Imus talk brings ratings, but misses pointby Jason Whitlock
Jason Whitlock brings his edgy and thought-provoking style to FOXSports.com. Columnist for the Kansas City Star, he has won the National Journalism Award for Commentary for "his ability to seamlessly integrate sports and social commentary and to challenge widely held assumptions along the racial divide."
The O.J. Simpson double-murder trial taught white television and radio executives they could attract huge ratings by allowing a white host to referee a simple-minded argument pitting opposing views on an alleged black-white racial dispute.
Under the guise of promoting racial dialogue, the networks have created a collective talk-show hybrid, "The Mr. Gerald Springer III Show," a shirt-and-tie, race-based spinoff of "Jerry Springer."
The show topics change from week to week, bouncing from the Jena Six to Imus to Duke lacrosse to whatever most-coveted guest Al Sharpton has on his mind that day. What doesn't change is the stupidity of the conversation or the serious, concerned, irate and predictable look of the white host throughout the segment.
I first learned that Imus had said something "controversial" when I looked on my cell phone and saw a missed call from CNN. The news networks call me just about whenever something racial happens within the sports world.
It's no secret I like to write about and discuss race. The problem is I like to do it in an honest, intelligent fashion. What I learned from the first Imus-Rutgers go-round is that it is nearly impossible to do that on television.
The hosts are generally clueless about the topic and, worse, scared to death that they'll say something that provokes Sharpton to call their boss. The other guests are generally just as clueless, afraid they'll say something that provokes Sharpton to call them an Uncle Tom or a bigot and are primarily concerned with demonstrating they're worthy of an invite back or their own TV show.
I'm telling you, O.J. Simpson started this (spit). His trial launched TV careers, networks and got Marcia Clark a makeover that almost made her attractive in a non-sexual, Greta Van Susteren after-the-second-facelift kind of way.
So the interview requests poured in for me this week.
Imus suggested Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones' six arrests were rather predictable given his African-American heritage. A day later, Imus clarified his statement — and tried to avoid trouble — by stating that he was making a sarcastic point about America's unequal criminal-justice system.
Imus was right both times. But Imus being right doesn't make for good television and certainly does not pay for the conk in Rev. Sharpton's wig.
No, sir. This was a full-blown racial controversy, a Nielsen-ratings-mover, a chance for white talk-show hosts to climb into the Octagon and let Kimbo Slice and Jimbo White Rice knuckle up until the viewers tapped out.
I took a pass.
The networks don't want to really get into this issue, not in a substantive way. Statistically, Pacman's problems with law enforcement are predictable in a "well, there you go" way given his age, African-American heritage and residence in the United States.
The incarceration numbers for black men age 18-30 (about one in nine) are staggering, frightening, and lift-every-voice-and-sing alarming. And just as Imus suggested, the reason for this brand of volunteer slavery can be directly linked to the unequal form of criminal justice long practiced in America (along with a black youth culture that is morally and educationally bankrupt thanks to a lack of fathers in the home).
I wrote about much of this in the June issue of Playboy Magazine. As you read in a previous column, the white editorial director at Playboy, Chris Napolitano — perhaps in an audition for a job in TV — slapped a simple-minded, ratings-grabbing, distracting headline on my article.
No one wanted to talk with me about this issue in depth. Hell, Playboy didn't even want the issue presented in a serious fashion.
But let Don Imus or anyone slip and say something that can get Al Sharpton some face time with Larry King, and every radio and TV producer will have me or some other race expert on speed dial. It's depressing. It's really kind of dangerous for our democracy.
I normally don't pay attention to politics. But the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton race for the Democratic nomination was rather fascinating. Early on in the primaries, I sensed that the TV networks (and hosts and regular guests) desperately wanted Obama to win because they realized he gave them an easy racial angle to talk about whenever there was no legitimate news to address.
Obama is the Tony Soprano of politics, a guaranteed ratings winner. It made sense for the networks to renew Obama's reality show for the general election. Don't be surprised when Rev. Jeremiah Wright reprises his role as Uncle Junior and causes Obama problems from a mental hospital.
I digress. My point is that what Imus said warrants discussion. We just don't need to discuss Imus. He is not our problem. Pacman Jones, with his off-field antics and stupidity, has done more damage to the image of American black men than Don Imus could ever hope to do.
Let Jason know what you think: Click here or e-mail him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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