Saturday, April 14, 2007

More Reflections on the Imus Affair: Permissible Hate Speech; More Sports, Less Talk

Permissible Hate Speech

By Esther Iverem— Editor and Film Critic
Apr 9, 2007, 18:00

Not deserving to be dissed...

Boy! Am I tired of writing about ignorant people saying ignorant crap. The recent exchange on the Don Imus show, in which the host referred to members of Rutgers’ women’s basketball team as “nappy–headed hos” was, of course, just the most recent epithet hurled at Blacks from Whites in big money, mainstream media. Even though Imus has apologized and his shows have been cancelled, the damage is done—a further ratcheting up in permissible hate speech—particularly against Black women.

This particular hate speech, referring to Black women as bitches and hos, is, of course, promoted big-time by Black hip-hop artists, starting with West Coast so-called gangsta rappers such as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. Some rappers say that this is the only kind of expression that lands them a contract with the same big money, mainstream media. So Imus and his White buddies aren’t saying anything new or outrageous. They are only speaking through another media outlet that does not bleep out the offending words, as is done on music radio stations that play “clean” versions of songs.

Similar hate speech was broadcast last year when syndicated radio host Neal Boortz said Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s hairdo made her look “like a ghetto slut" and when Rush Limbaugh described the alleged victim in the Duke lacrosse case as a "ho." A few years ago, viewers of the top-rated “Monday Night Football,” were shocked to see the word “ho” superimposed over the image of an attractive young Black woman in a flippant commercial for Ice Cube’s “Friday After Next.”

For more than a decade now, through music, movies and television, popular culture has made “bitch” and “ho” a synonym for women, particularly Black women. The expression is so common that young girls, from the inner-city to suburbia, can be heard referring to each other with the same words and defending their right to use those words because it is no big deal. The popular culture is teaching them that, on some basic level, all women have to be some kind of bitch or whore to make it in the world. All the more reason to be outraged by the comments of Imus and his buddies, directed toward a group of student athletes, who personify everything other than the drive to be another music video vixen (or singer, model or actress) who performs half naked or with the scent of sex for the same big money media machine.

Though no more hateful than recent, controversial airings of the n-word, the epithets bitch and ho, as well as comments about Black women’s hair or bodies (such as in the recent hit movie “Norbit”) emphasize a particular denigration of Black women. As Duke Professor Mark Anthony Neal says, these expressions emphasize that “Black women and their bodies have little value, little protection, and are accessible” for insult and violation.

These words also serve to dehumanize Black women, to make us another class of human beings. It goes without saying that the young women of Rutgers do not deserve this. None of us do. So as much as we’re tired of addressing it, we have to take another, better page from hip-hop and say we “can’t stop, won’t stop” calling hate and ignorance what it is.

Beginning Friday, April 13 in Durham, N.C., Esther Iverem will be reading and signing books in support of her new book, We Gotta Have It: Twenty Years of Seeing Black at the Movies, 1986-2006, which is being released by Thunder’s Mouth Press: Please save the date to join her at an event near you. Check for an updated list of events. You can also order the book at or at your favorite bookstore!

April 14, 2007

Post-Imus, WFAN Opts for More Sports, for Now


Whenever Don Imus left for vacation, traveled west to his cattle ranch for children with cancer in New Mexico or was hospitalized for his various ailments, there was never a doubt that he would return to the WFAN radio studio in Astoria, Queens, or, in later years, to the MSNBC studio in Secaucus, N.J.

But Mr. Imus was fired on Thursday by CBS Radio, which owns WFAN and operates Westwood One, which syndicated “Imus in the Morning” to 60 stations, for calling the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.”

Earlier in the week MSNBC dropped the show, which it had simulcast on cable television for more than 10 years.

Yesterday there was clearly no succession plan in place for Mr. Imus, but for the next two weeks, Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo, who are the co-hosts of the afternoon “Mike and Mad Dog” show on WFAN, will fill in, working from 6 to 10 a.m., tweaking their two-man act to have a slightly more national flavor. After the midday hosts, Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, expand their show to 2 p.m., Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo will return to the air for the afternoon drive shift, from 2 to 6, which will be cut temporarily from their usual 1 to 6:30 p.m. slot.

Mr. Russo also said the program would be heard on all the stations that received “Imus in the Morning,” except those in Boston and Washington. A Westwood spokeswoman said she could not verify that.

Mike Barnicle, a frequent guest of Mr. Imus and the host of a talk show in Boston, was considered as an interim replacement, “but it didn’t work out,” said Karen Mateo, a spokeswoman for CBS Radio.

Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo were first teamed at WFAN in 1989, two years after it pioneered the sports-radio format. Mr. Imus was never a sports aficionado, but sports were frequently discussed on his program.

He often tapped Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo — whom he dubbed “Fatso and Fruit Loops” — for their sports knowledge. Ultimately, it was Mr. Imus’s toxic mix of sports and a racist comment that led to his stunningly abrupt fall.

“This place is reeling,” Mr. Russo said by telephone yesterday during a break in their program. Mr. Francesa, also during a break for commercials, added: “He was the rock upon which WFAN’s success and ‘Mike and the Mad Dog’s’ success were built. No ifs, ands or buts.”

Mr. Francesa said the plans for the morning show were confined to a period of two weeks, “so they can get their ducks in a row.”

“The station needs to gain a little equilibrium, and this was the easiest thing for them to do,” he added. “We didn’t want to leave the afternoon open, so this made sense.”

Mr. Russo said the station didn’t have a staff personality who could be a permanent replacement in the morning for Mr. Imus. “The company made a huge decision,” he said. “It’s a Friday. This place needed to be stabilized. They would have split us up, with one of us doing the morning, one doing the afternoon, but then you weaken the afternoon.”

Their temporary morning assignment might serve as a test for whether WFAN can survive with a sports-talk format in the lucrative morning-drive period, as ESPN Radio does, or will need to look for a new host with a political or comedic background.

Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers, a trade magazine, speculated that “behind closed doors,” station executives were debating: “ ‘Do we go all sports, or bring in an Imus-type who is compatible with sports?’ ”

He suggested that Erich Muller, a 40-year-old Chicago-based syndicated morning radio host who is known as Mancow, is the sort of young, outspoken personality who “would be perfect for WFAN.”

Mr. Harrison added that when WFAN began, management believed a high-profile, nonsports voice like Mr. Imus was needed “because it was a leap of faith that sports talk could be a whole day’s format.”

On their show yesterday Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo lauded Mr. Imus’s career, excoriated CBS Radio for firing him with a day left in the station’s annual charity radiothon — in which Mr. Imus was customarily a central figure — and attacked those who had benefited from Mr. Imus’s praise, salesmanship and backing but had failed to defend him publicly.

Their targets included Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press”; Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who announced his presidential campaign on the Imus show; and Harold E. Ford Jr., the former Democratic congressman from Tennessee.

“Shame on MSNBC,” Mr. Russo said. “They fired Imus, pulled the rug out from under him. Same with CBS.”

Mr. Francesa added: “CBS did worse. Worse! At least NBC had the good graces to fire him before the radiothon started. CBS fired him in the middle of it.”

He continued: “Our parent company is CBS, and they didn’t stand up to the pressure. They hid under their desk when the storm came.”

Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo said they had not been told by WFAN or CBS to temper or cease their criticism. “If they were worried,” Mr. Russo said, “they wouldn’t have put us on in the morning.”

For at least two weeks starting Monday, the Francesa-Russo team will match their show against ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” which has as its hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. In the most recent Arbitron ratings for men 25 to 54, the 3.7 share for “Imus in the Morning” was 76 percent better than that for “Mike & Mike,” while Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo’s afternoon share was a 6.6. Among listeners 18 to 34, a demographic sought by ESPN, the Greenberg-Golic show’s share was a shade better than Mr. Imus’s.

Tim McCarthy, the general manager of 1050 ESPN Radio in New York, declined to speculate about the competition that would be created were WFAN to replace Mr. Imus permanently with a sports show. But he said it would be a mistake to shift Mr. Russo and Mr. Francesa into that slot.

“They’re sitting with big ratings in the afternoon,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope to move a show that drives a lot of revenue to a different time.”

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