Monday, December 3, 2007

Don Imus Back On The Air, Claims Years of Revenge

Don Imus was back on the air Monday, 234 days after he was fired by CBS and MSNBC for his remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team. And while much of “Imus in the Morning” sounded just as it did when it signed off in April, there were moments when the star sounded less like a divisive shock jock and more like a presidential candidate pontificating about the need for America to heal its racial wounds.

“There isn't any reason we can't learn how to talk to one another and so I pledge that I'll do that, and you'll see demonstrated on this program,” Imus said from the stage of New York's Town Hall theater during the first hour of his program, which debuted on WABC-AM in New York and was simulcast on RFD-TV. Only the Dish network makes RFD available locally, but the audio can be streamed live at

By “we,” Imus meant white people and African-Americans -- such as the two who were conspicuously featured in the first hour of “Imus in the Morning.” Tony Powell, his new sportscaster, is a black comedian who has performed standup at college campuses around the country, including Rutgers.

“It's a thrill to be here on the Tyler Perry version of the 'Imus in the Morning' program,” joked Powell.

And a female comic, Karith Foster, has joined the hitherto all-white panel of resident comics who josh the I-man in some of the show's most politically incorrect comedy segments.

Much less conspicuous was the man to whom Imus's studio audience gave the most rousing round of applause Monday morning: Bernard McGuirk, his longtime producer and expert ad-libber, who once said (off the record, he thought) to “60 Minutes” his role on the show was to supply N-word humor.

McGuirk, news reader Charles McCord and pretty much all the core members of the Imus team followed him from WFAN to WABC. And indeed, Imus was quick to note that other than adding Powell and Foster to the team, “nothing has changed -- Dick Cheney is still a war criminal, Hillary Clinton is still Satan, and I'm back on the radio!” he declared to cheers from his audience.

Still, as Imus recounted the events of April 12 -- which began with his firing and ended with a four-hour meeting at the New Jersey's governor's mansion with the Rutgers team -- he clearly wanted to be seen as having gone through a come-to-Jesus experience similar to his famous trips into rehab.

“If I had been there speaking to them and apologizing to them and offering them these excuses and still had my job,” said Imus, “they wouldve thought that I was there to try to save my job. That might have been true. But I was there to try to save my life. I'd already lost my job.

“They forgave me, they accepted my apology, and they said they would never forget. And I said that I would never forget. And I analogized it to being an alcoholic and a drug addict, which I also am. If you get into recovery, as I am for some 20 years now, you have the opportunity to be a better person to have a better life than you ordinarily would have. And that's true in this situation.”

Only time will tell whether Imus intends to do more than change the window dressing at his radio program, which has always been popular among older, affluent white listeners, but proved resistant over the years to critics who said Imus had a double standard when it came to jokes about minorities.

But on Monday, it was all about accentuating the positive and taking note of the I-man's need to repent. He runs a million-dollar ranch for sick children in New Mexico, about 40 percent of whom are minorities, he noted during the show. About comparing the Rutgers players to hookers, Imus admitted “I had some 'splainin' to do” to African-Americans at the Imus Ranch.

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