Media Matinee: Fragments From 'Imus! The Musical'

From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. Ben Greenman, the Rodgers & Hammerstein of the age (or, at least the Hammerstein), will lead you down the Great White Way to understanding. Shhh, the curtain's starting to rise!

IMUS

One afternoon in April

I watched some basketball

It was played by women

Like that's a sport at all

Tennessee was winning

The other team was not

The losers were from Rutgers

They didn't have a shot

The next day on the radio

Conversation turned to hoops

And I observed some differences

Among disparate racial groups

There were eight young women

Who played hard for that team

African-Americans whom I decided to demean

So...

Nappy-headed hos

That was what I said

By that I meant that they were whores

With nappy hair upon their head

[There is instant reaction to IMUS's comments.]

IMUS

My face is craggy

My skin is saggy

Some find the way I look quite hard to take

My mood is black

Like a heart attack

But I'm on the air each morning as Americans awake

For thirty years I've hurled spears

At all faiths, nationalities, and races

I've never really felt the need

To look my targets in their faces

So why would these young women

Be treated with respect?

That's not what I do

I'm not politically correct

[African-American leaders begin to call for IMUS to be removed from his radio show. Among the most prominent are the Revs. AL SHARPTON and JESSE JACKSON]

SHARPTON AND JACKSON

We call for your removal

From America's airwaves

A man should not reap benefits

Unless that man behaves

[Later, IMUS goes on the air and apologizes.]

IMUS

Oh mea culpa

They beat me to a pulp-a

My bitter tears would fill a cup

The size of a Big Gulp-a

Oh culpa mea

What did I say-a

I've held this job for thirty years

I'd really like to stay-a

[IMUS begins to appear on talk shows to address the controversy.]

IMUS

Of course I am regretful

Why else would I agree

To sit on the Today show

And have Matt Lauer talk to me?

Why else would I be willing

To go on Sharpton's show?

I've done so many interviews

I kind of feel like a ho.

[COACH C. VIVIAN STRINGER and her team address the media.]

COACH STRINGER

Abominable. unconscionable

Despicable, deplorable

The comments Mr. Imus made

Were nothing short of horrible

My girls and I worked hard

To focus and achieve

To hear this kind of poison

Makes us mad and makes us grieve

[IMUS continues to apologize, but sometimes seems to be defending himself.]

IMUS

I am very sorry

I see that you are black

But some of this imbroglio

Is a personal attack

They're trying to attack me

But a strong man stands up proud

This is still America

Offensive speech is still allowed

They're trying to attack me

But I won't go down without a fight

At my ranch for kids with cancer

Some are black and some are white

[Activists, sensing a lack of total contrition and citing a history of objectionable comments, begin to increase the pressure on IMUS.]

SHARPTON AND JACKSON

Your argument has little basis

The kettle concurs with the pot

You've proved that cancer isn't racist

But not, of course, that you are not

[Various RADIO AND TELEVISION PERSONALITIES and NEWSPAPER COLUMNISTS, while not necessarily defending IMUS, begin to criticize his critics, particularly SHARPTON AND JACKSON]

RADIO AND TELEVISION PERSONALITIES/NEWSPAPER COLUMNISTS

Tawana didn't tell the truth

The town isn't called Hymie

How can you condemn this man

When the two of you have been so slimy?

SHARPTON AND JACKSON

Some have called us hypocrites

Because we have misspoken

But it's not about if the shoe fits

We fix what history has broken

RADIO AND TELEVISION PERSONALITIES/NEWSPAPER COLUMNISTS

A child out of wedlock?

Freddy's Fashion Mart?

When it comes to bad behavior

The two of you have done your part

SHARPTON AND JACKSON

Clearly, we are flawed

But tell me, is it fair

To lump us both together

Like we're a vaudeville pair?

RADIO AND TELEVISION PERSONALITIES/NEWSPAPER COLUMNISTS

We don't know exactly what to say

It's just funnier that way

[The outcry intensifies. MSNBC suspends IMUS's television show for two weeks. Major sponsors, such as Staples and Geico, pull their advertising. Finally, CBS calls a press conference to discuss the fate of the radio show.]

CBS

To err is human: fine.

To profit from it is divine.

But as luck had it, this flap happened right at Eastertime

That slowed us down, I guess

What an inopportune mess

Now join me please in welcoming our CEO Les Moonves

LES MOONVES

There has been much discussion

Of the effect your language had

On America's young women:

We all agree it's bad.

We've come to a conclusion.

And so, my friend, have you.

There are those among us

Who feel it's overdue.

So it's time to hit the road

It's time to wave goodbye

The CBS eye could be crying

But it's mostly dry.

In light of what has happened

It's important that you learn

That you are not as funny

As Letterman or Howard Stern

[IMUS is fired. He begins to pack up his office.]

IMUS

I'd say that I feel terrible

But that's not exactly right

For starters I could easily

Move the show to satellite

And even if I never

Go back on the air

I made a ton of money

So why exactly would I care?

I have a ranch out West

Have I mentioned that before?

I can go relax there

For miles there's not a single whore

The best thing about retirement

Is that that you are your own boss

I'll sit and think about my life

And how they put me on the cross

And I'll look to the future, too

I still have dreams despite my loss

I'll sit and wait for Al and Jesse

To meet with Duke lacrosse



Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, is just being published.