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Imus Fired

Aired April 15, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): The Imus ouster. CBS Radio and MSNBC dumped the morning man over his racist crack about a women's basketball team. Does the punishment fit the crime? Where is the line when it comes to insult comedy? And what made Al Sharpton the moral arbiter of what's acceptable on the airwaves.

Plus, what about rap artists, on-air hate mongers and other polluters of popular culture? Why don't the networks have more African-American talk show hosts? And now, finally, are the media facing up to race?


KURTZ: Don Imus has always meant entertainment on the edge, and sometimes over the edge as he poked fun at politicians, journalists, and everyone in between. But last week he went so far over the edge with a racist, sexist, horribly offensive joke about the student athletes at Rutgers that he wound up losing his program and we wound out with a national debate over race, comedy, corporate responsibility, and the boundaries of bad taste.

You've all heard by now what Imus called the largely African- American team, "nappy-headed hos". As the criticism mounted, Imus started apologizing.


DON IMUS, RADIO HOST: Why would I think that it's OK to go on the radio last Wednesday and make fun of these kids who just played for the national championship? Well, I -- I can't answer that.

I'm sorry I did that. I aim embarrassed that I did that. I did a bad thing.

KURTZ (voice over): He apologized some more on Al Sharpton's radio show. And he fenced with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: If you didn't immediately understand how deplorable the comments were of last week, how can you be trusted to clean up your own act or censor yourself down the road in the future?

IMUS: Well, perhaps I can't then. But we'll have to -- over a 35-year career -- and I've kept my word to millions of people. I've raised over $100 million for various things. KURTZ: After the Rutgers players held an extraordinary news conference and major advertisers started bailing out, NBC News president Steve Capus announced that his cable network was dropping "Imus in the Morning" after 11 years.


KURTZ: Twenty-four hours later, CBS chairman Les Moonves pulled the plug on the radio show.

Joining us now here in Washington, Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune"; Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor of; and in Boston, Callie Crossley, media commentator for WGBH's "Beat the Press".

Clarence Page, you went on the Imus show for five years, and then in 2001 you asked him on the air to take a pledge against continuing with the raciest and sexist jokes.

What prompted you to do that then?

CLARENCE PAGE, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": At that time it was a lot of reporting, especially by Philip Nobile for, who listed a bill of particulars, one quote after another like that one there. One quote and insult against you while he was interviewing you one day. I say insult as a joke, but...

KURTZ: Well, we'll get to that in a minute.

PAGE: But, you know, the fact was that Philip, who, if you know him, he's a bulldog and he says such -- "Clarence, you're going to go back on that racist program now? What do you think of this?" And I said, "Well, I wouldn't go back on until I've had a chance to talk to Don to clear the air on this."

So, Don agreed to let me come on the show. And we talked about it. So I put it in the form of a pledge, which he agreed to take.

KURTZ: And after that, did you go back on the show?


KURTZ: And for any reason?

PAGE: I haven't been invited back on the show. I never got a chance.

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, clearly some of Imus's locker room humor over the years was tolerated by CBS and MSNBC and went over the line. But...


KURTZ: And me.

But you -- you wrote the Wonkette blog, you made fun of people, you often used foul language. Different kind of humor?

COX: I don't know. I think that there's a difference between being risque and being offensive. I think that it's one thing to sort of talk in a racy way, or to make jokes about sex, and it's another thing to insult, you know, entire classes of people. And while I do think that one thing that I did enjoy about the Imus show was that he did have the freedom for people to talk, as we all say, like normal people, to talk the way we might talk to each other in the green room, you know, there probably should be some boundaries for what you say on the air.

And I think that, yes, it's fine to sort of create a gray area. But, I mean, he went over the line in not just that, but as Philip Nobile and also Media Matters documented this past week, he has been doing this for a very long time. And the thing that I feel bad about is that I -- is that I was aware of it and still went on the show, unlike Clarence, who at least tried to sort of hold him to account for that.

KURTZ: Well, we'll come back to that.

Callie Crossley, what Imus said last week about the Rutgers' women was indefensible, just reprehensible. He apologized repeatedly. Why was that not enough?

CALLIE CROSSLEY, "BEAT THE PRESS": Because an apology is not absolution. Now, please understand, I believe in apologies. I believe an apology is an acknowledgment of harm done. And so that's the least that he could do, but it does not clear the decks.

You all have referred to 35 years of what you have referred to as humor. I would say it's something else.

There was nothing defensible about it. I say it rose to the level beyond locker room a long time ago, and I am embarrassed for my colleagues in the business who continued to appear on that program. People whom I know in other context would absolutely deny they held any of the kinds of opinions or statements that were routinely expressed through the mouth of Don Imus. And let's not forget his producer Bernard McGuirk.

KURTZ: But if that's the case, Clarence Thomas -- Clarence Page, excuse me...

PAGE: It happens all the time, Howard.

KURTZ: ... why did Tim Russert and Bob Schieffer and Brian Williams and Jeff Greenfield and Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw go on? They wouldn't want to be associated with a totally offensive show, would they?

PAGE: It's a hard call. It's a hard call for me.

Don was very nice to my book when it came out. That's why we go. There's kind of a coincidence. Ninety percent of the pundits who come on have or have had books to sell. I mean -- and then also, David Brooks made an interesting point. You know, for us Washington dweebs, it's kind of fun to be with the bad boy who was always in the back of the room throwing spit balls. That's Don Imus. It's a different audience than we usually talk to.

KURTZ: What about presidential candidates? John McCain a long- time guest...

PAGE: Hey...

KURTZ: Joe Biden, long-time guest.

PAGE: ... they love audiences, yes.

KURTZ: Chris Dodd announced his candidacy for the White House on Imus's show. Why would they go on if the show was terrible?

PAGE: One thing everybody knows, Don's going to be nice to you if you are on his show.

KURTZ: And not so nice if you're not?

PAGE: And he may even endorse you. And that's what those pols really want.

KURTZ: You wrote a piece this week, Ana Marie Cox, in which you said that you cringed at some of the racial jokes on that program and the causal locker room misogyny. But, "I told myself that going on the show meant something beyond inflating my precious ego."

Now, I think even you would acknowledge that you decided to bail fairly late in the game.

COX: I decided to bail on Tuesday. I talked to my editors at "TIME" about it, and then they wanted me to write -- they wanted me to sort of hold off announcing anything until they could put it in the print magazine. And then it turned out that events caught up with us.

But actually, I started thinking about it when Cal Ripken dropped out. And then when I saw the press conference that the young women gave, and I realized that, like, there was absolutely -- what was the positive reason to go on the show? Like, what was -- what was -- if -- you know, take aside what he said about these young women.

Why was I doing it in the first place? And I realized it was to gain entry to the boys club. You know? And who would not want to be a part of this club?

You know, all of these people who I look up to in Washington, Tim Russert, David Gregory, Brian Williams, and I had this thing in common with them. And really, one of the very few women he had on. I looked at the list of guests that he had in the past six months -- 65 men, 11 women, and one black person.

KURTZ: Harold Ford?

COX: Yes.

KURTZ: Now, I enjoyed going on the show, and maybe I was too quick to overlook some of the really bad stuff that was said, although it wasn't said in conversations with me. And...

COX: Everyone keeps saying that. I mean -- I mean, David Gregory said this. I think, like, every -- Craig Crawford. Like, all of these pundits that come on and say, "Well, you know what? He never said any of that stuff with me."

KURTZ: No, I'm not offering it as an excuse. I'm not offering it as an excuse.

COX: But you can't pretend you're really covering your ears the rest of the time. Like, he sometimes didn't exist when you weren't on the show.

KURTZ: Of course.

Now, a lot of people have taken note of the fact that this was nine years ago, Imus was picking a fight with me. And I didn't hear this and I wasn't on it at the time, but he said that I was a boner- nosed, beanie-wearing Jew.

So I went on the next day and I gave him a hard time. And my feeling was, this was his insult schtick. This was -- you know, I grew up listening to Don Rickles say it. Did he not like Jewish people? He had people on with names like Fineman and Greenfield all the time.

Maybe I should have been more offended, but, you know, to me this was Imus, the locker room guy, as opposed to Imus, the guy who could have a pretty smart conversation about media and politics. Right?

COX: Oh, totally, you could. But -- go ahead.

KURTZ: Go ahead, Callie.

CROSSLEY: You know, Ana said earlier that it was different if any of this kind of insult offended an entire group of people. That's what he was doing every day. If he singled you out individually, through you he is insulting entire groups of people.

KURTZ: But let me ask you, Callie -- let me ask you, why did millions of people apparently like the show? Here is a quick quote from Tim Rutten of the "L.A. Times". He writes that "More Americans need to admit that we have developed a kind of collective taste for the kind of nasty vulgarity Imus and the rest of his ilk have been spewing for years now."

Obviously, he had an audience.

CROSSLEY: Well, I think that -- I think there's that, but I also think you need to understand that a lot of people believed in the racist and sexist kind of stuff that he said, and that just confirmed them. I lead you to looking at the responses to Al Roker's blog. Now, Al Roker is a member of the "Today" show's morning family. People loved him. When he stood up and said that Don Imus should be fired, read the responses to his column, and you will see where the heart of some people are about these kinds of issues.

KURTZ: All right.

CROSSLEY: So I would say that's why they were driven to listen to it.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here.

When we come back, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson led the charge against Imus. When did they become experts on decency?


KURTZ: We're continuing our special edition on the Imus ouster.

When it came to leading the media blitz against the I-Man, nobody was on TV more than Al Sharpton.


AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I think that what he said was racist.

I think it's a little too -- too little, too late.

He should not be returned to the airwaves.

How do we hold those that use the public airwaves accountable?

Don Imus has an obligation...


SHARPTON: ... on federally-regulated airwaves...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, without a doubt.

SHARPTON: ... to abide by a standard.

It's not about me. It's about whether the airwaves are right.


KURTZ: Clarence Page, I covered the Tawana Brawley case 20 years ago.

PAGE: Yes, as did many of us. Yes.

KURTZ: False gang rape charges. Imus -- excuse me -- Sharpton has still not apologized to the prosecutor he defamed.

So, how did he become the moral arbiter of what's acceptable on the airwaves?

PAGE: Yes. He also used the word "whore" to refer to the Central Park rape victim on and on.

Now, this is something -- I don't know if Imus calculated this or not, but from the beginning I thought, oh, what a clever way to make yourself look good. Go on Al Sharpton's show and let him kind of take the moral high ground. If that was Don's idea, it backfired on him, because it just gave -- it gave Sharpton more of an audience and that position more of an audience.

KURTZ: Callie Crossley, Jesse Jackson was also a prominent critic. Now, of course he's had controversies, referring to New York "Hymietown" during his first presidential campaign, fathering an out- of-wedlock child. And during the Duke rape case, which now turned out to be a fraud, he was out there talking about wealthy white athletes versus a working class woman from black college.

So, does Jackson have the standing to lead this charge?

CROSSLEY: Well, I mean, it depends where you invest your moral authority. But I think that all of those statements are absolutely true, and the people that when they are out in front leading a protest, have to understand that they are being looked at well if they are leading a protest. But I've got to say that for me, the leadership in this instance came from the National Association of Black Journalists, who were quite clear early on, and they sort of got dropped off the scene as Al Sharpton moved to the front.

COX: Well, who would -- who would, you know, TV producers rather book? Like, the National Association of Black Journalists or Al Sharpton?

KURTZ: Right.

COX: I mean, he's better television.

I think the tragedy of this whole thing is that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were able to latch on to it and use it to promote themselves. And when really -- and I said this before -- the person who got Don Imus is not Al Sharpton. It's Al Roker.

What really...

KURTZ: Explain what that means.

CROSSLEY: Absolutely.

COX: What I mean is that, like, 10 years ago, you would not have had comment, black and female people in the industry and in media, who came out and personally went to their bosses and said, you know, I can't stand this, this is offensive to me personally. Al Roker wrote about having daughters himself and thinking about what it would mean to him if Imus had said that about his own children.

I think that that's where the difference is. And I think that -- you know, I think if Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson had not even said a word about this, or if producers had not booked them on their television shows, we still would have had a huge outcry, and it would have been led by people like Clarence, and like Eugene Robinson, who's been very articulate about this whole thing, and the National association for Black Journalists, who again were right on this very early.

KURTZ: Clarence, just briefly, does Imus come back maybe on satellite radio, the new home of Howard Stern? Or is he toast?

PAGE: It's showbiz, Howard. I mean, I'm sure his audience has been enhanced this past week.

This happened to him once before back in the '70s. He went back to Cleveland, worked his way back up the food chain to even bigger stardom.

Sure, now he's got new avenues like satellite radio and all. And as Ana Marie and I agree, you know, Don didn't need that kind of gutter-ball humor. He's a clever guy and he's got a broad vision. And he can come back even on the regular airwaves with a better show.

KURTZ: All right.

Clarence Page, Ana Marie Cox, Callie, Crossley, thanks very much for an interesting conversation.

Up next, Tony Kornheiser calls them as he sees them on "Monday Night Football". He'll do the same on the Imus controversy next.


KURTZ: Our special edition on the Imus uproar continues now with a man who for years was a frequent guest on "Imus in the Morning". Tony Kornheiser, host of "The Morning Show" on Washington Post Radio, writes a column for the newspaper, and is, of course, the co-host of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" and "Monday Night Football".

Tony, when you went on "Imus in the Morning" you were on the same Washington station at the time.


KURTZ: It was fun, wasn't it?

KORNHEISER: Yes, it was. I mean, I'm sure that I'm going to follow a thousand people who will say the same thing -- "He didn't say these things when I was on with him," although he probably did.

He made fun of me. He said a variety of times I was the ugliest man in America, I had the ugliest hair in America. And that seemed fair.

It seemed fair to me when I heard the show and he went after big targets, you know, big politicians. And he went after everybody in quite the same way. Twice a month I would hear something and I would say to my people when we were doing radio afterwards, "Can you believe he said that?" And so I just figured that you could say anything on radio and there was no accountability.

I didn't do it myself, but, you know, "shock-jock" is a radio term, it's not a television term. But I think the difference here is that he went after people who could not fight back. They were not big targets.

KURTZ: But did anyone ever say to you on this -- the things that he would say, "How can you go on this show when he's making fun of blacks and women?"

KORNHEISER: No. Did anyone say that to you?


KORNHEISER: No. And nobody said it to me. And so, was my moral compass down? I suppose it was.

And I watch people now say, "I would never go back on again." And, "Now that I know this and I know that, I would never go back on again."

But, no, nobody said that to me. And it seemed that that was the radio show.

KURTZ: Well, you know, I always made a distinction between somebody trying to be funny and somebody speaking out of anger, but maybe I had a blind spot on this. In any event, this hurricane of criticism now about Imus, I mean, he's basically been turned into public enemy number one. Is it a little over the top?

KORNHEISER: Well, you are beginning see now -- I was reading "The Washington Post" today, I was reading the "Outlook" section, and I've begun to read other columnists and other voices. They seem to be changing.

They are done with Imus. He is referred to I think quite literally in many of these things as a dottering old fool and "We are done with him now" and "He got what he deserved." And now the debate seems to be moving into the area -- and I think Jason Whitlock of the "Kansas City Star" was among the first to start this about, you know, lyrics and rap music and what else is going on, and whether if it's uncivil in area A, is it uncivil in area B and area C?

And, you know, I've got some problems with this. And I don't mean problems like -- I don't know.

KURTZ: It's a good debate.

KORNHEISER: I actually don't know. I know that I watch "The Sopranos," and hateful, vile things are said on "The Sopranos".

And I watch comedians on HBO, and hateful, vile things are said. And I laugh at them. And a lot of people laugh at them. And yet...

KURTZ: So why is that OK and Imus was not?

KORNHEISER: And that's what I don't know. And I don't -- you know, if you ask me, I don't have a good answer for that. I'm not sure anybody does.

Do we take out the lack of civility from all areas, or do we say, no, no, no, no, no. When it's pay cable, when you sign up for it, when it's rated, when you see the ratings system, then we can live with that. So maybe on radio you have to have a ratings system.

KURTZ: You mentioned on the air this week that five weeks ago you were suspended by ESPN Radio.


KURTZ: Saying something negative about management. When you talk on the air for hundreds and hundreds of hours, isn't there a great opportunity to get yourself into trouble?

KORNHEISER: Here's the same fear I have, and you probably have the same fear. Live microphone, and you think you are too clever by half. And something comes out of your mouth, and maybe you don't know right in that moment how terrible it is.

So, what you hope is that the people sitting on your left and on your right will say something like, "Whoa, Tony, do you know what you just said?" And then your immediate thing -- and I would quote James Carville -- apologize quickly and completely.

Not "I'm sorry if you were offended." No, no, no.


KORNHEISER: "I said the wrong thing."

So, you hope that people pull you back over the edge, because it can happen any time.

KURTZ: And Imus -- one of the things that Imus did was it took him a couple of days to realize the depth of the sensitivity and to fully apologize.

KORNHEISER: But I think in his part -- I mean, I suspect, and I think you would, too, that he thought he was bulletproof.

KURTZ: Right.

KORNHEISER: Because of all the famous people who had always been on his show...

KURTZ: And would always vouch for him.

KORNHEISER: ... and -- right. KURTZ: You're a sports guy. The Rutgers women's basketball team, it was remarkable story. They came out of nowhere to play for the national championship.

Why didn't the media pay any attention to them before they were dismissed as "hos"?

KORNHEISER: Because it's women's basketball, and that's not men's basketball. And if you look, for example, at the final game, I think -- I think maybe three million people watched that, as opposed to, say, 30 million watched the men. That goes -- women's basketball goes under the radar for a long period of time.

They don't draw very many people to their regional sites. The Final Four is a big deal, but I don't think people knew about it.

I actually think on a lot of levels, the Rutgers women will look back on this. And while they are terribly hurt and should be with what Imus is said, that it was -- you know, that now people see them in such a positive light and are so proud of them.

KURTZ: He made them famous. They went on Oprah.

KORNHEISER: Yes. Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: So, in a way, that might be one silver lining here. We got a chance to meet them. Before, nobody cared, right?

KORNHEISER: Right. And they were incredibly impressive, because they weren't just basketball players. They were full women and students, as well as athletes.

KURTZ: Exactly. We'll leave it there.

Tony Kornheiser, thanks for coming in.

Coming up in the second half of this special edition, NBC's Ron Allen, who helped lead the charge against Imus at his network, radios host Stephanie Miller and Roland Martin, on whether other broadcasters will have to be more cautious.

And the Duke rape suspects finally cleared. Does the media owe them an apology?


KURTZ: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

NBC News decided to dump Don Imus after hearing from many of its African-American employees. One of them was Ron Allen, veteran correspondent for "NBC Nightly News," who joins us now by phone.

Ron Allen, what did you say to your bosses when they were weighing whether to keep Imus on MSNBC?

RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, personally, I told them how offended I was by what I heard. I told them that I thought that these comments went far beyond any line that could be drawn. I told them that I felt that there were a lot of other people in the building, African-American employees, women, others who were equally as upset about all this and angry, and we just felt that this was not the kind of comment that should go out on the airwaves where we work.

KURTZ: You and Al Roker of the "Today" show were probably the two most visible NBC staffers who were making that case, both externally -- both publicly and internally. Why did you feel so strongly? I mean, after all, Imus had been on the air for years, and this is hardly the first time that he said something that's might be called racially insensitive.

ALLEN: Well, again, I think the nature of these comments, these words, were so harsh and so painful. They just brought back a lot of memories, they evoked a lot of images that were particularly upsetting for me.

And again, this was on MSNBC, on NBC News. This was not on some obscure radio station somewhere.

I don't listen to Imus and I don't listen to shock-jocks a lot. I'm well aware of what they are saying, but, again, this hit home because it was somewhere where I do business, where I work,. And I felt that NBC News should not be associated with this.

I felt that -- and many of us said that, you know, we can do better. We should do better. We believe in principles, we believe in ideals, and the network should be above and better than this kind of -- kind of stuff.

KURTZ: Now, you appeared on the Imus show a few times over the years as part of your job. Did you ever complain earlier about the tone of the show?

ALLEN: I often appeared on the show when I was in places like Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in the Middle East, covering war and peace before I moved to the states. And honestly, many of us felt awkward about it because contributing to his show was so different from what -- from other venues we were on. And I always tried to carefully manage it.

You know, you play along and, you know, want to be not terribly serious all the time. But I was very conscious and mindful of trying to steer this and keep this -- the comments and the interview, or whatever you call it, in territory where I felt as a journalist comfortable.

KURTZ: And of course you have a personal family connection in that your father and your sister, as I understand it, went to Rutgers University.

Just briefly, the apology by Imus, the repeated apologies, just not enough in your view?

ALLEN: I think it's appropriate for him to apologize. I believe he was sincere in his apology because of what he said, because he wanted to keep his job.

You know, it wasn't my decision. I just felt that, you know, we have to have standards, we have to draw a line, and, you know, to the management's credit, they listened to many employees. Not just myself, not just Al Roker, but many people whose names you will never know. And I think that at the end of the day, you know, a principle, an ideal prevailed.

KURTZ: All right.

NBC's Ron Allen.

Thank you very much for checking in by phone today.

For all the media condemnation of Imus's denigration of the Rutgers women as "hos," what about those who routinely use that word and others far worse, including the N-word, rap artists and hip-hop singers? Why do they get to make millions of dollars with lyrics about sexually abusing, degrading, and even murdering women -- lyrics like these?


Joining us now it talk about this, Eric Deggans, media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times". And from Orlando, Paul Porter from

Eric Deggans, you're a former music critic. In your younger days, you even cut a Motown record.


KURTZ: Now, what we just played there is obviously the milder version that we can actually play on the airwaves.


KURTZ: Why does the mainstream media give these artists and these record companies that provide the contracts a pass on this question?

DEGGANS: Well, I think you'd have to go to your bosses at CNN and ask them that. What I can tell you is that people have been protesting -- black people have been protesting lyrics in hip-hop for years, from 1993.

The "Tip Drill" video that you showed part of, women at a black college in Atlanta got together and protested when Nelly was going to come to the area, because they objected to the language.

KURTZ: But protesting with the same kind of intensity that we've seen over the last week in the Imus protests?

DEGGANS: Well, the reason the intensity is more is because CNN and FOX News and MSNBC and the "Today" show and "Good Morning America," everybody covered it. Why these programs didn't cover those protests before, I don't know. I've written about it, lots of African-American columnists have written about this issue.

KURTZ: Paul Porter, you had worked at the sister station of Hot 97 in New York which plays a lot of rap music. And you complained about some of these songs, including one that began, "Beat that bitch with a bat."

What was the response to your complaint?

PAUL PORTER, INDUSTRYEARS.COM: Yes. I mean, it's always negative.

Look, the only thing -- and just along the same thing that happened to Imus, they made a business decision, not a moral decision. It's about ratings and revenue, those two things. And no other standards happen right now with the consolidation and corporations now.

The only thing that's important is making money. And, for example, Viacom, the parent company of CBS, they own MTV and BET. Thousands of things, Howard, happen 10 times worse than what Imus said on a daily basis. And they're not going to change BET or MTV.

KURTZ: So how do you explain that discrepancy? They boot Imus off the airwaves, but they're allowing this to go on on these other company properties?

PORTER: It was a business decision.

KURTZ: Right. All right.

PORTER: American Express pulled out. If none of the advertisers pulled out it would be business as usual, full speed ahead. And that's what's happening.

Folks -- just like Eric said, we've been complaining. I worked at BET for 10 years, and folks have complained about it, and they just -- when it's black-on-black crime, it's not newsworthy.

KURTZ: Interesting racial divide here in a CNN poll, if we could put that up on the screen, "Were Imus's remarks about the Rutgers' women offensive? White, 55 percent said yes; blacks, 68 percent said yes, although more whites put them in the second category of inappropriate.

Eric Deggans, it does seem though that there's sort of a double standard. You know, some black artists can talk about "bitches" and "hos," but if a white broadcaster says it, he's run out of town.

DEGGANS: Well, one other thing I'd say is there are some very unique sort of third rails in American society. And one of them is white power dominating black powerlessness. This is something that we chew over in all sorts of venues.

We're trying to come to terms with hundreds of years of sort of oppression. And so I think these issues take on a new resonance because...

KURTZ: So, there's an extra sting, an extra...

DEGGANS: There's an extra sting.

KURTZ: When a white person is denigrating a whole class of black women as "hos," it's not the same, in your view, as when it comes from somebody in the black entertainment community?

DEGGANS: I think it impacts society differently. And I think we react differently. And I think everybody cares differently. And I think it's obvious when you see the reaction to the Imus situation, versus seeing the way in which the same civil rights leaders, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and NABJ, we've tried to call people's attention to concerns about hip-hop, and we don't get the same response from the mainstream media or from mainstream society.

KURTZ: NABJ, of course, the National Association of Black Journalists.

Paul Porter, tonight on Black Entertainment Television -- I happened to notice this online -- there's a special called "Black is Beautiful: The N-word". And asked the question, "Has our" -- meaning the black community -- "repeated use of the N-word in our music, movies and conversations given white people a pass to do the same thing?"

What do you think?

PORTER: No. I don't think black folks have a pass to do the same thing. I just think the images and the things that we see are dictated by folks that don't look like us. And it happens time and time again that we -- we're confused by what we see on television and think that stands for the real values of Americans, black and white, and that's not the case.

DEGGANS: I would say, I think in the black community there is an ongoing debate, and it's taken a while to break down the denial of the impact of the N-word. I personally don't agree on banning any word separate from its context, but I do think there's a much -- there's a growing sentiment in the black community that this word should not be used.

We've seen publications like "Ebony" and "Jet" ban the use of the N-word in its pages. And I think more and more black people are realizing they can condemn the language and not condemn the art of hip-hop.

KURTZ: Do you think that this whole Imus controversy will move us forward even an inch toward cleaning up the culture?

DEGGANS: I think it will move us forward an inch. What's disturbing me is that we're not talking about some of the deeper issues, and we're not talking about them in a way that we're hearing each other. Black people and white people are expressing their frustrations, but we're not really learning from each other and finding a way to sort of move forward together.

KURTZ: But what about the audience, Paul Porter? You know, Imus had millions of listeners and viewers on MSNBC -- a lesser amount certainly on cable television. Some of these other -- I see, you know, HBO comedy specials that use really raw and raunchy stuff people watch. So, does the audience bear some responsibility here?

PORTER: Howard, crack sells. Does that make it good?

DEGGANS: Exactly.

PORTER: No. But what you see is what you get.

On Friday, one of the biggest things that happened in radio is the FCC settled on Payola on a national level with the four largest broadcasters that own over 2,000 stations, allowing pay-for-play. They settled for $12.5 million. It never got covered. Back in the day...

KURTZ: Oh, it got covered a little bit. Let me -- let me...

DEGGANS: Can I break in real quick and say one thing? Which is that stereotypes are very seductive. We would not indulge them if they weren't. They are often funny, they're often entertaining. That doesn't make them right.

KURTZ: I've got 15 seconds.

CNN, FOX, MSNBC, primetime, Larry Anderson, Paul O'Keefe (ph), O'Reilly, Chris, not a single African-American host. What does that say?

DEGGANS: What it says is that these channels need to get right with diversity. They need to make it a priority. They need to develop new talent. They need to promote more people, and we'll have less problems.

KURTZ: And we need to wrap.

Paul Porter, Eric Deggans, thanks for joining us.

PORTER: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Up next what, are the boundaries of political comedy on the air, and are they different if you are black and white?

Stephanie Miller and Roland Martin after the break.


KURTZ: Does the national furor over Don Imus's disparagement of the Rutgers women's basketball team mean that others on the air will have to clean up their act?

I spoke earlier with two top radio talk show hosts, Stephanie Miller in Los Angeles, and Roland Martin in Chicago. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, you do edgy political comedy for a living. You ever wonder that you're -- worry that you're one tasteless joke away from being fired?

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO HOST: Thanks for bringing that up, Howard.

You know, I think this Imus thing was really kind of a perfect storm. You know, he managed to tick off pretty much everybody -- black groups, feminist groups, liberals, conservatives. You know, I think a lot of it goes to intent, and I think he had a long history of things of this nature, unfortunately.

KURTZ: But does it make you think that maybe you better tone down your act?

MILLER: Well, I mean, you know, Howard, you listen to the show. I don't think anything I have done is in the spirit of what Don Imus has said. And, you know, I will -- I know that a lot of our listeners say the same thing.

You know, I think that we stand up every day on our show for gay rights, for civil rights, for -- you know, we're a progressive show. We are also a comedy show, but I just don't think it compares at all.

I think that's the problem, Howard, is everybody on the right now is trying to target people on the left. Everyone on the left is saying, oh, this isn't as bad as what Rush Limbaugh or Bill Bennett or Michael Savage or whoever said.

KURTZ: It does sometime get a little partisan. Let me get to Roland Martin.

Mel Gibson still gets to make movies. Was Imus's offense, as awful as it was, such that, despite his apologies, he could not continue on the air?

ROLAND MARTIN, RADIO HOST: Well, again, it is a matter of context and what that particular platform is.

What is interesting is, out of this whole issue, we never really heard about the other times when he made his comments, if CBS ever suspended him, if they ever reprimanded him. And so, what happened was, frankly, the curtains were pulled back, pulled back. People saw Don Imus for really who he was and then said, wait a minute, this guy has a history of this, it's time for him to go.

It's what it boiled down to.

KURTZ: All right.

Stephanie Miller, I want to play a little bit from your radio program and ask you a question on the other side. Take a listen.

MILLER: Uh-oh.


MILLER: "The Stephanie Miller Show" has been on a -- just an ongoing search as to what call Ann Coulter. We started with the noted transsexual plagiarist. And then, of course, nobody -- no living being wants to be compared to Ann Coulter.


MILLER: And we understand. So then we went to female impersonator. And recently we have said right-wing succubus.



KURTZ: So, did you get complaints about your original description of Ann Coulter?

MILLER: I did. I did. Howard, from some former demons I did. Apparently -- who knew they organized?

KURTZ: But, you know, this is a very interesting debate to me of the kind of limits of comedy and how far you can go. I mean, you routinely, in the spirit of fun, make fun of Brit Hume's face and CNN commentator Terry Jeffrey's voice, and you call Rush Limbaugh a drug- addled gasbag.

Why isn't any of that going too far?

MILLER: Is this whole show about getting me fired today? Because, you know, Howard, you know I love you.

KURTZ: We're not trying to do that. We're not trying to do that, but I'm trying to get a sense of where the boundaries are.

MILLER: Well, you know, maybe we're all going to find that. But I do think, Howard, the one point people kept bringing up is that these young women are powerless.

MARTIN: Howard, I think we need to put it also into context, and that is, look at it this way -- NBC "Today" show; ABC, "Good Morning America"; CBS, "The Early Show"; CNN, "AMERICAN MORNING"; FOX News Channel, "FOX and Friends"; MSNBC, Don Imus, that's the standard. And I think we overlook that.

Stephanie is a comedian. We know what to expect from a comedian. We know what they give us. We know that when we go to the movie and we see Denzel Washington playing a rogue cop on "Training Day," he's not going to be the nice guy in the neighborhood. So we understand that.

KURTZ: But of course, Don Imus is a radio show that was simulcast on MSNBC.

MARTIN: But again, though...

KURTZ: So let's compare him to some other radio people. For example, Howard Stern now on satellite. I like his show. He makes fun of blacks, he makes fun of Jews, he has strippers and lesbians and porn stars on.

MARTIN: But here's the difference, Howard.

KURTZ: What's the difference?

MARTIN: Here's the difference. When is the last time you saw presidential candidates, prominent journalists, authors on Howard Stern's show? That is the difference.

And so what happens is -- look, I'll give you an example. When I was running a small newspaper, "The Dallas Weekly," if I made a comment, it would be, like, "Oh, Roland made a comment." But because I'm now on CNN, it's a whole different standard. I'm held to a different standard.


MARTIN: And people are overlooking that. That is the difference.

If Howard Stern was just a 66-year-old guy playing like a 12- year-old on the radio, a whole different ball game. But when you choose to talk about Iraq, and when you choose to have candidates announce a president on your show, you are looked at differently.

KURTZ: Well, Stephanie Miller, you know, you sometimes chronicle on your show things that other radio hosts and television talk show hosts say. And so we've had, you know, just a series of things.

For example, Bill O'Reilly once referred to Mexicans as wetbacks, and Glenn Beck of CNN Headline News called Hillary Clinton a five- letter word that rhymes with witch. And Michael Savage, who had a talk show on MSNBC for about 15 minutes lost that program after he told a gay caller to get AIDS and die, but he's still pretty big on the radio.

So, why the media focus on Imus, but not on these other folks?

MILLER: Well, as I think I've proved on the show today, Howard, radio people are not meant to be on television. I think Roland makes a good point.

There's -- you know, you've got to clean yourself up for television. You can't -- I do think that that's one of the things of this Imus thing.

They same the same as Rush Limbaugh. When you could see him physically mocking Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms, you know, because he has video cameras in there, when you could -- when you could see for yourself what Imus said, you know, it's not taking it out of context, are you seeing it. You know, I do think this YouTube universe has sort of changed things as well.

KURTZ: Roland, what about the difference in audience expectations? For example, we've got a CNN poll. The question, "Is Don Imus a racist?" Fifty-four percent of blacks say yes, and only 31 percent of whites say yes. And white people tell me -- and some black people say -- that, why are there black radio stations around the country that play extended interviews with Louis Farrakhan, who is known for making lots of anti-Semitic comments?

MARTIN: Well, again, because it is a different world. And the fact of the matter is, you can take any number of issues and ask the question, how does black America looks at it, and how does white America look at? You know, the current commissioner (ph) reported in 1968 that there are two different worlds, one black and one white.

And so that's why Mr. Farrakhan for one group of people is looked upon as a hated man. And another group, he's looked upon as one of the most respected individuals. That's because we live in these different worlds, and that's why you have that difference. And what's our responsibility, Howard, as journalists, is to begin to break that down and understand that.

For instance, this is a sexist and a racist issue for Don Imus. Don't you find it amazing how all of a sudden it's become a referendum on Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson? We're not even talking about...

KURTZ: Well, they put themselves out there. Why aren't they subject to criticism?

MARTIN: No, but here is the difference. They did put themselves out there, but they are not the only people who were saying Don Imus should be fired.

KURTZ: Right.

MARTIN: My point is, we have to sit here as journalists and allow the issue. I think the fundamental issue with Don Imus, why there was such a tsunami, such a perfect storm, as Stephanie said, is because you mixed television, radio, sex, race, all together and he hit all different groups.

KURTZ: Let me -- let me sneak in a last question to Stephanie.

Do you see any possible good coming out of this national uproar, or are we looking at the PC police now knocking at everybody's door?

MILLER: Oh, if it's the PC police, we are all done.

You know, I think Roland raises a good point, too, though. You know, everybody has used this for their own purposes, I think, to go after certain people. And I think -- you know, I'm a flip-flopper, so I'm on everybody's side of every side of this issue.

You know, I think that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have done a lot of good in the world, and yet they wouldn't want to be judged by "Hymietown" or by Tawana Brawley. You know, so I think that that's what I'm against, is people out trying to get Rosie O'Donnell fired.

KURTZ: All right.

MILLER: You know, O'Reilly is trying to get Olbermann fired.

KURTZ: Good topic for next week.

Thanks very much, Stephanie Miller, Roland Martin. Appreciate your joining us this morning.

MARTIN: Thank you.

MILLER: Thanks, Howard.


KURTZ: I should point out that Stephanie Miller only makes fun of big-shot political and media types, and I've never heard any racial humor on her show.

Still to come, the Rutgers women aren't the only student athletes who got slimed. Why should the media be ashamed of what they did to the three Duke lacrosse players? We'll tell you next.


KURTZ: When sexual assault charges were finally dropped this week against those three Duke lacrosse players, it was big news everywhere.


CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: For months they were vilified. Tonight, they are vindicated.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: For the players, it was a year of their lives they will never get back.

KURTZ: But 13 months ago, the tone of the coverage was dramatically different as these and other news organizations created a full-fledged frenzy about student athletes out of control and rich white guys allegedly raping a poor black woman. All of it based on the woman's shaky allegations which we now know to be lies.

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Now to that explosive Duke sex scandal.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: First, we want to talk more about the Duke rape case.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: The case that has rocked one of America's elite college campuses and divided the community around it.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Pampered, privileged athletes getting away with just about everything. Does that sound like Duke to you?

KURTZ (voice over): "Newsweek" even put two of the defendants' mug shots on the cover. Defense lawyers in the case made no secret of their unhappiness with the coverage.

JIM COONEY, ATTORNEY FOR READE SELIGMANN: If they had done what journalists are supposed to do and spoken truth to power, they could have slowed this train down.

KURTZ: But in all the coverage of the North Carolina attorney general's decision to drop the charges, the media have largely failed to acknowledge their own capability. They helped trash the reputations of these young men while protecting the accuser's identity, as is customary in rape cases.

Now that we know she's a fabricator, she's been identified by "The New York Post," "Washington Times," and "Raleigh "News & Observer".


KURTZ: This is hardly the first time the media have all but dispensed with the presumption of innocence. We as a profession put David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann through hell. Don't we owe them an apology?

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.


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