Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Al Roker proves me wrong, but where are his colleagues?


Yesterday I asked: "Where are the high profile CBS and NBC personalities? Are they working behind the scenes to cleanse the racism from their organization? Do any of them have the guts to actually speak out about this stain on the network that feeds them? "

Well, here's one, as far as I know the first one, Al Roker, and he does so with logic and without pulling his punches:

The “I’m a good person who said a bad thing” apology doesn’t cut it. At least he didn’t try to weasel out of this by hiding behind alcohol or drug abuse. Still, he said it and a two-week suspension doesn’t cut it. It is, at best, a slap on the wrist. A vacation. Nothing.

The general manager of Cartoon Network resigned after a publicity stunt went wrong and caused a panic in Boston. He did the right thing. Don Imus should do the right thing and resign. Not talk about taking a two-week suspension with dignity. I don’t think Don Imus gets it.

After watching and listening to him this morning during an interview with Matt Lauer, Don Imus doesn’t get it. Maybe it’s being stuck in a studio for 35 years or being stuck in the 1980’s. Either way, it’s obvious that he needs to move on. Citing “context within a comedy show” is not an excuse.

He has to take his punishment and start over. Guess what? He’ll get re-hired and we’ll go on like nothing happened. CBS Radio and NBC News needs to remove Don Imus from the airwaves. That is what needs to happen. Otherwise, it just looks like profits and ratings rule over decency and justice.

THANK YOU AL, but where are your white colleagues? Without a broad multi-hued opposition, we'll continue to see comments like those at the bottom of your blog entry -- the typical boilerplate racist defenses of Imus and non-sequiturial and nonsensical attacks on Al Sharpton and gangster rappers (I didn't read them all, but you just know that some "wit" has already decided to call you "Reverend Al Roker").

crossposted from BeatVisitor.com

UPDATE 11 April 07:


Anonymous said...

I am an African American male who, before this morning, was an ardent fan of the “Imus in the Morning” television program on MSNBC. Funny enough in fact, my usual routine was to flip back and forth between Imus and “The Today Show” while readying myself for work. I have just a few points to offer about the brewing controversy over Don Imus’ use of the phrase “nappy-headed hos” to describe the Rutgers women’s basketball team, and some of the comments I have read here in response to Mr. Roker’s courageous stance.

First, I am put off by the media instinctively going to Reverend Jackson and Reverend Sharpton for the pulse of black America. While I respect much of what both have done over the years to turn the spotlight on issues of race and civil rights issues in general, the Black community is not a monolith. These men don’t speak for all of “us.” No one does. It is absurd (and offensive) that whenever someone utters a racially insensitive statement about black people, the knee jerk reaction of TV program directors and producers alike is to immediately cut to Jackson or Sharpton for comment. (Why? Did I miss a meeting or something?) Were, say, offensive comments about Asian people or Jewish people (recall the Mel Gibson comment) to get similar mainstream traction to the Imus comment, imagine how silly it would be for the mass media to keep cutting to shots of the SAME TWO Asian or Jewish guys to “speak” for their respective races/groups. And beyond absurdity, there is the “kill the messenger” syndrome that naturally follows when we leave it up to Jackson and Sharpton to speak for black America. We must never make the messenger larger than the message. It obscures the real issue by leaving open Reverend Jackson and Reverend Sharpton to ridicule and criticism for their own past statements and actions. (With Jackson, people talk about his 1984 reference to Jews as “Hymies” and to New York City as “Hymietown”; with Sharpton, people talk about the racially charged incident in 1987 where he defended Tawana Brawley, a 15 year old black teenage girl who accused a number of white police officers of raping her. That incident was later revealed to have probably been a hoax.) Here’s a thought. Why not talk to more black people to get varying perspectives? (Al Roker, for one, has shown himself willing and capable of expressing a point of view. And he’s as American as apple pie!)

Second, as a number of posters have stated, there certainly is freedom of speech/expression in America. Don Imus is free to speak his mind, just as the market place is free to express itself. If he survives this, because of the core demographic makeup of the “Imus in the Morning” television program, I am assuming (and I could be wrong) that his audience will largely stick by him – resoundingly “speaking” or “expressing” their support for Imus and his message through sustained ratings. But this is not an issue of freedom of speech. Having a nationally syndicated television and radio program, broadcast over federally funded airwaves, is not a constitutional right. It is a privilege. And it is for this very reason that the snide comments directing Mr. Roker to simply “turn the channel” or “not listen” to Imus instead of calling for him to step aside are misplaced. (I note that when Howard Stern was finally fed up with the FCC censoring what he could broadcast over public airwaves, he went to satellite radio; were Imus to have done the same and made this comment, I’d condemn his statement BUT defend his right to remain on the air.)

Third, regarding the comment made by Don Imus himself this morning (and others in response to Mr. Roker) to the effect that African American popular culture tacitly condones racist images and terms in rap music et al., the comment doesn’t appear to be motivated to change the negative aspects of African American popular culture. Instead, it seems designed to provide cover for bigotry in mainstream media. Sure, blacks are as guilty or more guilty than others in creating, propagating and consuming wholesale racism aimed at blacks. But that is not an excuse under which Imus or anyone else can hide. Lets be crystal clear on this point. Wrong is wrong. It is as wrong if an African American media personality refers to a black woman as a “nappy-headed ho” as it is for Imus to have used this term to describe the Rutgers women. Similarly, other racist images and terms should be railed against and purged from the public airwaves. But I offer an analogy that I think will make my point here: pointing out racist images and terms in African American popular culture as a cover for Imus’ offense is no different than pointing to everyone else who is whizzing by and defying the speed limit when a cop pulls you over for speeding. It doesn’t undercut the substantive point, which is that YOU committed an offense for which YOU should be punished.

This brings me to my fourth and final point, which explains why I think that the I-man should either voluntarily leave his post, or be forcibly removed. I started watching the “Imus in the Morning” program regularly last year, mostly for the political personalities that go on daily to sell books. From my admittedly limited perspective, it has been a mixed bag on issues of race. For example, while Don Imus (and Chris Matthews, also of MSNBC) was one of the few mainstream faces to attribute a racial component to the Hurricane Katrina fiasco, Imus and his crew think nothing of routinely referring to, say, black athletes as animals. While Imus campaigned for Harold Ford to be the first black Senator from the south since reconstruction, I flinch every time he has one of his regular “comics” parody Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is Harvard educated and speaks the “Kings’ English” without a hint of an accent, as a heavily-accented buffoon. However, one incident in particular happened a while back which really turned me off to the Imus show (although I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t turn him off completely until this recent incident). During this particular sketch, Imus had his producer, Bernie Kerik, go to Harlem, New York to get a “Man on the Street” perspective on the war in Iraq. Bernie approached an African American man, late twenties, who had just gotten off of the subway and asked him what his take was on the war and the impending Iraqi elections. The man responded with insight and eloquence, even when pressed with follow-up questions from Bernie. From the studio, Imus let Bernie know that he was not pleased and that this was not the point of the sketch, to which Bernie then approached a tragically intoxicated black man who looked to be homeless and in his late sixties, and asked him the same questions. When the man gave his answers – the ones which were coherent, Imus and his cohorts erupted in laughter and applause. They had succeeded in making a black man in Harlem appear foolish.

I suppose that my detractors will say that “Imus in the Morning” is a comedy program and that it is intended to make everyone look like fools, including Don Imus. And I guess that’s true to a certain extent. But here’s my beef with Imus and race. Whenever he makes a joke at the expense of a person of color, it always has to deal with the target’s race – like saying that Serena Williams should pose for National Geographic Magazine and calling both Williams sisters “apes”; like constantly referring to Arabs as “rag heads”; like referring to Senator Barack Obama as “that colored fellow”; like calling PBS journalist Gwen Ifill, who famously moderated a vice presidential debate in 2004, a “cleaning lady.” And because it deals with the target’s race, and race is shared by millions of innocent bystanders, by extension these comments are almost universally hurtful. In other words, calling a black athlete an animal because he or she is black is tantamount to calling ALL black athletes animals; calling the Attorney General a gardener because he is Hispanic is tantamount to calling ALL Hispanics gardeners or other sorts of menial workers. It reeks of racial superiority and it has no place on the public airwaves.

I’ll end with this. In 2000, on the air, Don Imus promised Clearance Page, a black journalist who works at the Chicago Tribune and often serves as a media pundit, that he would stop with the racially offensive statements. (Ironically, that was the last time that Imus had Mr. Page on his show!) Imus clearly broke his promise time and time again. For the foregoing reasons, I think its obvious that a two week paid “suspension”, to be served after he has finished fund-raising for his ranch and promoting his wife’s new book, is less than insufficient. It is insulting.

Thank you, Mr. Roker, for having the courage to stand up against this garbage. Now, in the mornings, I’ll be exclusively watching you and the gang over at “The Today Show.”

True Blue Liberal said...

Thank you for adding your comment here. It's more insightful than anything that I've been able to say about this situation, and it had telling details I hadn't seen elsewhere: The story about the man-on-the-street interview in Harlem was new to me, and horrifying (if not surprising in light of recent events).

Like you, I blame the media for the coverage of this situation. They ignored Imus's comments until Al Sharpton jumped on board, but with the uplifting appearance of the Rutgers basketball team and coach yesterday, I don't think the media is going to be able to reduce this to the "Don vs. Al" show (because they got such great ratings with the "Donald (Trump) vs. Rosie (O'Donnell)" show last month, and all they know is how to do sequels).

Thanks again for visiting. It's definitely the most intelligent thing I've ever seen written in a blog comment by someone signed "Anonymous".