The Burning of the I-Man

04/10/2007 09:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The one word left out in all the condemnation of Imus for his spontaneous fashion report on the Rutgers women's basketball team last week, with all the talk of "disgusting and reprehensible," is "stupid."

It perhaps is not the most stupid thing he has said sitting around with his crew, who often seem to be on some substance besides the air. But it will make the annals of Collected Stupid Remarks by Famous People, in the tradition of Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson, Andy Rooney, and Bill Clinton's "Cuomo seemed the Mafioso-type."

Even more serious, the I-Man's remark, aside from being stupid, was so unfunny.

Now if you're a comedian-- which Imus obviously thinks he is, in between believing he is an elder statesman qualified to argue with presidential candidates on any issue-- and you need a fresh act every morning lasting four hours, sooner or later, with all the millions of words that spill out of your mouth, you're going to say something totally stupid.

So he made a joke that fell flat. In the old days at NBC, Johnny Carson had that problem, his comeback was often funnier than the original joke.

As a comedian, Imus is spending too much time worrying about foreign and domestic affairs, and neglecting his comebackers. "Rough girls from Rutgers. Man they got tattoos" (his largely unquoted other line) doesn't make it.

On the other hand, if he thought his original line was funny enough to stand on its own, I mean, if he really thought it was funny, as he claims, and not just a racist remark, then he really is in trouble. Any guy who said that and thinks it was funny is living in the 1950s.

Could it be that Imus is getting to be -pardon my French-- vieuw chapeaux, an old fart. Perhaps he has had it; his time has come and gone.

There are demands that he be fired for his stupidity. This is another part of the puzzle.

If we fired all the racists and bigots that exist in broadcasting or the world, and ensured they would never have jobs again --the minimal demands of those who were calling for Imus' scalp - we would have an unemployment rate higher than in the Gaza Strip. As a matter of fact, the world is made up of flawed people who say and do stupid as well as reprehensible and disgusting things.

Instead of rising in righteous indignation, as his multiple media employers did, I would have let the guy apologize, grovel for a day or two, and let's get on with the broadcast. Nobody forcing you to tune in.

What everybody howling and yelling doesn't seem to understand is there are no good guys here.

The protesters are playing a very cynical game. Those calling for advertiser boycotts and other reparations may not actually care about the Rutgers women basketball players. Catching Imus by the toe makes them look important. What Al Sharpton is doing is making Al Sharpton look important. It was the same thing as Rev. Jesse Jackson's calls for a boycott of CBS in Chicago 20 or so years ago.

I have been through many racial boycotts in my time as a media critic. The guys who are the targets are not really racists. MSNBC, NBC Universal, CBS, Viacom, Westwood One couldn't care less about such issues as race, class, education previous condition of servitude. The only color they care about is the color of money. More they get the happy they are,

There is also a cynical dimension to the punishment the corporations meted out to Imus for his stupidity. The story might have ended after his apology, as craven or forced as it might have been. Any day now he will be saying some his best friends are African-Americans, promising to have at least one of them every day on the show, starting perhaps, with Obama. Will he ask what the senator thinks of the Rutgers Five? Were they nappy?

It would have been over by now. By the end of the two-week suspension period, the media hype will be enormous. The media rubbernecker crowd, who always show up after an accident, will be tuning in to see what the all new, improved, better taste I-Man looks like. The ratings will be huge.

And why else do you think they suspended him? To teach him humility? No, he still doesn't think he really did anything wrong. People are just too damn sensitive these days.

A more fitting punishment to fit the crime in my opinion would be to put Al Sharpton on MSNBC in Imus' slot for four hours every morning for two weeks.

The S-man is actually a very funny guy. He made the presidential debates watchable in 2004. Al's comments on the issues and political process were smart, sharp. He can be satirical, even witty and makes a lot of sense. Except when he goes off the deep end in some of his causes. I'm not talking about the Al "Tawana Brawley" Sharpton but the other one.

The man's problem is he loves TV news. He wants to be on the screen discussing any issue every day. With his own show he wouldn't have to stoop to those cheap publicity gimmicks; he would shine in expensive TV news hours. He is a tremendous talent.

I predict that the S-Man in the morning might make MSNBC less desperate about getting the I-Man back. Al Sharpton would get big ratings, and do more for African-American image than all the damage the I-Man did with his reprehensible, disgusting and stupid line.