by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Corres[pndent
May 7, 2007
Angel Fire, N.M.
THE IMUS STANDARD
ANGEL FIRE, N.M., May 7, 2007 -- It took veteran Washington freelance journalist Elaine Povich to finally shake me into an overdue explanation of my half-hearted defense of deposed talk show host Don Imus.
Writing on our United Press International alumni wire, aptly called the "Downhold" wire, Elaine noted earlier today to our circle of former UPI people:
"I liked Imus' political interviews and occasionally, his political commentary. I liked some of his humor. When the humor got bad, I simply switched stations. He used to do a bit about Ted Kennedy that featured some "underwater" glub-glub bit that I found offensive. The radio has push-buttons, that's the beauty of it. Anyone who is offended can switch stations. I'm quite sure I would have tuned out when he began the bit that got him fired. Apparently, enough people liked him that his ratings were rather high for the time period. His advertisers were quite high-brow, giving the listener an idea of the demographic that listened to the show."
I'm grateful to Elaine for a thoughtful and candid review of the Imus factor. I had started to pen a few thoughts, and held back on many levels, trying to sort out my own feelings. Full disclosure impels me to reveal that I served as an either executive board member or an officer of the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts for more than five years in the '90s, and the organization forged a strong working relationship with John Seigenthaler, Sr., and the Vanderbilt University/Freedom Forum First Amendment group.
My first reaction way back then, and still today, is that as repulsive as Howard Stern and others might be, the thought of a world without bathroom humor, sarcasm, ethnic slurs, poor taste, Ted Kennedy swimming jokes, and the freedom to be an arsehole would bring our nation to a much worse place.
Note I said "first reaction." As with Elaine, I was often thankful for the ability to switch the radio dial, especially with kids in the car. I often did just that. But my second and third reactions were to recall that Bernard McGuirk, Imus' co-producer, frequently donned a Fed Ex envelope as a Cardinal's hat, and slurred Roman Catholics, their church and their priests week after week, and that the drug-laden double-entendres of the Imus show's oft-fired sportscaster Sid Rosenberg went over the line of common decency, especially when simulcast on tv. He was eventually fired for good for tasteless jokes about breast cancer victims. Yet, cable tv news stations have virtually no ratings at all compared to network channels, and have never been held to the FCC standards for "broadcast" outlets.
Okay, Elaine labeled her comments a "rant," and in true rant fashion I'm slowly getting to the point.
The failure of the broadcast industry to maintain standards or to have ANY standards hit me Saturday night when I apparently stumbled upon a few minutes of an All Star "best of" Saturday Night Live show. There was a bit with Alec Baldwin and some actress carpooling to work, and the final lame joke was when the female driver told curmudgeon Baldwin to "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and Baldwin in the final retort of the skit snapped, "Bobby McFerrin (composer and performer of the once hit song of the same name) raped my daughter!"
Well, it was after 11pm Mountain time, and I guess the bit aired originally late at night, but somewhere I recall that pop musician McFerrin has gone on to be a symphonic composer and music educator. As a musician and black American parlayed "Don't Worry Be Happy" into a remarkable career of civic and professional responsibility. Is he less valuable to the nation than the Rutgers female basketball team, or the Archbishop of New York? I'm note sure, but the Baldwin remark (unlike his taped phone call to his daughter) has ever gotten a media mention.
The final thought for deep-thinking colleagues comes from the old scene in "Bells of St. Mary" or one of those flicks with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, where a Mafiosi puts 10 G's in the offertory, and the parish priest has to choose between using the money to keep the church open or returning tainted money.
Keeping Don Imus on the air - probably with the same sometimes-newsworthy, often potty-mouth humor called for in his contract, was the radio and tv version of "it's not our job to investigate the source of the money in the plate. Take the money and use it for charity."
The far more eloquent Ms. Povich added in her posting:
"I'm not surprised he was fired, but I am surprised that few people (at least whom I have seen) have had the guts to discuss the nuances of the program and not just label it one thing or the other. Particularly cowardly, I think, are the journalists who dined out on the exposure they got from Imus, but refused to comment on the incident that got him fired.
"Unlike some talk-show personalities (Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage), people didn't either love or hate Imus - it was something in between. Some people kinda liked the political stuff, but were uncomfortable with some of the humor. Some people, I suspect, liked the humor, but found the political stuff kinda boring. It was not a black and white show."
On his worse day, when other hosts cherry-picked promotional appearances, fund-raisers and charities (if any), Don Imus His camp for kids here in New Mexico is a thousand times better than not having a classy, hands-on ranch experience for kids who face terminal illness. He's also raised millions for for troops in Iraq and wounded veterans, even while boosting for his wife's campaign to keep dangerous chemicals and cleansers out of hospitals and schools. His generosity is probably unsurpassed by anyone but Jerry Lewis. That should count for something.
And the spectacle of watching Don Imus' wrinkled, aging, nicotine-stained lips sewn shut by political correctness should not be a cause for joy in journalistic circles.