Serial Apologies

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For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Maybe, just maybe, the uproar over Don Imus's racist insult toward a women's basketball team will mark the beginning of the end of all the potty-mouthed trash and abuse that passes for discourse on talk radio and TV.

But don't count on it. In a few weeks there'll be another insensitive broadside from a belligerent talking head, and we'll all be complaining about that.

Today we saw the human side of this whole sorry affair. In the clamor of condemnation that greeted Imus's description of the Rutgers University women as "nappy-headed hos," a remark that maligned both their race and their gender, the most eloquent response came from the players themselves.

Any of you who saw their press conference on TV had to have been impressed by how gracefully they handled the occasion.

One by one, members of the Scarlet Knights introduced themselves by name, hometown and college year, and answered questions with the innocence and arkwardness that you would expect from young college kids, albeit kids who just made it to an NCAA championship game.

They never once resorted to anger or invective, the very things that keep talk radio humming.

The 10 women, all but two of them black, told the large assembly of reporters and photographers that they had agreed to meet Imus privately "in the near future" to hear his explanation.

They said they had not yet received an apology from him, despite his public contrition, and weren't sure they'd accept one if and when it came.

Coach C. Vivian Stringer said that Imus's remarks did not disparage only the women on the team, but all women.

"Would you have wanted your daughters to be called that?" she asked.

Gwen Ifill, a black reporter who covered the Clinton administration for the New York Times, recalled today in a column what Imus said on the air about her in 1993: "Isn't The Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House."

Ifill, now a senior correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, called Imus's latest slur "a shockingly concise sexual and racial insult, tossed out in a volley of male camaraderie by a group of amused, middle-aged white men."

Imus's conversation about the Rutgers women was with his producer Bernard McGuirk, who, the Washington Post said today, "has a long list of repugnant comments that go back years."

The Associated Press dug up some nuggets tossed out in the past by Imus or his cronies. They've called Colin Powell a "sniffling weasel," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson a "fat sissy," and the New York Knicks a group of "chest-thumping pimps."

Nevertheless, Imus often books high-profile guests, people like Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Barack Obama, although it remains to be seen whether they'll come back after this. Wayne Friedman, whose TV Watch column runs on, wrote today that the real test is whether Imus can save his job after his two-week suspension:

"Will the audience return? Will the incident curb his witty edge, and thus any entertainment value of his show?"

Friedman wrote that people like Imus, who said he was just trying to be funny, "aren't real comedians... many of whom can spend years developing their acts. Instead, the material is merely, and usually, of shock value."

"Imus has been doing this kind of stuff throughout his 40-year career," Friedman said. "He takes great pains to note he is an equal opportunity offender, making equal fun of Jews, gays, and Catholics."

But even Al Roker has had enough. "Genial Al," as Newsday called him this morning, "who rarely if ever steps into the midst of a roiling controversy... called on Imus to be fired."

On his MSNBC blog, Roker called Imus's remark "vile and disgusting."

"It denigrated an entire team and by extension, a community."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan