Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn’t kill Don Imus’ show. It was a suicide, and that the vultures showed up shouldn’t confuse us about what happened. When Imus took an off ramp and drove forty blocks out of his way to run over the Rutgers women hoopsters –and then backed over them again while turning the car around to get back—he did himself in. It just took a few days for him to bleed out. The vultures always show up, but make no mistake. Imus has Imus to blame: His sponsors wanted nothing to do with his brand once that brand got recognition outside of the relatively small world that watched or listened to Imus. That’s the market, not the P.C. police. Imus could slag any player he wanted to, and probably have thrown down a few race cards in the process and remained untouched. He certainly did so with PBS’s Gwen Ifill. But college kids playing sports who are not within a hundred miles of a political debate –that’s far beyond the limits of what the public can stomach, or at least enough of the public to turn the sponsors’ heads away in shame.
Before one full day had passed, Imus’ former fellow MSNBCer Keith Olbermann was wondering whether the bell was tolling for Rush Limbaugh, who, Olbermann asserted, had been grandfathered in when it came to abusive talk radio.
Mind you this is Keith Olbermann who wrote of colleague Rita Crosby that “Rita’s nice, but dumber than a suitcase of rocks,” and who compared Dean Kenneth Starr to Henrich Himmler –“Facially, it finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me of all this time was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses.” These comments are not grounds for dismissal, just derision, windows into a head where a few thoughts clatter about in search of a coherent argument. Keith, the scoreboard reader turned radical chic poseur is obviously never going to win the spelling bee, but we can’t put this jump from Imus to Rush down to sheer stupidity. (Well, maybe we can, but let’s assume for the moment that Keith is at a multiplication tables level when it comes to higher thinking skills.) Something else is at work here.
It is a combination of ratings envy and genuine puzzlement. This duo seems to drive all of Keith’s public confrontations and feuds. His frequent attempts to attract the attention of Bill O’Reilly are lame enough, but O’Reilly only has about 10 times Olbermann’s audience. Rush has about a hundred times the audience of Countdown’s party faithful. “How can that be,” Keith must ask himself, “when I’m so good and he’s so bad?”