The needle on the Don Imus Contriti-o-meter took another wild set of swings back and forth this morning. Last Thursday, after having referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos,” the radio/MSNBC host said that anyone who was offended should “relax” about a line that was meant to be funny. Friday morning, after it became increasingly apparent that people were not quite so ready to relax, he offered a more straightforward apology.
This morning, after a weekend of repeated calls for his firing and unsympathetic news reports that were apparently insufficiently understanding for his liking, he offered another apology. With “context.” It was a bizarre two-step he danced, saying there was no excuse for what he said–then offering up excuses. It’s no excuse but… I’ve hosted sick minority children at Imus Ranch! It’s no excuse but… I joke like this all the time! It’s no excuse but… I supported Harold Ford! It’s no excuse but… I advocated for sickle-cell anemia research! And–his tone gets petulant here–”No black journalist called me. Nobody ever called me about any of that!”
There were more bizarre defenses too: “I wasn’t drunk,” he said at one point, as if calling women “nappy-headed hos” while sober is actually better. Also, “I’m not some angry, raving nut on a nightclub stage,” implying that there’s a difference between him and Michael Richards. Which there is: Richards did not have the same extensive public history of bigoted comments for which he was excused again and again.
Imus closed, though, on a meek, pleading note. “I’m a good person,” he said. “But I said a bad thing.” Fair enough. It is possible to be a good person and yet say bad things. It is also possible to be a good person who has a history of saying equally, hatefully bad things, over and over, while being excused again and again by the pols and journos who rely on your show for publicity.
And it is finally possible to be a good person who, when you think about it, should maybe not have a live national radio show.