“You have made of radio a laughing stock to intelligence….you have cut time into tiny segments called spots (more rightly stains) where with the occasional fine program is periodically smeared with impudent insistence to buy and try.”
Lee de Forest – inventor of the vacuum tube for radio – addressing the National Association of Broadcasters in 1946
By the time you read this article the Don Imus story will no doubt be long gone. Why not, CBS did can his butt, so end of story, right? Well, it seems to me that the “national discussion” that took place during the whole shock jock scandal was quite limited, so lets recap a bit and see where else we can go with this issue.
Don Imus called the Rutgers Women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos.” Some people said he simply made a mistake. According to Black Scholar Ishmael Reed, writing on Imus and racism over a year ago, the Imus show used racism as its bread and butter. Even 60 Minutes (airs on CBS) did a show on this “shock jock” where they were told that “Bernard McGirk, the man, who, according to 60 Minutes, Imus hired to do “nigger jokes,” doing a lame imitation of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, using a plantation type dialect.” The national media watchdog group FAIR has also documented racist diatribes on the Imus show over the years. “Imus called Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz a “boner-nosed… beanie-wearing Jewboy,” referred to a disabled colleague as “the cripple,” and to an Indian men’s tennis duo as “Gunga Din and Sambo.” In Imus’ words, the New York Knicks are “chest-thumping pimps.”
Some of the “national debate” quickly turned to criticism of rap lyrics that also demean women and minorities, so why not censor that from the airwaves? Why stop there? Imus is not the only radio talk show host who uses racist or sexist language. The list of radio personalities that do this on a daily basis is quite long. But lets just look at some of the syndicated talk radio people one might hear in West Michigan. Tune into WOOD radio on any weekday and you will likely hear some offensive language from people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Laura Ingraham. Remember what Rush said about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb? Another example was when Rush made fun of the NAACP by saying “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.” On the other hand, Michael Savage makes Rush look like an altar boy. Savage has built his fame off of racist and homophobic diatribes. In 2000 he said:
“With the [Latino] population that has emerged, since they breed like rabbits, in many cases the whites will become a minority in their own nation… The white people don’t breed as often for whatever reason. I guess many homosexuals are involved. That is also part of the grand plan, to push homosexuality to cut down on the white race.”
I don’t hear anyone locally calling for a boycott of WOOD radio…although it’s not a bad idea.
The problem however, isn’t just limited to the comments of Imus, Savage and company. There are deeper problems with media that “allows” this type of speech to be broadcast. One major problem that has not really been addressed in the “national debate” has to do with whom we don’t hear on radio or TV. There is a clear absence of minority and female voices in radio. If you want to hear women or minorities on radio you are limited to some NPR programs or local stations that focus on audiences that major media has ignored. There are Spanish language radio stations locally and you can listen to African American radio talk show personalities like Tyronne Bynum and Robert S., but these shows are specifically targeted to Urban Black and Latino listeners. WOOD radio would claim they broadcast to a broader audience, when in fact they are primarily interested in a White audience, particularly White people with money. This is the case with most radio stations even though they like to promote themselves as lite rock, Christian, classic rock, eclectic, pop, or country, but in the end we should just call them what they are…White radio stations.
Television, particularly TV news is much worse. Minority and female voices have been limited in news stories. For women, being a news source is quite often gender specific, meaning that women’s voices are sought out when it is a “women’s issue” like shopping or domestic violence. When it comes to stories on the economy, politics, the environment, education, and foreign policy then women’s voices are less frequent. The same is the case for minority voices on TV news. If the story is about racism or culture then you’ll hear a minority voice. In other words, minority voices are typecast, limited to race-specific stories and not broader issues. But the biggest aspect of the Don Imus “scandal” that has not been addressed has to do more with media ownership and media policy.
Why was a show like Imus in the Morning or shows with Sean Hannity and Michael Savage so well known? With the increasing consolidation of radio ownership it was much cheaper for radio companies to air syndicated shows instead of locally produced programs. If the same show airs in dozens of media markets radio companies can offer better advertising packages to fill in those radio spots, as Lee de Forest called them in 1946. Radio companies can also downsize their workforce. If you are doing little or no local programming you don’t need the same amount of staff. Syndicated programs also work because they don’t allow for as much interaction as a local radio show, thus limiting the involvement of local communities. Big media companies are primarily interested in ratings, not serving the public interest, so of course syndicated talk show idiots like Don Imus are welcomed programming that will capture a primarily White audience with money. This is what is called institutional racism and is much more devastating than racial slurs. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite repulsed by most radio and TV commentators, but pulling the plug on shows like Imus will not solve the problem alone.
So, while the “national debate” about Imus and rap lyrics continue big media is trying to push through new regulations on media ownership. Major media corporations, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are hoping to further de-regulated media ownership rules that would allow big companies to own even more of the radio, TV, cable and phone companies in our community. You say that you haven’t heard about this? Exactly, it is not in the best interest of media companies to run news stories on this issue even though right now the FCC is allowing public comment on media ownership. You can participate in this important debate by going to the website Stop Big Media. There you will find resources and action steps to stop big media from owning more of the public airwaves. If we don’t act on this issue we will be inundated with more and more of the same kind of programming, the kind that brought us programming like Imus. If we want a diversity of voices and local voices, then we need to change the media system not just censor programs that are a creation of this media system.