Following the outcry and suspension of Don Imus over last week's racist remark — by now you all know he referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" on the air — several websites and columnists have raised examples of similar commentary by Imus over the years, slurring gays and lesbians, women, Palestinians, and, in one particularly shocking and egregious example, PBS' Gwen Ifill, who is black. Imus apparently said the following about Ifill during her tenure at the New York Times: "Isn't The Times wonderful — it lets the cleaning lady cover the White House." Today, Ifill responds in the New York Times, with a classy, thoughtful response that doesn't need to talk trash to take down Imus — and call into question why, after a track record like his, any serious journalist would appear on his show. Wrote Ifill:
I haven't talked about this much. I'm a big girl. I have a platform. I have a voice. I've been working in journalism long enough that there is little danger that a radio D.J.'s juvenile slap will define or scar me. Yesterday, he began telling people he never actually called me a cleaning lady. Whatever. This is not about me.
It is about the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. That game had to be the biggest moment of their lives, and the outcome the biggest disappointment. They are not old enough, or established enough, to have built up the sort of carapace many women I know -- black women in particular -- develop to guard themselves against casual insult.
Why do my journalistic colleagues appear on Mr. Imus's program? That's for them to defend, and others to argue about. I certainly don't know any black journalists who will. To his credit, Mr. Imus told the Rev. Al Sharpton yesterday he realizes that, this time, he went way too far.
Yes, he did. Every time a young black girl shyly approaches me for an autograph or writes or calls or stops me on the street to ask how she can become a journalist, I feel an enormous responsibility. It's more than simply being a role model. I know I have to be a voice for them as well.
So here's what this voice has to say for people who cannot grasp the notion of picking on people their own size: This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field.
Let's see if we can manage to build them up and reward them, rather than opting for the cheapest, easiest, most despicable shots.
Amen to that.
Additional Imus coverage: FishbowlNY has an impressive roundup of the latest developments, and for backstory, Vanity Fair has just made its February 2006 profile of Imus by Buzz Bissinger available online here.