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Gwen Ifill Takes a Stand

Gwen Ifill is a reporter on PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer. She also hosts Washington Week in Review. I have watched her unruffled presentations many times. But on last Sunday’s Meet the Press, an angry Gwen Ifill ruffled the usually unruffled Tim Russert and David Brooks. And I was ready to stand up and cheer!

Of course, the discussion was about Don Imus and what he said about the Rutgers female basketball team. He called them "hos." The team members objected, advertisers withdrew their ads and Imus was fired.

But the story continues. Why? Because prominent politicians, both Democratic and Republican, as well as pundits, have appeared on the Imus show throughout the many years of its existence. Always, Imus performed his schtick of denigrating gays, blacks and other minorities. And still these prominent people appeared on his show.

Since both Tim Russert and David Brooks were among those previously appearing on the Imus in the Morning show, Gwen Ifill let them have it:

You know, it’s interesting to me. This has been an interesting week. The people who have spoken, people who have issued statements, the pop—the people who haven’t. There’s been radio silence from a lot of people who’ve done this program who could’ve spoken up and said, “I find this offensive” or “I didn’t know.” These people didn’t speak up.

Tim, we didn’t hear that much from you.

David, we didn’t hear from you.

Wow! I could not believe it. Two direct hits. One of the targets was the host. My opinion of Ifill shot straight up. She was not going to take this guff. Blacks and women should be treated with dignity. Hooray!

Lots of nonsense is being written about the Imus incident and lots of excuses are being presented for Imus and his people-denigrading schtick.

They talk about free speech. Doesn't Imus have a right to free speech? Of course, he does. And he has exercised his right. The problem is the kind of speech he uses. The FCC does not allow obscene language on the air. What Imus talked about was worse than obscene. It was boorish.

They talk about PC. The issue is not PC. Even conservative Jonah Goldberg says it's not PC, but the degradation of discourse:

The reality is that most political correctness — the successful part — is a necessary attempt to redefine good manners in a sexually and racially integrated society. Good manners are simply those things you do to demonstrate respect to others and contribute to social decorum. Aren't conservatives the natural defenders of proper manners?

Decorum, good manners, civility - these are what we expect from roll models on the radio and television shows. Not the character-destroying language of Imus and other hosts.

They talk about other individuals, such as rap artists, being just as bad and perhaps worse. Maybe so. But is it possible that these artists get their cue from the awful stuff coming out of the mouths of prominent politicians, prominent pundits and prominent hosts - like Imus?

David Brooks used a lot of words to explain to Ifill the actions of Imus and himself. Essentially, he was going round and round. I won't bore you with all of it, except for this sample:

I mean, and, and the big picture is that cultures are organisms and they change. For a while in our little world of talking heads, we had the world of “Crossfire,” and I think that’s waning, the, the real shouting shows. In the movies, we had the “Porky” movies, a lot of boob movies. And that waned as, as audiences got sick of it. Things come, and then people realize we’re in an environment, it affects us all, we’re all connected by it, and let’s police it, let’s clean up the environment. And I do think this is a step, a big step in a motion of cleaning up a certain sort of a rottenness, and then a new form of rottenness will arise.

Gwen Ifill takes a stand for civility in the media. I think this may be a turning point. From now on, maybe pundits will be careful to attend more civil shows. Maybe radio and TV will use less horrible language and become more civil. I hope so.

Posted by Paul Siegel at April 17, 2007 7:39 PM
Comments
Comment #217216

Unless Ifill produced an example of a time that either man was on the show and we didn’t “hear from them” after Imus made some offensive remark, I don’t see what is so admirable about her response.

Did Bill Clinton “speak up” against Imus when he appeared on his show? Did John Kerry? What does Ifill have to say about that? Is she on record herself as somebody who criticized Imus until it became fashionable to do so?

Does Ifill herself speak out against Al Sharpton when he’s inciting race riots, or against Jesse Jackson when he’s making antisemetic remarks (like calling New York “hymietown”).

I’d be interested to know if she is just jumping on the bandwagon here, or is she is actually out there making critical remarks about the people who call black women “hos” every day of the week—meaning African American entertainers. If she is, good for her.

She’d be one of very, very few who has the guts to stand up to the real source of the problem.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at April 17, 2007 10:56 PM
Comment #217220

Of course they didn’t stand up, because journalists and comedians now have to watch everything they say, lest they be instantly fired. All of this has a chilling effect on free speech.

Posted by: Max at April 17, 2007 11:55 PM
Comment #217226

Loyal O:
“I’d be interested to know if she is just jumping on the bandwagon here,”

No, in fact Gwen Ifill happens to be a former target of Imus’s racist/misogynist trashtalk. This is what he had to say about her when she started working for the New York Times:
Imus: “Isn’t the Times wonderful. It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.”

Gwen Ifill’s a veteran, so to speak. IMO, that gives the woman carte blanche to say whatever she damn well wants to regarding this subject.

Max:
“because journalists and comedians now have to watch everything they say, lest they be instantly fired.”

Yeah, well maybe they’ll just need to think twice before they open their mouths to let the racist, misogynist, and homophobic stuff out. Nothing too terribly wrong with that, is there?
I mean didn’t your folks ever try to teach you to think before you speak, and to be tactful and respectful of other peoples feelings?

“All of this has a chilling effect on free speech.”

No it doesn’t. People can still say whatever it is they want to say. However, being a purposely rude and intolerant public blowhard doesn’t guarantee that their targets will always have to take it all with a smile, nor does it mean that the blowhard will automatically get to hang onto their well paid gig.

Note to Blue column editors,
Don’t we have enough of these Imus threads going? What about a Worldbank/Paul Wolfowitz/overpaid girlfriend thread? I’ve been waiting for this to be mentioned, but nothing. Or how about something along these lines?: Deleted e-mails could prompt obstruction of justice charges for Rove, other White House officials?

Posted by: Adrienne at April 18, 2007 12:45 AM
Comment #217274

Adrienne, I concur, those would be good topics.

Posted by: gergle at April 18, 2007 10:08 AM
Comment #217281

L.O.

Good point about those who will use the Imus pulpit when it suits them and overlook the uncomfortable truth about the show that they are exploiting for their own reasons. Some speculate that Bill Clintons appearance on the Imus show was a turning point in his campaign. He more than anyone could have helped to expose Imus for the miserable, despicable S.O.B. that he is. And how has she in the past characterized the race baiting tactics of Sharpton and Jackson? I would be interested to hear what she has said about this in the past. I do not know much about her, I admit.

Max:

All of this does not have a chilling effect on free speech, it just emphasizes the fact that you can say whatever you want, but that what you say may have consequences you may not like. The example of Tim Robbins comes to mind. He said quite a few things that many people took exception to. And when people started to react to him by not patronizing him and his wifes commercial concerns, he tried to characterize this as “a chill wind” of cencorship trying to shut him up. No, Tim, it was the American people excercising their freedom to let you know they did not like what you were saying and reminding you of the consequences.

Adrienne:

I could say the same thing about you trying to police your own: such as Diane Fienstiens husbands lobbying efforts paying out big due to her influence, or William “cold cash” Jefferson still on committees while his felony charges are pending. If they were republicans, like Randy Cunningham, I would be calling for their resignations. Why are you not?

Posted by: Beirut Vet at April 18, 2007 10:56 AM
Comment #217287

Adrienne,

Maybe they’ll just need to think twice before they open their mouths to let the racist, misogynist, and homophobic stuff out. Nothing too terribly wrong with that, is there?

It’s tough being perfect either in politics, comedy, or any live medium. When the stakes are that you screw up once and then are out, that leaves no room for error, which means smart (and scared) journalists, comedians, and politicians, will avoid making unscripted remarks and choose their words very carefully. In general, this creates a business and professional bias for sanitized, non-controversial, news stories and subject matter. Will Comedy Central think twice about what it says from now on? With the stakes being instant reprisal, yes, they will have to.

And for what? Was Imus advocating and promoting racism, like many of the politicians and artists out there? No. He just said something stupid, and apologized for it being stupid. He even went further and said the format of his show should be changed to include minority presence. Firing Imus for his remarks doesn’t send the message that it’s time to address racism; it sends the message that it’s time to shut up about racially oriented subject matter. It’s a 1950’s mentality, where it’s fine for the disease to exist, so long as everyone agrees to ignore it and pretend it’s not there.

Just for the record, I’ve never listened to Imus in my life.

Note to Blue column editors,

I always assumed you were an editor, because your posts are really good, well thought out, and properly attributed. I’d like to see some posts about The banning of the word “War on Terror” by the British, and The increasing poverty rate and income gaps of Americans.

Posted by: Max at April 18, 2007 11:33 AM
Comment #217288

Vet,
Actually, I’ve complained about DiFi’s husband’s business dealings (war profiteering) in this blog before, and mentioned that this might be why she’s continued to support the Iraq War. Since you’re new here, you must have missed it. As for Jefferson, I’ve had no wish or inclination to defend him either - for obvious reasons - and I was very surprised and dismayed when he actually won the last election.

Posted by: Adrienne at April 18, 2007 11:34 AM
Comment #217290

Max:
“When the stakes are that you screw up once and then are out, that leaves no room for error,”

If this had been a one time incident I might agree with you, but that isn’t what happened here at all, Max. Imus has been spouting this crap for 30 years, and now finally got the chop for it. I think he richly deserved it.

Posted by: Adrienne at April 18, 2007 11:39 AM
Comment #217294

Adrienne,

Why now? It’s a sign of the times.

Here’s something I definitely want posted here as subject: Court upholds federal abortion ban

Posted by: Max at April 18, 2007 11:50 AM
Comment #217296

Beirut Vet:

“All of this does not have a chilling effect on free speech, it just emphasizes the fact that you can say whatever you want, but that what you say may have consequences you may not like. The example of Tim Robbins comes to mind. He said quite a few things that many people took exception to. And when people started to react to him by not patronizing him and his wifes commercial concerns, he tried to characterize this as “a chill wind” of cencorship trying to shut him up. No, Tim, it was the American people excercising their freedom to let you know they did not like what you were saying and reminding you of the consequences.”

Very well put. Market forces were at play—not censorship.

Paul:

“Gwen Ifill takes a stand for civility in the media. I think this may be a turning point. From now on, maybe pundits will be careful to attend more civil shows. Maybe radio and TV will use less horrible language and become more civil. I hope so.”

As long as the current formula continues to bring in the bucks, TV and radio execs will continue the status quo. What Imus said did not get him fired. What the sponsors did in reaction got Imus fired. Like it or not, the execs outraged response to Imus’ comments was all posing. The only real action came when the big dollar sponsors cut him loose. At that point, the execs had no choice. The market spoke as a thundering herd to trample the putz. Good riddance.


Posted by: Chi Chi at April 18, 2007 12:15 PM
Comment #217309

Max:
“Why now?”

The way I see it, because these college girls hadn’t done a single thing to deserve Imus’s remarks about them. He quite clearly and obviously crossed the line of decency with people who weren’t public figures, and therefore, ended up paying the high price of losing his lease on being public figure. Well, at least temporarily.

“It’s a sign of the times.”

But a rather positive one. That there is no longer a guaranteed free ride for repeat-offender hatemongers. Personally, I hope KKKoulter will be the next in line for the chop. Long past time for that hatefreak to receive a taste of comeupance.

btw Max, thanks very much for this:
“your posts are really good, well thought out, and properly attributed.”
And right back at you, sir!

Posted by: Adrienne at April 18, 2007 1:49 PM
Comment #217510

Adrienne:

Bravo, and yes, I did not see this. I applaud you for complaining and not defending these people, but it should not stop there. As a conservative I call for all wrong-doers to step down from leadership positions and/or resign. I see this is more common among the republicans (who have just as many scoundrels) who will step down/resign but the democrats just seem to circle the wagons and lawyer-up.

When Randy Cunningham disgraced himself I called for his resignation and then cheered when he did (as well he should have). I call upon you too, to stand by your ethics (I know you have strong ones), and call for investigations into Harry Reid’s and Dianne Fienstiens highly questionable dealings (can anyone say culture of corruption?). While you are at it, do not sit down until Jefferson resigns in disgrace as well. You would do the same if not more if they were republicans. Lets not give anyone the perception of a double standard.

Posted by: Beirut Vet at April 19, 2007 9:53 AM
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