What were they thinking? They weren't

A broadcaster whose stupidity caught up with success, Don Imus is in bad company – lots and lots of bad company.
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Don Imus.

A broadcaster whose stupidity caught up with success, Don Imus is in bad company – lots and lots of bad company.

If you're just getting back into town after a week of incommunicado gunkholing in the San Juans, you may not have heard that somebody said something stupid on the radio. Wow. He was on the radio, and there's really no question that what he said was stupid. He meant to say it, too, which is an important point. Historically, a lot of people on the radio (and television, too, let's be honest) have said stupid things, but they didn't mean to say them. I once announced an event taking place in La Jolla, Calif., only I gave Jolla a hard J, as in "Jesus." Stupid. I thought there were two cities in California, La Jolla and La Hoya, where the basketball team comes from. (Fortunately for me, this happened on non-commercial, listener-supported KRAB-FM in Seattle, circa 1968, when nobody was listening except a handful of the criminally mellow.) Some years ago, an otherwise smart Seattle anchorwoman read a news story datelined Prague, which she pronounced to rhyme with the spaghetti sauce – Ragu? – because, damnit, that's the way "Prague" looks on a teleprompter. And it is still possible to make Aaron Brown, the former Seattle and network anchorman, blush up nice and red under his spectacular tan by reminding him of a commercial he was reading on Seattle's own KTW-AM. The commercial was for Leo Azose and Sons Jewelers, one of the few sponsors 1974 KTW would ever have, and Brown claimed that Leo's store "was the epitome of Seattle jewelers." Only he pronounced "epitome" to almost rhyme with "Pepitone," like Joe Pepitone, the great Yankee first baseman of the 1960s. We tried to console Brown by suggesting that Joe would have been even bigger in the Yankee organization if he'd pronounced his name "peh-PIT-oh-nee," but Brown was inconsolable for maybe five minutes. So people have been saying stupid things on the airwaves since the days of President Hoobert Heever. But not intentionally. The guy who intentionally said the stupid thing on the radio recently is named Don Imus. You may have seen him doing his radio show on cable television, which says something very, very sad about cable television. Don looks like what Lyndon Johnson probably looks like right now – a cadaver in a cowboy hat. That's not counting the Imus hair, which is luxuriantly wavy and quite ludicrous on a cadaver his age. Imus' hair looks like something you might find on a ho. A boy ho. And the stupid thing he said was – well, if you don't already know what he said, you gave up on this piece before Joe Pepitone came to the plate. And anyway, too many people who've written about Don Imus being stupid have taken bizarre delight in repeating what he said, like they've been dying to say it themselves, or something equally stupid. One guy even wrote, "At least he didn't say ..." and then wrote some even stupider stuff. I'm not playing that game. Imus has been fired by the cable channel, MSNBC, and given a two-week suspension from his nationally syndicated radio show (heartbreak for Don). He's lost some sponsors. He's had to make apologies all over the place, including the New York radio program of the Rev. Al Sharpton. Perhaps Rev. Sharpton was chosen because his hairstyle could be called many things, but never nappy, not even by Don Imus, who is, as mentioned before, very non-nappy himself. The first thing any broadcaster is taught is "never apologize for what you do on the air." (Dick Stokke to me, KFKF-AM, Bellevue, Wash., 1963.) You can see this rule in action in the behavior of Bill O'Reilly, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Al Franken (trying to be bipartisan here), and a host of other padres and pundi-tators. It's Imus' creed, as well. So it must be agony for him to have to make all these apologies. Unless, of course, this entire kerfuffle is one giant publicity stunt, designed to bring the fading Imus name and fame back before the public, albeit as a speaker of offensive, stupid things. Such a ploy has been tried before by the talent-impaired (two words: Howard Stern) and it would certainly explain the apologies. Americans love the repentant transgressor (three words: Rush "Pillzapoppin" Limbaugh). We have to ask ourselves why a broadcaster of Imus' experience even considered using the word "nappy" on the air, unless he thought he was talking about a carpet. Surely for such a veteran, a head bell goes off whenever words like "nappy," "uppity," "inscrutable," "almond-eyed," "taco," and what's known by local writers as the Royal Brougham Special ("credit to his race") come bubbling up behind the lips. Apparently not. On a regular basis, somebody who should know better says or does something stupid in this area: Howard Cosell and his "little monkey"; Ted Danson in blackface; whatever it was Jimmy the Greek said; Michael Richards' recent demonstration of How to Blow 25 Years of Audience Appreciation in 30 Seconds. It happens locally, too. Some KIRO-AM executives once slapped on the cork for a company function. This happened a long time ago, but unfortunately for them, not so long ago as 1840. They were subsequently shocked and amazed that KIRO's African-American employees (all four) found a blackface act offensive, and quite rightly demanded an apology. They got it, too, and it ran along the lines of, "We were stupid." Racism is a fascinating taboo in American culture. Every other taboo – incest, bestiality, etc. – is committed by people who can't help themselves, or claim so. Unintentional racism is the only societal taboo committed exclusively by the stupid – by people who decide that, for some inexplicable reason, nobody will mind if they turn themselves into Pigmeat Markham for a little old-fashioned frivolity. They are always surprised by the reaction, and they always apologize profusely. Imus. He said something stupid on the radio, a medium that has increasingly given itself to overpaid stupid people saying stupid things to a stupid audience. Should Imus be fired? Who the hell cares?


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