The Imus Formula

In the post-Easter crucifixion of the "Imus in the Morning" radio show that substituted for news this week, the hypocrisy would make a Pharisee blush. All of a sudden, it's supposedly shocking that Don Imus referred to the Rutgers girls' basketball team with language that is routine on millions of "rap" recordings willingly bought by white and black kids alike for lo these 20 years.

Never mind, even, that such jokes have been a staple of Imus' show for decades. Where have these shocked detractors been? Over the years, he has referred to Gwen Ifill of the New York Times as "a cleaning lady," called tennis-playing Venus and Serena Williams "animals" and compared the forwards of the New York Knicks to gorillas. Race aside, he routinely uses foul and sexually degrading language to middle-aged women who are guests on his show. 

Curiously, those abused women on his show, strident feminists all, usually giggle appreciatively. I refer to columnist Maureen Dowd, reporters Andrea Mitchell, Claire Shipman, and Cokie Roberts, and plagiary-challenged historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, to name a few. But then again, they are usually on his show to promote their books.

Liberal male authors and reporters fawn all over Imus, too: Tom Friedman and Frank Rich of the Times; network broadcast faces Bob Schieffer, Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, Jim Miklaszewski, George Stephanopoulos, James Carville, Mike Wallace, and Brian Williams; print reporters like Jeff Greenfield, Mike Lupica, Howard Fineman, Jonathan Alter, Evan Thomas, and Pete Hamill. 

Is it possible that these same liberal solons-who solemnly pondered the possible racial implications of a Republican Senator from Virginia who referred to an opposition gate-crasher at one of his events as "Mr. Macaca"-never listened to the general content of Imus's show? Not even while they were on hold, waiting to go on the air?  With few exceptions, the liberal reportariat is silent, because Imus is suddenly not okay. They've shown that they don't disapprove for moral reasons; it's simply because Everybody's Talking About It. 

For years the Imus program has functioned as an electronic playground exempt from the norms of PC. Like Al Gore spewing CO2 in his private jet with the environmentalists' blessing, when the respectably liberal authors and reporters call the Imus show, they are exempt from the blue-nosed speech prescriptions they offer the rest of us. They can't say the nasty stuff themselves (Al D'Amato found out the hard way), but they can safely chuckle along. No one will write a nasty "Style" piece about them in the Washington Post or sue them for "creating a hostile environment" for hanging out with Imus and the boys to flog their book to his audience.

The critical thing to realize is that Imus's show has two elements, each of which keeps the other alive. The parade of left-wing opinion makes the show respectable in the slavishly PC New York ad market. Meanwhile, Imus's sex-and-bigotry shtick is the element that ensures that someone, somewhere, will actually listen to the show-specifically, sports-obsessed young males. And the show can be very funny.

Imus has a certain blowhard charm, kept more or less honest by the relentless teasing he endures from other members of the cast. They work together with split-second timing. Bernard McGuirk, a Buchanan conservative (isolationism and all), is mordantly witty and quick. Rob Barlett's parodies are often works of genius, making fun of Imus' liberal friends and their heroes. That creates the balance that has let the show survive. That, plus the fact that Imus gets politicians and liberal reporters to laugh at his raunchy jokes.

The staple of the show is Guy Humor. It's over-the-top, so I don't often listen. It's anti-Bush, which annoys me. And the racial stuff is cheap, but at least it's equal-opportunity. He hits Jews, Evangelicals (Imus says he loves Jesus), Catholics and priests in particular (Bernard nails him if he goes too far), Puerto Ricans, illegal aliens, Italians, and so on.

Now, if you take away the trash talk, what you're left with is a series of suck-up interviews with lefties selling books. In other words, Air America. Not a very promising business model, is it? 

After the PC storm blows over, I can't believe CBS radio, the Imus show's owner, and MSNBC, its former simulcaster, would go for a gelded Imus, and I'll bet the liberal reportariat won't let the pressure reach that level.* After all, if the Imus show folds, where will all those liberal reporters promote their books? Sean Hannity?

Update: I was wrong. MSNBC has cancelled Imus, after sponsors pulled their ads. CBS will be next to feel the pressure. A gelded Imus will not sell.
In the post-Easter crucifixion of the "Imus in the Morning" radio show that substituted for news this week, the hypocrisy would make a Pharisee blush. All of a sudden, it's supposedly shocking that Don Imus referred to the Rutgers girls' basketball team with language that is routine on millions of "rap" recordings willingly bought by white and black kids alike for lo these 20 years.

Never mind, even, that such jokes have been a staple of Imus' show for decades. Where have these shocked detractors been? Over the years, he has referred to Gwen Ifill of the New York Times as "a cleaning lady," called tennis-playing Venus and Serena Williams "animals" and compared the forwards of the New York Knicks to gorillas. Race aside, he routinely uses foul and sexually degrading language to middle-aged women who are guests on his show. 

Curiously, those abused women on his show, strident feminists all, usually giggle appreciatively. I refer to columnist Maureen Dowd, reporters Andrea Mitchell, Claire Shipman, and Cokie Roberts, and plagiary-challenged historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, to name a few. But then again, they are usually on his show to promote their books.

Liberal male authors and reporters fawn all over Imus, too: Tom Friedman and Frank Rich of the Times; network broadcast faces Bob Schieffer, Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, Jim Miklaszewski, George Stephanopoulos, James Carville, Mike Wallace, and Brian Williams; print reporters like Jeff Greenfield, Mike Lupica, Howard Fineman, Jonathan Alter, Evan Thomas, and Pete Hamill. 

Is it possible that these same liberal solons-who solemnly pondered the possible racial implications of a Republican Senator from Virginia who referred to an opposition gate-crasher at one of his events as "Mr. Macaca"-never listened to the general content of Imus's show? Not even while they were on hold, waiting to go on the air?  With few exceptions, the liberal reportariat is silent, because Imus is suddenly not okay. They've shown that they don't disapprove for moral reasons; it's simply because Everybody's Talking About It. 

For years the Imus program has functioned as an electronic playground exempt from the norms of PC. Like Al Gore spewing CO2 in his private jet with the environmentalists' blessing, when the respectably liberal authors and reporters call the Imus show, they are exempt from the blue-nosed speech prescriptions they offer the rest of us. They can't say the nasty stuff themselves (Al D'Amato found out the hard way), but they can safely chuckle along. No one will write a nasty "Style" piece about them in the Washington Post or sue them for "creating a hostile environment" for hanging out with Imus and the boys to flog their book to his audience.

The critical thing to realize is that Imus's show has two elements, each of which keeps the other alive. The parade of left-wing opinion makes the show respectable in the slavishly PC New York ad market. Meanwhile, Imus's sex-and-bigotry shtick is the element that ensures that someone, somewhere, will actually listen to the show-specifically, sports-obsessed young males. And the show can be very funny.

Imus has a certain blowhard charm, kept more or less honest by the relentless teasing he endures from other members of the cast. They work together with split-second timing. Bernard McGuirk, a Buchanan conservative (isolationism and all), is mordantly witty and quick. Rob Barlett's parodies are often works of genius, making fun of Imus' liberal friends and their heroes. That creates the balance that has let the show survive. That, plus the fact that Imus gets politicians and liberal reporters to laugh at his raunchy jokes.

The staple of the show is Guy Humor. It's over-the-top, so I don't often listen. It's anti-Bush, which annoys me. And the racial stuff is cheap, but at least it's equal-opportunity. He hits Jews, Evangelicals (Imus says he loves Jesus), Catholics and priests in particular (Bernard nails him if he goes too far), Puerto Ricans, illegal aliens, Italians, and so on.

Now, if you take away the trash talk, what you're left with is a series of suck-up interviews with lefties selling books. In other words, Air America. Not a very promising business model, is it? 

After the PC storm blows over, I can't believe CBS radio, the Imus show's owner, and MSNBC, its former simulcaster, would go for a gelded Imus, and I'll bet the liberal reportariat won't let the pressure reach that level.* After all, if the Imus show folds, where will all those liberal reporters promote their books? Sean Hannity?

Update: I was wrong. MSNBC has cancelled Imus, after sponsors pulled their ads. CBS will be next to feel the pressure. A gelded Imus will not sell.