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How to Finally Answer Imus

April 9, 2007

By Carol Jenkins That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos . . . " "Some hardcore hos," McGuirk said. "That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that," Imus said. Don Imus says he is not a bad man; he just said a bad thing, words issued with “no malice.” Once again, an off the cuff racist/sexist exchange, this time several white men, including the show’s executive producer, Bernard McGuirk—disparaging the young black women on Rutgers’ basketball team, has put a broadcaster on the firing line. On this occasion, those who think Imus should pay with his job include The Rev. Al Sharpton, The National Association of Black Journalists, and Kim Gandy, president of NOW, who has initiated a “Dump Don” campaign on the NOW website, supported by the National Council of Women’s Organizations, representing some 200 groups and ten million women nationwide. Imus was slow to apologize, but now sensing big trouble, will engage in some self-flagellation on Al Sharpton’s radio program today—and says he would like to apologize personally to the Rutgers team. "These women don't know who I am," he said. "They don't know if I'm on a right-wing diatribe or I was drunk."  Do we hear a prelude to the rehab defense? It is not Imus’s first offense—a reliance on racial humor has found him previously referring to PBS anchor Gwen Ifill as a “cleaning lady.” When called to task, he promised to shape up. Despite Imus’ guest appearance on his show, Sharpton has called for Imus’ ouster by the end of the week, and threatens protests at WFAN, the CBS radio station where Imus’s show originates if he’s still on the air by Saturday. Jesse Jackson will protest MSNBC, the cable network that airs Imus as television fare. The storm is growing more perfect by the hour, promising to engage an ever-widening cast of activists, defenders of freedom of speech—and presidential candidates, who are being warned about going anywhere near Don Imus if they care about their chances at the polls. While punishing Imus—and his team—may give us the cathartic satisfaction the offenses seem to demand, what the incident really provides is a chance to take a close look at how women are treated—or mistreated—in the media generally. It’s a chance to explore, and finally silence, the angry, insulting, degrading offerings that pass for news/information/entertainment in the media—most egregiously radio, a medium that holds staggering statistics: 85-90% male management, and decisively male domination on the air.  A lot of  “atta boy” winking has been going on in this particular locker room for too long. Let’s not stop at Imus, caught in the headlights this time, but let’s look, and really listen, to them all. What is the yelling all about, really? And, most importantly, let us use this incident to find solutions to some deep-running problems in the media—among them few women (3%) with truly “clout” positions to put a stop to offenses like these. When it comes time to write about Imus, only a quarter of the columnists with a regular podium will be women, and while there will be many on-air reporters and anchors visibly telling the story, almost all of their bosses are men: the executive suites in media are still an almost exclusively male domain. There are many stories about women that deserve to be told and are ignored by mainstream media. The telling of this one should concentrate on the Rutgers’ women: their accomplishment and defamation, as emblematic of what happens so often to women—in real life, and the media. The tricky part about responding to Imus is to not ourselves engage in name-calling, becoming the schoolyard bullies we so resent. The outrage is only relevant if it is followed by a systematic, thoughtful, creation of the media we want. We can start together today For other statements, go to the sites of the Journalism and Women Symposium and the National Association of Black Journalists.
Tags: Media, Sports