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Will Anybody Defend Don Imus?

OPINION: D.G. Martin

By D.G. Martin, Raleigh Chronicle Columnist
April 18, 2007

RALEIGH - Who is going to stand up for Don Imus?

Nobody, it seems.

Everybody is piling on Imus, competing to see who can be the most eloquent in their condemnations of his racial and sexist slur of the Rutgers women's basketball teamand of his radio program's long history of insults targeting, at one time or another, almost everybody.

I am not going to stand up for Imus or try to defend him.

In fact, a part of me is happy that another successful and very arrogant person has got his comeuppance. ("Schadenfreude," the term my psychiatrist friend Robert Bashford uses to explain such feelings, means something like "rejoicing at the trouble of others.")

So, the rest of you can keep on piling on.

But, I have to confess that I am going to miss Imus and his radio program.

And I assert that the country is going to lose something important as well.

What could that be? Surely, the country does not need more racist and sexist humor in the media.

However, Imus and his program were giving us something else, something that was positive and helpful. In addition to his crude sense of humor, the one that lost his job for him, Imus is a thoughtful and well-prepared interviewer. He brought to his program a host of thoughtful, articulate people, who had a wide variety of ideas and points of view.

If they were interesting and provocative and if they were prepared to stand up to Imus's tough, tricky questions, he did not seem to care what side they took in the political or ideological wars.

Imus has strong political ideas, and made no pretense of neutrality or objectivity. But it was hard to predict where he might land on a particular issue.

For instance, he was an early opponent of the war in Iraq and a harsh critic of President Bush's war policies. He often referred to Vice President Cheney as a "war criminal."

During the same time, however, he gave friendly support and regular interviews to Senators McCain and Lieberman, both strong supporters of the war.

He gave his political support to candidates from a wide spectrum on the liberal-conservative rainbow. During the last election cycle he supported Tennessee Democrat senate candidate Harold Ford, a liberal by Tennessee standards, and Pennsylvania Republican incumbent Senator Rick Santorum, a strong conservative by any measure.

Imus's backing did not assure victory. Both Ford and Santorum lost. So did John Kerry, Imus's pick in the 2004 presidential election.

The variety of political figures that Imus supported is not so important in itself as it is an indication of the rich diversity and depth of some of his other guests

For instance, two of Imus's favorite interviewees were Mary Matalin, a top assistant to Vice President Cheney, and her husband, James Carville, a Democratic political strategist. Just as this seemingly happily married couple could disagree thoroughly on political matters, Imus showed that he could disagree with many of his guests and then express his friendship and respect for them.

Imus also brought some of the smartest and most thoughtful observers of American public life to his program. Frank Rich, a New York Times political columnist and former theatre critic. His sharp observations about the theatre of politics are always provocative. I thought he was even better when he was talking to Imus.

CNN's senior political analyst Jeff Greenfield has a keen ability to see clearly when conditions are cloudy for the rest of us. Imus gave Greenfield the time he rarely had on his own network, the time and opportunity to explain in depth his insights.

I will miss many of the other regulars like Bob Schieffer, anchor of CBS' Face the Nation, Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press, the New York Times' Tom Friedman, and NBC's, Andrea Mitchell, whose opinions and viewpoints got a better hearing on Imus's show than they did in the confines of their own venues.

We can easily do without some of the insensitive humor that was a big part of Imus's program. But we need more of the vigorous and informed political discussion that was also a part of Imus's battleshipthe one that went to the bottom last week.


D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Check his blog and view prior programs at

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D.G. Martin:
Mr. Martin is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m.