LA Times’ Triple-Dip of Imus

Three fascinating pieces in today’s LA Times about the demise of that tedious (and, I think, clearly racist) old fart Don Imus.

First, in the news section, a story that should get a lot more attention: Imus’ unique role as a conduit for liberal and Democratic politicians to white, male voters:

With Imus’ show canceled indefinitely because of his remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, some Democratic strategists are worried about how to fill the void. For a national radio audience of white men, Democrats see few if any alternatives.

“This is a real bind for Democrats,” said Dan Gerstein, an advisor to one of Imus’ favorite regulars, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). “Talk radio has become primarily the province of the right, and the blogosphere is largely the province of the left. If Imus loses his microphone, there aren’t many other venues like it around.”

Jim Farrell, a former aide to 2000 presidential candidate and Imus regular Bill Bradley, said the firing “creates a vacuum.”

This week, when Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) was asked by CNN why he picked Imus’ show to announce his presidential candidacy, Dodd explained: “He’s got a huge audience; he gives you enough time to talk, not a 30-second sound bite, a chance to explain your views; … and a chance to reach the audience who doesn’t always watch the Sunday morning talk shows.”

This is sad on so many levels. “Come for the racism, stay for the liberal talking points?” Because, let’s face it, Imus has been doing this kind of schtick for years, as documented here, here, and here, just for starters. But I guess Imus functioned as a kind of good-old-boy cultural guide for elitist Democrats, as best illustrated by his famous “Stop it, you’re going to ruin this,” scolding to John Kerry after the disastrous speech at Pasadena City College. Imus was trying to protect the Democrats’ chances to win over white males in the 2006 election, and he saw Kerry’s insult to the troops as dangerous.

There is at least one good liberal talk show host who seems to have an affinity for white males and vice-versa: Ed Schultz. He’s not a favorite of the left blogosphere, but then, for that matter, neither was Imus.

The next LA Times Imus piece that caught my eye was from an unlikely source: The pathetic “humor” columnist on the op-ed page, Joel Stein. It’s really worth reading! Stein explains that he first discovered Imus in junior high and liked him because he called everybody a “weasel.” Then, in high school, Stein switched to the funnier Howard Stern and forgot about Imus.

I was pretty shocked when Imus reemerged as a political cognoscente. Senators and journalists happily suffered the fool. Imus asked people such as John McCain dumber questions than Stern asked strippers, and they laughed it off. But without the sexy little giggle.

That’s because society’s aspirationals use politics as a refuge for their stupidity. They sucker you into long conversations at dinner parties about how Bush is stupid and how Bush is also really stupid. They feed on political blogs and newspaper columnists that reflect their side and parrot the best one-liners they can find. These are the people who furiously scream about policy decisions mostly because they need to furiously scream about something. If they were one rung down the socioeconomic ladder, instead of yelling about Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Syria they’d be shouting about Kobe’s refusal to pass.

This isn’t to say that politics aren’t important or interesting. It’s to say that most people who talk about politics aren’t important or interesting. And Imus was their king. He got to pretend to be smart with actual smart people.

The arena of politics is too confined to encapsulate all the topics worthy of intellectual debate. It’s as though we all go to a college where everyone has to major in political science. Newspaper columns, talk radio and cable news channels rarely have serious debates about art, literature, technology, sex, fashion or religion. If it weren’t for Monica Lewinsky, newspapers still wouldn’t acknowledge the existence of the thong. Look at the lengths Britney Spears had to go to just to inform us of long-standing fashion changes in personal grooming.

The more serious side of the LA Times emerges in the penseés of Tim Rutten, their ponderous, old-school media columnist.  In his piece, he asks the really important question:  How has Imus gotten away with making these kinds of comments for so long, while retaining the fawning support of the political and media elite?

This guy has been doing this stuff for years — insulting and disparaging not only African Americans but Jews and gays.

This week the Anti-Defamation League distributed a statement pointing out that it has been lodging protests about Imus’ anti-Semitic remarks for years and nothing has been done. There are examples it cites that, frankly, can’t be quoted in this column because they’re too purely offensive, including a characterization of Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz that’s straight out of Julius Streicher. (He habitually referred to the late Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. with a similarly racist epithet.)

Why did he get away with it?

IT happened because he made millions for his network and syndicators and covered himself with a very shrewd strategy. He positioned himself as the thinking person’s shock jock and, when he wasn’t dishing out racism, prejudice or misogyny, invited onto his show a virtual who’s who of the national news media and publishing elite. Those people were only too happy to ignore their responsibility to call Imus on his reprehensible behavior because they profited from the promotional opportunities his program granted them. He helped sell books and journalists’ careers.

Another devil’s bargain, in the same mold as the Democrats’.  What does this say about the cynicism of the writers, broadcasters and politicians who seek to lead and instruct us, that they would find in Imus a useful tool?   Because from what Rutten and the various Democratic spokespersons quoted above are saying, we can expect the sales of books by journalists to drop, along with the percentage of white males voting Democratic, if Imus isn’t there to shine his peculiar light on them.

The mind reels at the implications.


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