I missed this one, from Friday:
HOWARD KURTZ: Over the years, Imus made fun of blacks, Jews, gays, politicians. He called them lying weasels. This was part of his charm...
This is the media critic for the Washington Post and CNN. Do you think maybe Howie has been spending a little too much time around the wrong people lately?
Gwen Ifill was good this morning on Meet The Press. It's very clear that to me from watching it that part of the problem is, as Jesse Jackson pointed out frequently this past week, that guys like Tim Russert rarely have to face black people on the air who will confront their billionaire boys club assumptions. I doubt that Russert sees himself as an intolerant, racist sexist frat boy jerk. And in most interactions he probably doesn't behave that way in the least. But he also didn't see that Imus was feeding a very nasty American Id with his comments, (it was "part of his charm" after all) and since he did it to everyone, it was no harm no foul. Looking Gwen Ifill, his colleague and respected female African American journalist, right in the eye, and having to answer to her concerns is something that could have made a difference long ago.
I believe the head of MSNBC when he said that it was the (shockingly small) cadre of African American journalists, broadcast personalities --- and other employees --- standing up that really opened his eyes to the issue. He doesn't like to think of himself as an insensitive creep. Only the true Rush Limbaugh ditto-head embraces such a self-image. So, when confronted directly by one of his high profile employees saying publicly what he'd been thinking privately for years, it made a difference. (Needless to say, it was the corporate advertiser pull-out that was the final straw...)
I have a few quibbles with what she said about the "Culture of Meanness", however, which I fear will be interpreted as "being rude." On the McLaughlin Report last night Tony Blankley repeatedly brought up the fact that "liberals" say horrible things about President Bush and Dick Cheney as a corollary to the Imus matter. To any sentient person, this is ridiculous, and Blankley is a total partisan so his views are tainted. But I don't think it will stop with him. You have to remember that we are talking about the elite political media, which reflexively seeks an equivalency between both sides as a way of appearing impartial. There is probably going to be a concerted effort among many of these embarrassed media types to find "intolerant" language on the left to show that "both sides do it", even as the right works desperately to hang Imus on us, despite the fact that it makes no sense. Liberals called out the elite media for consorting with jackasses and they aren't going to forgive us for it any time soon. Just a word of warning...
The truth is that while everybody insults other people (it's human nature and it's not confined to any particular group) there is a substantial difference between the political insults that come from the left and those that come from the right: the left tends to take on powerful people and institutions while the right goes after those who have been historically left out of the party. It may not be strictly political --- Imus seems to be one of those vaunted "independents" who votes for whichever candidate's personality pissed him off the least for entirely personal reasons --- but it tends to manifest itself along the left/right axis in American politics.
I think this is part of the reason the right embraces victimization by some phantom liberal elite. On some level they know there is something distasteful about their fear and loathing of those who carry the weight of historical discrimination so they have to turn themselves into victims of oppression themselves in order to rationalize their behavior. So, we see incredibly rich, white males like Rush Limbaugh railing against "liberals" (which forms a nice rhetorical umbrella for hatred toward all the historically disenfranchised) even at a time when the entire US government and the media were dominated by conservatives. It's why they were reduced to creating a laughably absurd "War on Christmas."
I suspect it's actually emotionally uncomfortable for them to have too much power. They have a much harder time finding ways to rationalize their loathing of the other when they are running everything. I think they'd hoped that the GWOT would allow them to really get their hate on, but American society just didn't rise to the bait the way it used to. (The "Mexican invasion" may work where that didn't, but I'm hopeful that it won't either.) They are in a bind, with a society that is still human and therefore suceptible to this kind of lizard brain thinking but which is also evolving well beyond the point when a powerful white male can get away with being a rank racist in public, no matter how "charming" Howie Kurtz thinks it is or how "even handed" his jokes are. I expect that the epic failure of Republican rule is going to let loose a very angry conservative beast. They hate to lose but they love to be victims. It's a powerfully frustrating combination.
One final thought on the Imus matter and then I'm going to put it to bed. The blatant racism of Imus's comments was the straw that broke the camels back. Everyone recognized immediately just how wrong that was. But, we have a long way to go with the sexism issue, which was never really dealt with openly in this thing and which is so pervasive in talk radio that it's hard to know where to start.
Listen to any radio talk show discuss Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi or Rosie O'Donnell and tell me if they can stick to substantive disagreements with what they say for more than 30 seconds before they launch into an attack against their looks, their voice, their sexuality--- whatever. I dare you. When the Republican party's cleverest issue framer comes out with a shocking rhetorical clunker like this, you know that there is a serious problem:
FRANK LUNTZ: I always use the line for Nancy Pelosi, "You get one shot at a facelift. If it doesn't work the first time, let it go."
It's stupid, sexist and ultimately self-defeating. It's a recipe for a political backlash and shows just how out of touch many of our culture's most powerful men are on this issue.
But rightwing male idiocy aside, let me just say this: I would hope that no decent person of either party would ever, ever think it was ok to appear on a show where someone says things like this:
"Ain't gonna be so beautiful when the bitch got a bald head and one titty."
That wasn't some obscure rap lyric (and I'm not sure I've ever heard a rap lyric quite a horrible as that, and some of them are truly horrible.) That comment about an unnamed famous woman who had announced she had breast cancer (I think it might be Sheryl Crow) was made just two years ago by Imus sidekick Sid Rosenberg and it was recounted in Vanity Fair in January of 2006. I'm pretty sure that all his fans in the media knew all about it --- the piece featured all of them, after all. I find it completely stunning that anyone could find that "charming" or funny or entertaining, who doesn't have a real hatred for women in his or her soul. That is the very definition of misogyny. (And you can throw in a despicable loathing toward the sick and disabled too.) I'm not sure it can go any lower than that.
So, when you get into a discussion with a rightwinger about liberal hatred, and they try to pin Imus and his boys club on us, throw that one out there. I guarantee you that it will be a litmus test of what kind of person you are talking to. I can't believe that people would associate with a man who made his millions saying things like that, no matter how many good deeds he did in his private life to assuage his well deserved guilt. I wish Gwen Ifill had asked old Tim about it today. I'm sure he'd never admit that he knew about it --- but he did. They all did. Of course they did.
This isn't about being "mean." You can be mean and sharp and edgy and even horribly insulting and still have human decency. That indecently sexist comment said everything I ever needed to know about whether Don Imus was a decent person. The kewl kidz just thought it was their pal Don crossing a line (again) and that says a lot about them too. Some things are simply unforgiveable. I still don't get the sense that they understand that.