Fineman to pal Imus: Racist comments aren't OK any more like they used to be

››› ››› RYAN CHIACHIERE

Discussing host Don Imus' April 4 comments on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning -- in which Imus referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy headed hos" -- and the controversy that ensued, Newsweek editor Howard Fineman, appearing on the April 9 edition of Imus in the Morning, asserted: "[I]t's a different time, Imus ... it's different than it was even a few years ago, politically," and added that "some of the stuff that you used to do, you probably can't do anymore." Fineman continued, "I mean, just looking specifically at the African-American situation. I mean, hello, [Sen.] Barack Obama's [D-IL] got twice the number of contributors as anybody else in the race," and added, "[T]hings have changed. And the kind of -- some of the kind of humor that you used to do you can't do anymore. And that's just the way it is."

Later, discussing Imus' expressed desire to meet with the Rutgers team, Fineman asserted that "all of us who do your show, you know, we're part of the gang. And we rely on you the way you rely on us." Fineman added, "So, you know, you're taking all of us with you when you go out there to meet with them, you know."

Fineman also said that he would "like to continue to enable you to do a lot of the good things you do. Including, you know, talking about stuff happening in the world, which you do a very good job of on this show."

As New York Times columnist David Carr noted, several journalists were scheduled to appear on Imus' show on April 9, and NBC media figures often appear on his show. Carr explained:

Given that Mr. Imus spent part of last week describing the student athletes at Rutgers as "nappy-headed ho's," you might think he'd have trouble booking anyone, let alone A-list establishment names. But Mr. Imus, who has been given a pass for this sort of comment in the past, also generously provides airtime to those parts of the news media and political apparatus that would generally be expected to bring him to account.

As Media Matters for America noted, Imus apologized for the comments on the April 6 edition of Imus in the Morning.

From the April 9 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

[2:08:18]

FINEMAN: Just before I came on the show, I was coming upstairs and my cell phone rang, and it was some listener who called me out of the blue. I'd never heard of the guy before. I'd never heard his name. He called me and he said, "Are you going to go on the show and finally confront this Imus guy? Are you going to quit enabling him?" And, you know, I thought about that, and I said to the guy, "You know, I'll puzzle that through on the radio." And I would like to continue to enable you to do a lot of the good things you do. Including, you know, talking about stuff happening in the world, which you do a very good job of on this show.

You know, the form of humor that you do here is risky, and sometimes it runs off the rails. Most of the people who listen to this show get the joke most of the time, and sometimes, you know, as David Carr said in The New York Times this morning, sometimes you go over the line so far you can't even see the line. And that's what happened in this case. And I think of all the stuff you've done and do do, and, you know, you make your mistakes -- we all make our mistakes. We all make mistakes. This was a big one. And I thought that the way you handled it just now -- and I'm not blowing smoke here -- I believe it, you know, was very heartfelt. And I know you well enough to know that that's the case and you're going to do everything you can to set it right.

You know, I don't know what'll happen. I think -- you know, it's a different time, Imus. You know, it's different than it was even a few years ago, politically. I mean, we may, you know -- and the environment, politically, has changed. And some of the stuff that you used to do, you probably can't do anymore.

IMUS: No, you can't. I mean --

FINEMAN: You just can't. Because the times have changed. I mean, just looking specifically at the African-American situation. I mean, hello, Barack Obama's got twice the number of contributors as anybody else in the race.

IMUS: Amen.

FINEMAN: I mean, you know, things have changed. And the kind of -- some of the kind of humor that you used to do you can't do anymore. And that's just the way it is.

IMUS: But I would say, in the spirit of charity, that the same black journalists who are calling for me to be fired had the option -- and the same black leaders -- they had the option to call me when I was asking for weeks about help in trying to get more information about sickle-cell anemia, about what the government was doing, about what could be done about research. And nobody -- nobody -- called me.

I'm not looking to get patted on the back for that, but those are the facts. So we -- people can write and say whatever they want to say about me, but they have an obligation to respect the facts of my life and what I do. And I'm not trying to excuse or weasel out of anything. But a context and a proportionality to who I am and what I do and what my wife does is crucial. So, anyway, thanks.

FINEMAN: Well, I hope the women from Rutgers will meet with you, and -- although I can understand if they won't, but I hope that they do. This is what they call a teaching moment, you know, in child-rearing, they call a teaching moment. This is a teaching moment for us all. For everybody. You know, all of us who do your show, you know, we're part of the gang. And we rely on you the way you rely on us. So, you know, you're taking all of us with you when you go out there to meet with them, you know.

IMUS: Well, these people at CBS Radio, Les Moonves on down, have known me for years. I wouldn't be on the radio this morning if they thought that I meant this or if they thought that I was a bad person. They know what the deal is with the show -- everybody understands that. Same with -- I've been on MSNBC for 10 years. I know everybody over there. From [NBC Universal president Jeffrey] Zucker on down. So --

FINEMAN: Well, we'll see how it goes.

IMUS: They're not fools, you know.

FINEMAN: We'll see how it goes. Good luck with it.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Howard Fineman, Don Imus
Show/Publication
Imus in the Morning
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.