Right-Wing Reaction to Don Imus

Some on the Right voiced criticism of radio host Don Imus, whose slur against the Rutgers women’s basketball team led to his firing from CBS radio and MSNBC. Jerry Falwell, who was frequently mocked on the show, called Imus’s comments “the most demeaning thing possible.” “He has built his career on saying outrageous, indecent, racist, even blasphemous things,” wrote Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, adding that Imus also targeted Focus founder Dobson. Michael Steele, the former Senate candidate and new chairman of Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC, said Imus should be fired and criticized John McCain for supporting the talker.

But many right-wing commentators defended Imus or used the controversy to push their own agendas. Quite a few decided to attack Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as “race hucksters” (columnist David Limbaugh) or “nappy-headed demagogues” (Yale Kramer for the American Spectator). Mychal Massie, a spokesman for the right-wing Project 21, described the firing of Imus as a “lynching” and accused Jackson, Sharpton, and other Imus critics as “race-baiters” who “are today fomenting unrest and belching racial bile.”

Others used the opportunity to change the subject to their own issues and suggested that Imus critics are hypocritical for not making the same connections. John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute charged that “Imus’s insensitive remarks pale especially in comparison to disparaging comments and cruel recommendations made time and again by leaders of environmental groups.” Alveda King, director of African-American outreach for Frank Pavone’s Priests for Life and a frequent religious-right speaker, declared in a press release, “Yes, Don Imus's apologies are necessary. But I demand the same from every public figure who has ever said that babies in the womb are not persons.”

And a few commentators and activists have suggested that critics of Imus are ignoring “anti-Christian” references in the media. Catholic League President Bill Donohue complained about the lack of interest in his campaign against a Manhattan boutique hotel’s display of a “chocolate Jesus” sculpture and concluded, “In other words, Catholic bashing is humorous and an exercise in liberty. Racism is awful. Bigotry, then, is neither good nor bad—it just depends who the target is.” Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas also decried a supposed “double standard”:

Why aren't these keepers of the First Amendment flame coming to the defense of Don Imus? It's because they have a double standard. Evangelical Christians, practicing Roman Catholics, politically conservative Republicans, home-schoolers and others not in favor among the liberal elite are frequent targets for the left. Anything may be said about them, and frequently is. But if someone insults the left's "protected classes," be they African-Americans, homosexuals or to a lesser extent, adherents to the religion of "global warming," they must be silenced and punished.

According to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, “The message of the ongoing Imus scandal is simple: verbal offenses against anyone other than conservatives or Christians or Jews, will be treated as crimes, and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the judge and jury.” And Star Parker, author of “Uncle Sam’s Plantation,” warned that Congress is considering extending violent-hate-crimes protections to gays and wrote, “With the passage of this so-called hate-crime bill, pastors will be intimidated to condemn homosexual behavior from their pulpits. Is this the freedom we want?”

Finally, a few right-wing commentators tried to make Imus a symbol of white-male victimhood. MSNBC’s Pat Buchanan decried the “Imus Lynch Party,” writing, “The issue here is not the word Imus used. The issue is who Imus is -- a white man, who used a term about black women only black folks are permitted to use with impunity and immunity.” In a Human Events column, Mac Johnson declared that “Apologizing to Al Sharpton Was Imus’s True Racist Act” and speculated,

Now think about how stupid and racist all this is. Were Chris Rock, in the heat of a comedic diatribe, to call someone, say, a “limp-haired slut” what would he do next? Would he ask to go on David Duke’s radio show so that Duke could accept an apology on behalf of all “white people” and then issue a suitable penance? (“Donate to my charity, Chris! You don’t look sorry enough yet.”) Somehow, I don’t think so.

And Rebecca Hagelin, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, attacked “the tentacles of radical feminist thought” that she claims are “poisoning the image” of white males through the media and Title IX sports programs. “The white, Anglo-Saxon male, the young teenage guy, is probably the most discriminated against kid on the face of the earth right now,” she declared on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

See comments on the Imus controversy by People For the American Way Foundation staff and by founder Norman Lear here.