The Houseflies Have Fallen Off the Wagon


I’ve listened to Don Imus exactly once in my life. I was on a trip to New Jersey from Arkansas with a couple of friends, one of whom was a big Imus fan. I was tired and don’t recall the first thing about the show other than hearing the phrase “Imus in the Morning” over and over.

I didn’t know he was still on the radio until the controversy we’ve all grown weary of blew up however many days ago.

I’m not really sure if there’s too much to say about the story that hasn’t been said already. I’ll point you to a great article by Marcus Mabry, which is more thoughtful and thought-provoking than anything else I’ve read about the Imus incident.

I especially like Mabry’s comments about how African-American politicians and journalists have tolerated Imus’s racism for a long, long time because he is so powerful: “That African-African Congressman Harold Ford, former U.S. senator Bill Bradley and female journalists like The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell appear on Imus shows, in part, shows that his racist behavior has been tolerable, if distasteful, to politicians and our industry.” They tolerate it because, as one of the women on the Rutgers team noted: they have to get their voice heard, and if it means going on the Imus show, then that’s what they have to do. That should be troubling to a lot of us — just think of having to go on the show of someone you find offensive just to have your voice heard. Hopefully this whole incident will help change this. But.

Imus’s response, I’m not so sure about. He’s said that he’ll have a black guest on his show everyday, which I don’t really think that’s the best approach to “diversity.” That’s the kind of nod to diversity that doesn’t truly get at the heart of the matter. It’s a legalistic approach, and it doesn’t necessarily change much — because it doesn’t really change a person’s heart and attitude and worldview. However, there is a great quote by Imus on the second page of the linked article, which if he follows through on, is a great approach to diversity: “And me and the rest of white America ought to understand what’s going on in the black community and I’ll make an effort to do that…I will do that.” Trying to understand what’s going on in the lives of people who have been left out of the circle of power in this country for centuries, asking questions about why it might be important to have a black guest on his show everyday, asking questions about why offensive jokes are allowed on the airwaves that are regulated by our government — that’s the best response to the whole incident. Hopefully Imus will follow through on that last promise, and hopefully his influence will help the rest of us as well.

8 Responses to “The Houseflies Have Fallen Off the Wagon”

  1. Sandi Says:

    I know really nothing about this whole controversy except that Imus used the phrase “nappy-headed hos,” which I haven’t heard since high school, but whatever. My reaction was, what was so special about this one day? Obnoxious radio personalities say sexist things ALL THE TIME and no one gets up in arms about it. (Well, not no one, but I vote with my radio dial/tv remote and do not expose myself to that tripe). If this somehow becomes a call for greater civility in American life and discourse, then something good has come out of it. But I’m still not sure how this one particular comment (or apparently, monologue) has generated so much heat when I’m sure he says offensive things every freaking day.

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    That’s definitely part of the problem, Sandi. Imus even used that as part of his defense — “hey, I make fun of everyone.” He didn’t say his jokes were distasteful or offensive. He just thinks they’re funny. And apparently a ton of people do as well.

    I didn’t know much about him until this thing blew up — but apparently he’s been saying racist and sexist comments for his entire 30 year career. So, like you, I’m not sure why this incident was so special. I’m kind of afraid there will be the backlash that Mabry talked about — people saying Imus is a martyr, that it wasn’t that big of a deal.

    That it isn’t a big deal to some people is a big deal.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Where is the wagon? I seem to have misplaced it…

    Thanks for posting this, Mikey. I’ve listened to ESPN radio talk about this for a couple of days, and each time I’ve thought, “I should post something about this on Houseflies.” If I could just find that dern wagon…

    I finished War & Peace last night, which ends on a rant by Tolstoy about the nature of “necessity” as compared to “free will.” Now, I don’t know how to think about anything, including this topic.

    What I think I do know is that when a rich & famous white man resorts to namecalling toward young, hard-working black teenage girls, then somebody ought to be outraged. Off the cuff, I’m glad he’s caught a LOT of heat. And I agree with Mikey in hoping that something good comes of it.

    Now… would someone post something about the Duke lacrosse rape acquittal while I search for the Houseflies Wagon?

  4. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I’ve never been an Imus listener/watcher, either. A lot of people seemed to take him very seriously as an opinion-maker, though. He seemed to be one of those people that other media people looked to: if Imus was talking about it, people were interested in it, or so the theory seemed to go.

    I’ve likewise got nothing on the whole why-this-time issue. Not even a theory. Maybe it was a fluke convergence of audience, mood, and message.

    About the only thing I know for sure about him is: he has a face for radio. Oh, and that he’ll be back — if, at his age and tax bracket, he wants to bother. What is the guy, 80? 85? He looks like Death dehydrated.

  5. Michael Lasley Says:

    Al — while you’re searching for the wagon — the Duke LAX players are still spoiled punks, it seems. But being spoiled punks doesn’t mean they should be branded as rapist the rest of their lives, which they probably will. Something good coming out of that situation is probably not likely.

    JU — Death dehydrated. Love it. Apparently, the first few years of Imus’s career, he did his show while high on cocaine and drinking vodka. Probably why he looks so bad now. He got canned, but I doubt much changes. Hopefully he’ll use his influence to do something good. The Rutgers team still seems like they are class acts.

    I still have no idea why this particular incident caught everyone’s attention. But I do know that it’s Friday. And sunny. And Al needs to find the wagon.

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I am going to Arkansas tomorrow. There are lots of wagons there.

    I’m delivering a keynote address at the CRC Lectureship. I may post my lecture here after all is said and done to see what you guys think.

  7. Sandi Says:

    Harvey Fierstein has a great Op-Ed in the NY Times today addressing the “why this time” issue. It’s called “Our Prejudices, Ourselves.” Jon Stewart had a similar reaction to ours on the Daily Show the other night too. It puts me in mind of what Bill Clinton said after the whole Trent Lott thing went down — why single out this one guy for saying on this one occasion what Republicans say in the company of their own all the time?

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    why single out this one guy for saying on this one occasion what Republicans . . . and a lot of Democrats and independents . . . say in the company of their own all the time?

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