04/12/2007 05:24 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011


I used "cynical" several times in my piece yesterday, and it's time for me to give an example of "cynicism" in the media.

Some of you may have read Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times this morning. In it, he quotes from a transcript of 1998 60 Minutes broadcast. Mike Wallace says that the Imus program is "dirty and sometimes racist." Imus denies it. "Give me an example. Give me one example of one racist incident." Wallace says, "You told Tom Anderson, the [Sixty Minutes] producer, in your car coming home that Bernard McGuirk [the Imus show producer and on-air commenter] is there to do nigger jokes." Imus admits it, "O.K."

There's a secret to the success of shock radio, a formula of its own. The cast must include an opinionated, arrogant host, flanked on one side by a "validator" and on the other by an instigator. The host is outrageous and sometimes the validator (in Imus' case, Charles McCord) reins him in just a little bit, sometimes with just a "huh?" or a "what?" Sometimes he may go so far as a "come on." He never undermines the host's authority. The instigator's (that's Bernard McGuirk) comments are usually beyond the pale. His remarks are brief and vicious, too offensive for the host to risk. Occasionally, the host may rebuke him, thus enabling him to claim some sense of decency. That's the formula. It works for Imus, it works for Howard Stern and for dozens of shock jocks on local stations all over American radio.

The formula works because it attracts a young male audience and "young male" is the most precious of audiences--hard to reach, hard to keep. Advertisers want young males to buy their products. They pay a premium to run commercials on shock jock programs. The formula may be racist and sexist, but it's also highly profitable, so the feelings of the maligned are ignored. Media owners are important men, leaders of their communities, pious preachers of family values. But that doesn't prevent them from putting shock jocks on the air.

Cynical? You bet.

Incidentally, Herbert reported that "as soon as I told executives at MSNBC that I was going write about the 60 Minutes piece, which was already in pretty wide circulation, they began acting very weird. We'll get back to you, they said...The transcript was pure poison. A source very close to Don Imus told me last [Wednesday] night, 'They did not want to wait for your piece to come out.'' He suggests that "putting the word 'nigger' into the so-called I-man's mouth" got Imus fired.

Cynical? You bet.

What about Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the other black leaders attacking Imus, MSNBC and CBS, while they take large contributions from rap artists and producers of rap music with lyrics that would offend even Redd Foxx.

Cynical? You bet.

I'm will give up cynicism in favor of hope. I will, I will, I will.