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Sunday, April 15, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I have alluded in past posts on the Imus situation that I thought that a lot this story was as much about the Northeastern media elite in NYC and Washington as it was about Imus himself.

Specifically, I wrote:

I think that Imus is getting the attention he is getting because so many in the Northeastern media elite are either regular guests or are listeners/viewers of Imus. If Imus was headquartered in LA, I suspect that there would have been less fixation.

I also noted the peculiar nature of some of Imus’ defenders.

My hypothesis on Imus and the Northeastern media elite was confirmed in large measure (or, at least, agreed with) in the following interchange on today’s MTP:

MR. BROOKS: I would also say that one thing that struck me about the Imus audience, it was not a mass audience, it was an elite audience.

MR. ROBINSON: It was, it was.

MS. IFILL: Yeah.

MR. BROOKS: I actually—I never listened, I hate talk in the morning because I’m in such a bad mood, I don’t need his bad mood on top of mine. But, but, but I, I went on the show the first time, and I got response from, like, everybody in our business. I was amazed by how many people listened to this thing. I think Bill Bennett has, has bigger ratings in the same time slot, but I don’t know too many people who listen to it. But Imus had the New York, the Washington media audience, and…

MS. IFILL: And that’s why it took so long for him to fall, honestly. That’s why it took an entire week for someone to decide—I mean, nothing really changed between the time he uttered the words, and the time he was fired, except the reaction. And that’s why—and it took so long for, I think, the media elite to see what was wrong about this because they had been complicit.

I that all of that is quite right.

First, part of why Imus has not gotten as much attention in the past is because not that many people listened to/watched his program. Indeed, I think his significance was inflated (as relative to his actual audience) in the national dialog because so many media types went on the show and then would talk about having gone on the show on their shows. The only places I ever saw Imus clips was on TV news programs–often hosted by Imus guests. I think that, as I noted in the post on Imus-defenders, that a lot of the media establishment were so enthralled with being on th show that they ignored a lot of what he said. Further, since the audience was limited, a lot of people never heard his nonsense. I think this explains the lag time between the comment and the reaction and why it seemed to build slowly before hitting critical mass.

A lot of the exposure the comment received was because of the sports tie-in. I first heard the comment on ESPN’s PTI and a lot of the conversation about it that I heard was on ESPN Radio. I wonder how many people heard about it via ESPN rather than a news broadcast.

Second, I think that one of the reasons that Imus lost is job over this comment and not others is that a lot of the aforementioned NE media elite were embarrassed by the fact that they were enablers of this behavior. Further, it seems that a lot of media types that were not Imus fans (especially black journalists, but not exclusively) found this to be an opportunity to speak out (publicly and privately) on their long-held contempt of Imus and his enablers.

It was quite clear that Gwen Ifill was a bit miffed at Imus’ regular guests, Tim Russert included, but especially the gang at Newsweek.

Update: See Ifill call out Russert and guest David Brooks on this issue at Think Progress.

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  • el
  • pt
    1. I wonder if the sports media coverage was why Imus ended up going down. As you said, the elite media was in the habit of ignoring him, but the sports media isn’t. They could care less about Imus - he means nothing to them, so they talked about it. Thus, as ESPN was talking about it, making a big enough stink that ABC/NBC/etc felt stupid for ommitting it, the storm grew.

      I’m pretty sure I first saw this on

      Comment by B. Minich, PI — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 3:28 pm

    2. As you said, the elite media was in the habit of ignoring him…

      Actually this is exact opposite of what Steven is saying.

      Comment by Ratoe — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 4:14 pm

    3. I think he means (and I meant as well) that the elite media were in the habit of ignoring his more outlandish comments. They either ignored them or pretended not to hear them.

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 4:22 pm

    4. ok, sorry. I took your post to mean that ONLY Washington and media elites habitually paid attention to him.

      It was only when more “mass” outlets–i.e. sports talk–started to deal with him that Imus became an “issue.”

      It seems the distinction is in ignoring him vs. ignoring his statements. The elite obsessed over him to the extent that they ignored his statements.

      Comment by Ratoe — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 4:32 pm

    5. I agree with you basic assessment, perhaps I misunderstood either your response to B or his comment.

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 4:38 pm

    6. Yeah, I meant ignored the awful stuff Imus said in a way that they usually don’t. For example, most media outlets really don’t care for Howard Stern that much. You can tell this when they cover him - they basically remind everyone he’s a shock jock. Imus, on the other hand, never got that treatment.

      Although in both cases, no one seems to get mad about what these guys say, at least until they cross a line that we arbitrarily draw as a culture. (Heck, we’re not consistent in where we draw it either.)

      Comment by B. Minich, PI — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 6:19 pm

    7. Oh, didn’t Imus insult Ifill at some point? Seems like she’s vindicated, and understandably a bit upset that this didn’t happen much sooner.

      Comment by B. Minich — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 8:44 pm

    8. In re: Ifill and Imus, I noted this the other day:

      Ifill also recounts her own encounter with Imus and his “humor.” Some years ago she apparently did not return Imus’ calls when she was covering the Clinton White House for the NYT and so Imus decided to attack. His comment about Ifill:

      “Isn’t The Times wonderful,” Mr. Nelson quoted Mr. Imus as saying on the radio. “It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.”

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, April 15, 2024 @ 9:00 pm

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