The Imus Affair is About Apartheid in Media

First things first. Who wasn't proud of those women from the Rutgers basketball team who showed such dignity, class, and respect in their response to the travesty committed against them?

I was reading a post by a white male liberal radio host, associated with an almost totally white liberal radio network, run by white males, owned by white males, writing on an almost totally white liberal blog about the Imus affair.

He was writing about the bigoted words of another white male host, televised on a cable network run by white males, owned by a national television network run by white males, which is owned by a global conglomerate run by white males.

His basic point, not worthy of great comment here, was that while he was oh-so-concerned with what Imus said, Imus must remain since this is all about freedom of speech.

He reminded me of Mike Dukakis, who, when asked during a debate how he would react if a criminal had pulverized his wife, gave a dissertation about constitutional law.

Sorry, pal, the Imus affair is not about free speech. If he wants to throw these bigoted hate words in the face of some glorious young women, he has the right to do so, on any street corner.

The issue here is whether a publicly owned media company, in a publicly regulated industry, with sponsors dependent on the public goodwill of their customers, with some serious standard of corporate responsiblity, should peddle this crap for profit on the public airwaves.

Let's be clear: Media barons not only allow but encourage bigotry, anger, smear, derision and disrespect so long as it is good for business.

Much of my business is in entertainment, and I once had dinner with a high-level friend in the business and his wife. In a pre-planned attack, I said to them that maybe I should tell their teenage daughter she is deserving of various criminal sexual acts because she is really nothing more than a prostitute (I used different words).

Of course, Mom was deeply offended and said if I ever used such language again she'd never talk to me again. At which point I pulled out a CD, from a black rapper, using those exact words about a black woman, and asked them both: You realize I just quoted verbatim a product your company puts out, whose profit is paying for our wonderful dinner at this fine restaurant?

At which point Mom looked at my entertainment-business colleague and said, "We are going to have a long talk when we get home tonight!!!"

Does it matter if a billion-dollar white-owned conglomerate pays a fortune to a black rapper to make insulting, racist, sexist comments about a black woman? Or if a white-owned conglomerate puts this garbage on television and radio?

Trust me, if there were more African-American, Hispanic, and female owners at the highest levels of management of these companies, this kind of racist, misogynist content would disappear.

If there were more African-American, Hispanic and females as full-blown hosts on these radio and television networks, the quality and respect of our media and political discourse would far better reflect the American notions of tolerance and melting-pot inclusiveness.

There is, far too often, a race-based apartheid, and a gender-based apartheid, that plagues both our mainstream media and our corporate conglomerates, at the ownership, management and host levels.

Even Air America — which I have urged repeatedly to build major alliances with African-American and Hispanic hosts, networks and audiences — is far too much white bread for my taste, which is significantly accountable for its troubles.

It's not enough, if Air America wants to speak for progressives, to have one or two black or Hispanic hosts, or management and ownership that is so heavily dominated by white males to the exclusion of blacks, Hispanics and women in positions of true power.

I single out Air America because it seeks to stand for progressivism and could do better, should do better, and will never succeed until it actually does better.

There is a political apartheid, too, even among Democrats. Why has such little support been given to voter registration, get-out-the-vote drives, and policing honest elections in African-American and Hispanic precincts? The reason is the Democratic consultariat class makes its money not from registering or protecting the franchise of minority voters, but in its piece of the action for giant television ad buys.

There is apartheid on war and peace. One can watch the reruns from 2002, 2003, and 2004, reread the newspapers, or review the insider guests on cable television shows. What got America into the Iraq war without serious debate was not only misrepresentation by the administration, on matters that were well known to insiders but never stated publicly; it was an insider apartheid.

Virtually the entire mass media in 2002 became courtiers to power. During the fateful vote on the Iraq war resolution in 2002, the Republican talking points were almost identical to the Democratic talking points in support of the war. Dissent was disrespected; discussion of truth was destroyed by the dominance of the apartheid of insider-ism that allowed only one point of view, no matter how wrong.

America was driven to war with the bizarre and unconscionable spectacle of televisions hosts, Democrats and Republicans all reading from the same talking points in what I called at the time Putin Media.

Stephen Colbert pointed this out at the White House Correspondents dinner, to consternation in extremis of the insider media. Now even Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), normally a brilliant guy, treats the Democrats in Congress as airheads and wimps and warns them to stay away from mean old Stephen Colbert.

Give me a break.

This political and media apartheid is a tale of two cities. On one side stand the insiders, far too often white and male, conservative, liberal or merely corporate. On the other side stand the rest of us, and at the center of the rest of us stand our heroes, the women of the Rutgers women's basketball team, with their dignity and respect, which are a model for us all.

I have not proposed that Imus be fired. But a two-week vacation is utter nonsense, and I have proposed that Imus donate a full year's salary, matched by NBC and CBS, to any charity designated by the Rutger's women.

Please, spare us the collection of white male insiders (including myself) passing judgment on appropriate penance for indignities and insults that neither whites, nor males, nor higher-income older insiders can ever fully understand.

I have my views, they have theirs, but in the end, let's defer to women involved.

Those women worked their hearts and souls to reach the summit of American athletics, and had their moment stolen by the racism and sexism of a white male host, on a white male-owned cable show on a white male-owned television and radio network, part of white male-owned corporate conglomerates.

Let's hear from the women of Rutgers next week, and respect what they tell us, which is their call, because this is their moment.

My guess is, when the dust settles, these women, and their moms and dads, and our whole nation, will be double-proud of them.

Proud of their hard work, dedication and the brilliance of their athletic accomplishment.
Proud of their integrity, respect and class in the noblest sense of the word.

They are not the women Imus called them; they are the legacy of the woman who stands in the Harbor of New York.

Let's be proud of the way they remind us all of what America is supposed to be, of the values of mutual respect and tolerance that embody the American idea.

Apartheid, anywhere, is wrong, and these great women, in every way, are right.

Perhaps these women will lead America to a long-overdue discussion about what is right and what is wrong, about our media and our politics.

Perhaps these women will empower not only themselves, but all of us, against a public discourse that has become disgusting and revolting and full of bigotry, derision and pain for profit, in money and politics.

The Good Book tells us that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

The women of Rutgers will triumph in the end, not only on the court of sports, but in the court of public opinion, as a debate that should have been held in the hours after Lee surrendered to Grant might finally come center-stage again, in the greatest nation on earth, where tomorrow should always be better than today.