the Bush Administration to task on the treatment of injured veterans. Imus, an advocate for vets and a critic of conditions at Walter Reed Hospital, jumped ugly with Schumer for his hypocrisy on the issue, exposing Schumer’s opportunism.

Imus: Let me interrupt you for a second, but this is nonsense, Senator Schumer. I want to be respectful, but you can’t possibly be serious and suggest — I mean I’m not a fool. You can’t suggest to me that because the Democrats are now in power that something is going to be done about Walter Reed and about the mess in the Veterans Administration and all of this, and that if the Democrats hadn’t taken control of Congress that nothing would have been done. That’s preposterous; of course it would have.

Schumer: Well, something would have been done if the story would have gotten out…

Imus: Here’s another question. Have you ever been over to Walter Reed?

Schumer: Ahh, not in a while, no.

Imus: How long has it been since you’ve been over there?

Schumer: Oh, before Iraq.

Imus: So, before Iraq since you’ve been over to see the soldiers. So, we have elected you — first in the Congress and now in the Senate — and you’ve got a bill now to do something we’ll get to in a minute; but you haven’t even been to Walter Reed Hospital.

That’s the sort of dialog we need right now, and Don Imus on the air in October, November, and December would have the audience and influence to call attention to the empty rhetoric and prod the candidates to say what they mean, defend their positions, or be left stuttering.

I can’t help but wonder how the presidential discourse would be different today if it had been exposed to the Imus wringer for the last seven months. If the nation has to wait until December for Imus’ return, I’m afraid we’ll be the ones left stuttering.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 9:00 AM | Permalink

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