The rest of the program was devoted to the demise, for now, of Don Imus. Timmeh led a discussion that was supposed to include, as well, two other topics, but Russert, John Harwood of the WSJ, David Brooks, Gwen Ifill, and Eugene Robinson couldn’t tear themselves away from their once-a-decade discussion of race in America.
The discussion started with a paradisiacal exchange: White man, Russert, reads a quote from a column by black man, Eugene Robinson, in which Robinson insists that the Imus controversy is not about “who can say what,“ and then waves in Robinson’s face this weeks Time magazine cover, which poses exactly that question as the central one. No, Robinson reiterated, the issue was a kind of offensive speech that hit deep and provoked a response that ultimately couldn’t be ignored by those who present and sponsor Imus; it showed that black folks weren’t ready to keep on taking it, and that enough of them were finally in positions within the media and within sponsoring corporations to make a difference.
David Brooks half-heartedly accepted there was racial dimension to Imus’s comments, but was more comfortable chalking it up to a culture of cruelty which admittedly is demeaning American discourse and American popular culture.
As you’ve probably heard, Gwen Ifill challenged the fact that Brooks had been a guest on Imus, and didn’t, like so many others, offer any comment until the issue was resolved by the cancellation by MSNBC and CBS of Imus’s morning show. It was nice to see her so relentless, although it was also saddening when paired with how completely she comports herself on her PBS gig, “Washington Week in Review” as a typical beltway insider.
John Hardwood felt justice had been done. It was left to Russert to question the justice of what had happened during the previous week, and clearly, Timmeh felt a personal stake in it all, not only as a regular guest on Imus In The Morning, but as someone who, as he said, likes Imus, and doesn’t think for a moment that he’s a racist, though, yes, what he said was racist.
For me, the entirely clueless aspect of the discussion was contained in a phrase we heard often during the week, which Russert repeated, that Imus is an equal opportunity offender. Isn’t that cute? You take one of the basic concepts of the civil rights movement, equal opportunity, an aim that was partly achieved through one of the most controversial of remedies employed to change the negative outcomes for African-Americans often made inevitable by a racist past, and present, in order to deny that Imus discussing a group of highly achieving, young, female, African-American student athletes in a casually demeaning conversation with his so-called producer, whom he once admitted he’d hired explicitly to make N-word jokes, using classic tropes of American racism isn’t an example of racism in action, but nothing more than a shock and awe technique used to make fun of everyone.
No one mentioned the discussion about race, poverty and on-going segregation that we were supposed to have after Katrina. No one mentioned the loud yawn that Bill Clinton’s attempt to have a national dialogue on race elicited from the SCLM. No one mentioned the issue of voter suppression, which is at the heart of the on-going question of the politicization of the Justice Department, and you can be sure that no one mentioned the 2000 election in which thousands of black voters in Florida were kept from voting because they were incorrectly identified as felons. No one mentioned that various kind of affirmative action programs are what has made it possible for diversity to enter more workplaces than ever before, which is what caught out Imus. And of course no one mentioned the relentless attack on all forms of affirmative action by the Republican Party, starting under Reagan, and reaching some kind of apex in the Bush, father and son, appointments to the Federal Judiciary. No one mentioned the over-representation of African-American males in our prison system, despite the fact that statistical analysis shows that those difference can’t only be caused by a greater frequency of law-breaking among African-Americans.